AskDefine | Define peasantry

Dictionary Definition

peasantry n : the class of peasants

User Contributed Dictionary



Middle English paissaunt


  1. Impoverished rural farm workers, either as serfs, small freeholders or hired hands.
    1920 ''They distressed her. They were so stolid. She had always maintained that there is no American peasantry, and she sought now to defend her faith by seeing imagination and enterprise in the young Swedish farmers, and in a traveling man working over his order-blanks. But the older people, Yankees as well as Norwegians, Germans, Finns, Canucks, had settled into submission to poverty. They were peasants, she groaned. — Sinclair Lewis, Main Street", Chapter 3.
  2. An ignorant person of the lowest social status; bumpkins, rustics.
    1885 Such strange lingering echoes of the old demon worship might perhaps even now be caught by the diligent listener among the gray-haired peasantry; for the rude mind with difficulty associates the ideas of power and benignity. — George Eliot, Silas Marner, Chapter 1.


Extensive Definition

Not to be confused with pheasants. The relative position of Western European peasants was greatly improved after the Black Death unsettled medieval Europe, granting far greater economic and political power to those peasants fortunate enough to survive the cataclysm.
In the wake of this disruption to the established hierarchy, later centuries saw the invention of the original printing presses, widespread literacy and the enormous social and intellectual changes of the Enlightenment.
This evolution of ideas in an environment of relatively widespread literacy laid the groundwork for the Industrial Revolution, which enabled mechanically and chemically augmented agricultural production while simultaneously increasing the demand for factory workers in cities. These factory workers with their low skill and large numbers quickly came to occupy the same socio-economic stratum as the original medieval peasants.
This was especially pronounced in Eastern Europe. Lacking any catalysts for change in the 14th century, Eastern European peasants largely continued upon the original medieval path until the 18th and 19th centuries. The Tsars then began to notice that the West had made enormous strides they had not, responding by forcing the largely illiterate peasant populations under their control to embark upon a Westernization and industrialization campaign.
Peter the Great initiated a half-successful attempt to force more than 500 years' worth of social change in the space of a few generations. Modernization of agriculture in Eastern Europe and Russia was not achieved until after the October Revolution.

Notes and references

peasantry in German: Landarbeiter
peasantry in French: paysan
peasantry in Polish: chłopi
peasantry in Romanian: Ţăran
peasantry in Russian: Крестьянин
peasantry in Dutch: Boer
peasantry in Chinese: 农民

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

bourgeoisie, common people, common run, common sort, commonage, commonality, commonalty, commoners, commons, laborers, linendrapers, lower classes, lower middle class, lower orders, lumpen proletariat, middle class, middle orders, ordinary people, plain folks, plain people, proletariat, rank and file, shopkeepers, small tradesmen, the lower cut, the other half, the third estate, toilers, toiling class, upper middle class, vulgus, working class, working people
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