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The term Meier ( Mehre, Meyer, Maier, Mair, Mower, Mäger, Major, Meiur, Mayer, Meir, Mayr, Meyr, Majer , from Latin maior ) originally denotes an official of the noble or spiritual landlord for the administration of the property (“ Meierei “), From the later Middle Ages also a tenant or independent farmer .


For the Meier there were a variety of regionally and temporally different names such as B. Amtmann (Ammann), Amtsschulze, Bauernvogt, Drost , Gutsvogt, Hofbauer, Hofmann , Hofschultheiß, Meiervogt, Schultheiß , Vogt . If the landlord was a monastery , one also speaks of Klostermeier, Kellerer, Pfleger , Schaffner or Stiftsamtmann.

With maior domus (lat.) One referred to the ruler of the house or the servant . As the appointed administrator of the landlord, the Maier was the manor in the Middle Ages . In Lower Saxony, tenants of agricultural land were also referred to as Meier.

Johann Christoph Adelung differentiates between four different names and functions for the Meier:

  1. The "Major Domus or Comes Palatii of the Franconian Kings, the highest Count Palatine", who "in the Middle Ages very often appears under the name of the Meiers, Hausmeiers". “In the Schwabenspiegel, the Elector of the Palatinate is still called Heil. Reich high-ranking judge and caretaker. In the following times the noble court official, who is now known by the synonymous name of the court master, was called Meier and Hausmeier. "
  2. "In the cities there was the Meier, one of the most distinguished magistrates who exercised the high level of jurisdiction and had almost the same office and dignity with the bailiffs and guilty parties, but at times also differed".
  3. “The chief of agriculture as well as an entire region, as well as an individual estate, where it was previously used by several kinds of such chiefs, and is still partly used. One particularly cares for a superior of a country or field estate, even if it is only a farm, who supervises the cultivation of the fields for an annual wage, and is the highest among the servants, to be called a Meier or Hofmeyer in many areas. In other places he is called Vogt, Feldvogt, Schirrmeister, in Bohemia a conductor, in Pomerania a governor, in Meissen however a court master. [...] The superior of the maidservants of a property, whether she be Meier's wife or not, is then called the Meierinn, Hofmeierinn. "
  4. “In many areas, especially Lower Saxony and Westphalia, the Meier owners of unfrey farms, certain hereditary lords, who do not own their Meiergut or their Meierhof peculiarly, but only as a leasehold to be renewed every nine years, and the landlord have a certain amount of interest pay fixed meierzins. "

Function of the Meier

The Meier ran a farm for the landlord himself, the Fronhof , supervised the serfs ( villici ) who tended the Hufen (or Huben) subordinate to the Fronhof, collected the dues from them for the landlord and usually exercised as the bearer of the landlords Jurisdiction also includes court law ( compulsory service ).

The Meier were originally servants themselves; in the course of the Middle Ages they were often able to rise to ministerial positions and tried to make their tenure as a hereditary fiefdom . In the course of this development, the landlords often converted the taxes in kind into a fixed annual income, so that the Meier often went from the land manager to the tenant. The estate was then called Meierhof or Meiergut ( Kolonat ). The frequently encountered family name Meier with its orthographic variants was formed from this rural occupation and position .

Peasant Meier and Meierrecht

Historical population development in the area of ​​the old Federal Republic of Germany

The historical modern Meierrecht regulated the relationships between the landowner (owner of land) and a farmer (manager of land) as so-called "Meier" (the Hofgut also called "Meierei"), also called Ackermann, Baumann, Spänner, in a special way Legal framework.

Due to the population decline caused by the plague epidemics in the 16th and during the Thirty Years' War in the 17th century and the resulting devastation , new farmers were then placed in vacant farm positions. These farmers were able to enforce new leases on more favorable terms than free farmers (without serfdom ) and with a comparatively low burden of services.

Design and goals

Over the course of time, the Meierrecht changed from a pure, time-limited lease, which inevitably expired when the farmer died or left, to a hereditary, real right to use third-party property with the obligation to pay certain annual services to the property correctly manage and solve a new Meierbrief at certain times. By the end of the 18th century, the Meierrecht had developed into a general tenancy law that was applied not only to Meierstellen, but to all farm sizes.

