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Esrum,s Monastery

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In time the Esrum Monastery became the larges landowner in North Zealand. It grew into a large enterprise with many different products. It owned a large number of copyhold farms in North Zeland, but it also had properties in Scania and Halland.

Esrum´s Monastery
Esrum Monastery in North Zealand was established as a Cistercienser monastery in 1151 and was linked to the main monastery Clairveaux in France, named after the reformer Bernard af Clairveaux. There are still faint traces of the monastery´s ideal situation on a flat stretch close to Esrum Lake and the stream, which furnished the monastery with drinking water and water power. Esrum Monastery was favoured with gifts in the form of land and property from the start and in the course of the 13th century it developed into the largest land owner in North Zealand.
Esrum Monastery.
Esrum Monastery.
The Waterway
The Waterway
Esrum´s Location
Esrum´s Location
Bernard of Clairvaux
Bernard of Clairvaux

Bryde- and Copyhold Farms
In the first period until the middle of the 13th century, production on the large breeding farms were emphasized. These were the so-called grangiers, which was worked by the monks and the lay brothers of the monasteries. They primarily functioned as the monastery´s workers and did not participate fully in the monastery life. The lay brother arrangement was probably also a safeguard against poverty in times with plenty of labour.
Cistercians order did not pay tithe and the earth that the monks inherited and cultivated was exempt for taxes, which made the grangie system profitable. From around the middle of the 13th century it became hard to find labour and they started to dismantle the grangiers in favour of bryde farms, farms with bailiffs and affiliated smallholders. Around this time an internal regulation was abolished, which entailed that the land of the orders were not to be used for copyhold and after this they established copyhold farms.

The Cultivation Structure
The cultivation structure with bryde farms and the three furlong holding existed in the western part of North Zealand, Holbo Herred, where the best land was. In North Zealand there was a very varied production starting with a sort of forest agriculture, where the distinction between farm land and forest was vague and hay harvest and grazing played a major part.
Studies of Esrum Monastery´s Land Book from 1497 shows that more peasants did villeinage with hay harvest than with harvest of corn and the straw after the corn harvest must have been mixed with weeds and nourishing for the widespread livestock. Moreover mast production for pigs and timber felling also played a major part.

Production and Food
The composition of the natural produce and the situation of the monasteries in North Zealand show that the vegetable production dominates the northern and western parts, while the animal production dominates around Nødebo near Esrum Lake, where there were stretches of meadow land for grazing around the lake. Firewood and fish also play a part around Hornbæk. It is difficult from the source material to say anything precise about conditions of life nutrition, but one source the Scanian so-called ledingsret, gives an indirect picture of the composition of the food.
Esrum´s Production
Esrum´s Production

The Possessions of the Monastery
The possessions of the monastery stretched as far as the Sound Coast, where the utilization of water power for the mills took place around the present Egebæksvang.

However, the monastery´s possessions did not end in Zealand alone. Besides the 311 copyold farms, the monastery also owned an unknown number of farms in Scania. Moreover the monastery also owned a mill in Helsingborg and two stalls, which they had inherited. The interest in Halland related to timber, for instance oak, which as early as the 12th century was becoming scarce in Zealand.

©  Øresundstid 2009