On 6 December 1590, a royal decree prohibiting transfer of peasants from one owner to another was published.
Celebrated on 26 November by old style, St. George’s day (Yuri’s day) completed the annual cycle of agricultural work. Peasants who paid a certain sum of money were allowed to leave the old master during the week before and the week after St. George’s day.
On 6 December (26 November) 1590, Tsar Fyodor Ioannovich, at the initiative of Boris Godunov, issued a decree prohibiting the transfer of peasants from one owner to another even on St. George’s day. This prohibition was unexpected for peasants. Then the saying arose: Well, granny, there goes St. George’s day!
However, peasants still had the opportunity to hide from the landlords. In 1597, a decree was issued, which for the first time determined the period of detection of runaway peasants – five years.
If during these five years the landlord failed to find his peasant and did not submit a petition to search for him, he lost the right on him and the ‘fugitive’ was assigned to the new owner. The norm was applied not only to runaway peasants, but also to their children and wives. Any crossing was considered as an escape. The ‘fugitive’ was to be returned with all his family and property.
Translated by Elizaveta Ovchinnikova