Mateusz Wyżga

Were Peasants Able to Move in Feudal Poland? Tracking the Determinants of Internal Migrations, 1501-1800

Mateusz Wyżga

Article information

Volume: XII Issue: 2, Pages: 5-20
Mateusz Wyżga
Pedagogical University of Cracow, Faculty of Humanities, Institute for History and Archival Sciences
2 Podchorazych Street, 30-084 Cracow, Poland


There is some discrepancy in literature about the reality of peasant territorial mobility. Our research of internal migration in Poland intends to study several big cities and almost 1,000 small towns in a predominantly agricultural country, over time. While land owners certainly limited the peasants’ mobility so that they themselves could survive, but peasants’ serfdom was a dynamic phenomenon, this changed over time: lords could sell “freedom” to their peasants. The peasants needed to travel for money, for contact with the city market. They searched for non-rural occupations and seasonal work in towns and other villages. Peasant’s mobility was dependent on the distance from the village to the town. Some peasants used multigenerational social networks and chain migration to get to the city. Thanks to this, they became the reliable workers in the new social space. This paper shall show how the peasants’ families, friends and local community influenced migrants’ decision to move. The range of peasant mobility was dependent on economic condition of manor houses, peasant households, urban markets and elastic migrational urban politics. The proximity of the town was connected with high level of exogamous marriages in rural parishes. I shall also show that matrimonial mobility was reduced after 1650 and was never as high. The economic situation deteriorated: urban markets collapsed and peasants stopped buying urban goods. But, in this period, there was a greater care by the landlords for their peasants’ welfare.

Keywords: Migration, Mobility, Micro-Region, Social Networks, Cracow, Labour, Peasants


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