Under the landlord’s thumb. Municipalities and local elites in Sweden 1862–1900

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The Swedish Municipality Act, issued in 1862, consolidated a plutocratic system in which ownership and income, and the resulting level of taxation, translated into political power. However, as a measure to hinder large landowners from holding a majority of the votes, the Act guaranteed voting rights for tenants. The aim of the article is to analyse how power relations played out after this challenge to landlords’ hegemony. Through an analysis of tenants’ contracts, appeals to the King in Council and minutes from municipal board meetings, we show how landlords did not trust a political culture of deference to secure power, even if they had demanded subservience in contracts. In a deliberate and specific way, they also reserved voting rights for themselves, which we find to have been a widespread pattern although it was repeatedly pointed out as unlawful by the King in Council. However, through the analysis of the board meetings, it becomes clear that the position of manorial landlords in these municipalities was so obvious that they rarely had to confront their tenants with their illegitimate contractual restrictions. The results empirically challenge a narrative of slow but steady democratization and theoretically challenge the alleged reciprocity of landlord-tenant relations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)265-289
JournalSocial History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Jul 4

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Economic History


  • landlord
  • tenant farmer
  • Swedish Municipality Act
  • deference
  • political culture


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