Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Some history learnin': The Parisitic Nobility-Peasant Relationship in the 18th Century

I wrote this for a history class. Copyright 2014, Around the Wherever. All rights reserved. May not be duplicated in any form.

Additionally, to those conducting research: this piece is not suitable to be used as a reference source. Here's why. If you need a reference source, try using the excellent text noted in the Bibliography.


The socioeconomic relationship between peasants and nobility in the eighteenth century could be described as parasitic. In this case, it would be apt to say that the nobility were the parasites, sucking the peasants dry, both literally and figuratively.

Treatment of children was influenced by socioeconomic status. Initially, the elite women employed wet nurses to give their children sustenance, as it was not befitting a lady (Spielvogel, p. 559). Later in the 18th century, the concept of childhood as its own stage of development grew. Children of the rich and nobility started to be valued more and were treated better; they had their own style of clothes, toys, and books (p. 560). Unfortunately, peasant children did not experience such joys; if anything, they were seen as a burden and risked being a victim of infanticide or abandonment. Children were abandoned throughout Europe but it appears that in the east, within Russia, the numbers were extremely high, with the largest foundling home in St. Petersburg (p. 560).

In addition to the treatment of children, living arrangements were subject to one’s status and income. The nobility (especially the French and English) tended to live in vast country estates in huge houses (p. 567). Peasants might eke out a living in a town, city, or the country, but the unifying theme was their desperate struggle to survive, often subject to employment of nobles. In most of Western Europe, peasants had freedom but still were not secure, having to pay heavy tithes on the crops they had grown (p. 566). In other areas things were even worse, such as in parts of Germany where the lord had legal jurisdiction over peasants and could make decisions regarding their affairs. Farther east in Russia, peasants were virtually slaves, with ties to the landlord and not the land (p. 566).

The nobles’ parasitic use of the peasants certainly did not improve the peasants’ lot in life; if anything, it kept them from success.


Spielvogel, Jackson J. Western civilization. Australia: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning, 2012.

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