The form of the legal details differed in the various regions of Germany due to the diverse rule structures in the German (small) states. The typical conditions in Lower Saxony and Westphalia are shown below, such as those specified in the Meier ordinance for the Principality of Calenberg (1770).

The main goal of the Meierrecht was to keep the Meierhof permanently undivided as an economic unit and in a good and sustainable condition, not only with regard to the land belonging to it, but also to the buildings and facilities. In return for the payment of a fixed annual Meier interest in the form of cash and in kind payments to the landowner, the landowner gave the Meier the right to use the farm under certain other conditions. In particular, the Meier had to manage his farm himself, so he was not allowed to act as a mere manager of several Meiergüter. He was forbidden to borrow or pledge the Meiergut. He had to keep the farm in good condition ( soil fertility , animal health, buildings and facilities), which was continuously monitored by the landowner.

In return, the landowner was also tied to his owner. He was not allowed to increase the agreed Meierzins. In certain special cases, such as crop failures , cattle die-offs, conflagrations or new buildings, he also had to forego part of the Meierzinses or invest himself. The risk of force majeure was thus shared between landowners and tenants.

Inheritance law

The Meyerrecht secured the existence of the Meierhof, especially in the event of inheritance. If the Meier died, the Meiergut fell completely with all its components to a preferred heir (the heir), usually the oldest, in some regions also the youngest son or daughter if there were no sons. If the children were minors at the time of the Meier's death, the Meiergut could be managed by an interim landlord, who was often the second husband of the farmer's wife and who had to be accepted by the landowner, up to the age of majority (25 years). Siblings could only be compensated from their parents' cash assets and their free property ( allod ). This right of inheritance had been enforced by the growing rulers against the will of the peasants. The opposite of the law of inheritance was the real division , in which all children of a farmer were entitled to inheritance and often inherited in equal parts. Real division was practiced in many regions up to the first half of the 16th century and then in the southwestern German states. It led to the systematic downsizing of the courtyards to the point of complete fragmentation.

In the practice of inheritance law, the severance payments of the reluctant heirs were the greatest risk for the maintenance of the Meierhof when legacies of the retirees to the children who were not entitled to inheritance withdrew too much free funds from the inheritor and thus from the court.

Be and Abmeierung

The appointment or “crowning” of a farmer by the landowner took place for nine years and had to be documented in a Meier letter. The location and equipment of the farm, the associated fields, meadows, pastures, houses, barns, etc. were to be described in detail. The Meierzins was also determined in terms of quantity and quality in the form of taxes in kind . Every issue of the Meierbrief was paid to the landowner through the so-called purchase of wine by the new Meier.

Basically, it was very difficult for the landowner to part with his owner. The Abmeierung , that is the withdrawal of the Meier material by the landowner, was only possible misconduct which endangered the survival of the Meierguts. This included failures or omissions in the management of the property, bankruptcy of the Meier, arrears in the payment of the Meierzinses, substance attack on the Meiergut or the accusation of being an "unsuitable landlord", especially in the case of alcoholism .

That brought Meier security with regard to the farm and the taxes. The peasant in the 16th century by buying up farms for sovereigns or nobles practiced Bauernlegen was nearly impossible. On the other hand, the provisions of the Meierbrief could also restrict the rights of use of the Meier to such an extent that it was hardly economically viable.

In addition to the lease charges, the Meier had to pay the hated double tithe levy to the sovereign and the church within the framework of the village corridor . For the sovereign, further tensioning and transport services (land trips) and other unmeasured, i.e. quantitatively undefined services, had to be performed.

