Although their standard of living may not have been particularly lavish, the people of precapitalistic northern Europe, like most traditional peo- ple, enjoyed a great deal of free time. The common people maintained innumer- able religious holidays that punctuated the tempo of work. Joan Thirsk estimated that in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, about one-third of the working days, including Sundays, were spent in leisure. Karl Kautsky offered a much more extravagant estimate that 204 annual holidays were celebrated in medieval Lower Bavaria.
Despite these frequent holidays, the peasants still managed to produce a significant surplus. In English feudal society, for example, the peasants survived even though the gentry was powerful enough to extract some- thing on the order of 50 percent of the produce. As markets evolved, the claims on the peasants’ labors multiplied. For in- stance, in southern France, rents appear to have grown from about one- fourth of the yield in 1540 to one-half by 1665.
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Primitive Accumulation and the Eradication of Holidays
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