This book started with the traditional description of rural societies in early modern East-Central Europe, according to which they experienced a significant rise in the power of landlords. This is claimed to have led to a stricter form of the seignorial system (demesne lordship) and the growth of a commercial demesne economy. It was assumed to be accompanied by the deterioration of village autonomy and an erosion in the legal and economic status of villagers and their property rights. These were the two pillars — strong lords and weak, bonded villagers — regarded as characteristic of early modern Eastern European rural societies. The previous interpretation put these at the heart of the idea of a fundamental East—West divide in early modern rural Europe, synonymous with the idea of a liberal and modernising West and a backward East. From the 1960s onwards, research gradually began to question this meta-narrative.
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