Size of Meierhöfen

The size of the Meierhöfe and their land was originally chosen so that two families with exclusively agricultural production could live on and off the farm, namely the Meier as an active farmer with his family and his parents. These were fed and cared for by the farm as senior citizens , but this was also in the interests of maintaining the performance of the farm: They could and should bring in and pass on their remaining workforce and their experience. Under the conditions of three-field farming (summer, wintering, fallow land), initially two Hufen Landes (2 × 3 × 10 acres ) or 60 acres (15 hectares) of land were issued as a "Vollmeier" site in northern Germany . With the decreasing availability of new land, the land area of ​​new places, which was issued at Meierrecht, fell to one Hufe Landes (1 Hufe = 30 acres = 7.5 ha), so that only "Halbmeier" places could be issued.

End of the Meierrecht

In the 19th century, the impetus for overcoming the Meier relationship came from learned experts who, with studies and studies, also in comparison with the leading England, showed how rural development and the state could be promoted through more rational forms of agriculture. The decisive impetus for the liberation of the peasants, however, was the French Revolution (1789), in which feudal dependencies were initially lifted in France. Under pressure to avoid revolutionary tendencies like in France, serfdom of the peasants was abolished in Prussia in 1799 . The occupation of some parts of Germany (1807-1813) by Napoleon ( Kingdom of Westphalia ) spread the ideas of the revolution. Under this political pressure in Prussia in 1807 with the October edict the hereditary subservience of the peasants was lifted and in 1811 the redemption of burdens regulated with the regulation edict , but initially only for the landlords. In the Kingdom of Hanover, the Redemption Act was only passed in 1831 and the Redemption Ordinance in 1833.

For a payment, farmers could relieve their various official duties and become owners of the lands they cultivated. The transfer fee was 18 to 25 times the previous annual payments. The practical implementation of the redemptions was accelerated by the establishment of state credit institutions , which granted farmers willing to redeem loans.

With that the separation between land ownership and cultivation and the basis of the Meier relationship disappeared. The reforms were favored by the rapidly increasing industrialization and railway construction , which offered the previous landowners alternative and also more lucrative investment opportunities for their replacement income outside of agriculture.

Differentiation from the feudal system

Before the introduction of the law were Meier Bauer places part of the medieval (Roman-Frankish) Villikationssystems , rendered in the physical dependent, impaired farmers extensive forced labor and operated by the landlord allocated space. The feudal system developed on the one hand from the Germanic allegiance and the Roman clientele system . The association of persons between the serfs and the landlord and body lord, who served them, who had to protect them, was very important.

The serfs performed a wide range of services for their patron, in particular for the construction and maintenance of defensive facilities (castle fortress), infrastructure and the management of the official courts to a considerable extent, but only had to pay low interest taxes from the cultivation of the land. Because of this close and older personal relationship with the landlord and body lord, these positions were inheritable in the peasant family from the start. Because the landlords often left the administration of these positions to an (official) bailiff , they were also referred to as “ bailiff estates ”.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Author collective under the direction of A. M. Uhlmann: Meyers Neues Lexikon . Volume 5, VEB Bibliographisches Institut Leipzig, publishing license 433 130/63, p. 715
  2. Grammatical-Critical Dictionary of High German Dialect , 1811
  3. a b Werner Wittich: The manorial rule in northwest Germany . Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig, 1896, p. 3.
  4. a b c Karl H. Schneider: On the eve of the peasant liberation. Agrarian conditions and early reforms in Lower Saxony in the 18th century . Hanover 2015, pp. 51–56.
  5. Wolfgang Bischoff: The history of inheritance law in Hanover after the replacement legislation up to the court law of June 2, 1874 . Dis. Goettingen 1966.
  6. ^ For example, Albrecht Thaer : Introduction to Knowledge of English Agriculture , Hanover 1798-1804.


  • Otto Stolz : Legal history of the peasant class and agriculture in Tyrol and Vorarlberg . Ferrari-Auer, Bozen 1949 (especially p. 42ff .: Herren- und Meierhöfe).
  • Philippe Dollinger : The Bavarian peasant class from the 9th to the 13th century (= Publications de la Faculté des Lettres de l'Université de Strasbourg. Volume 112). Beck, Munich 1982, ISBN 3-406-08433-8 .
  • Wilhelm Asmus: Das Meierrecht, ISBN 3-00-018572-0

Web links

Wiktionary: Meier  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations