Dear Mr. Canard,
The information below was gleaned from an article written about Karlovka, "The Karlovka Reform," by the historian W. Bruce Lincoln. His article was published in the Slavic Review in 1968. I hope the information helps you.
Elena Pavlovna began attempting to improve the lives of the peasants of Karlovka in 1851. She sent her estate manager, Baron Engelhardt, a long list of orders regarding reforms she wished carried out. She limited the amount of time peasants were made to work in her fields. She insisted that a reasonable working period be set; one that would allow the peasants enough time to tend to their own crops and not just the landlord's. The peasants would not be forced to exceed that time limit. She set regulations regarding the way in which bailiffs could utilize serfs' labor. During the harvest no peasant would be forced to help transport anything, that way they could remain close enough to harvest their own crops. For the same reason she refused to allow any peasant to be forced to labor in any village other than his own. Peasants were not to be made to perform any household work against their will. Whatever household work they did do would be deducted from the amount of time they were required to work in the fields. She also decreed that after the peasants had completed their required daily labor that their time was their own to do with as they chose and the overseers were not to interfere.
When Alexander II acceded to the throne in 1855 Elena began in earnest her efforts to fully emancipate the serfs at Karlovka. She initially directed her estate manager Baron Engelhardt to create a plan for their emancipation. It was Engelhardt who recommended that she grant the serfs one sixth of the land at Karlovka. He also suggested that she charge them two rubles per annum rent for each desiatina (about 2.7 acres) of land. In addition they would be granted the ability to purchase land within the allotment for 50 rubles per desiatina.
Elena felt his plans were insufficient, that they wouldn’t fully provide for her peasants, and she decided to enlist the help of Nikolai Miliutin. Nikolai was a moderate and enlightened bureaucrat by the standards of the day. He was the head of the economic division of the Ministry of the Interior. Miliutin accepted her challenge to improve upon Engelhardt's proposals in the hope that if emancipation at Karlovka was successful, other landowners would follow Elena's example, and that this would help bring about universal emancipation. It was Miliutin who decided to consult Konstantin Kavelin, who was a close personal friend of his.
In October of 1856 Miliutin completed his study and Elena received permission from Alexander II to carry out her plans at Karlovka. The Tsar also agreed to her request that she be allowed to discuss these plans with other landowners in Poltava. She hoped to convince these landowners to join in her efforts. It seems that her attempts to bring the Poltava nobles around to her way of thinking weren’t terribly successful. Vasily Tarnovsky and Prince L. V. Kochubey responded positively, but the rest were influenced by a reactionary landowner named M.P. Pozen, who was dead-set against her reforms.
She spent most 1856-1858 abroad, but kept in correspondence with Miliutin. She actually held a meeting in 1857 at Wildbad, Germany, attended by the great minds concerned with "the peasant question." Among the attendees were Konstantin Kavelin, Count Paul Kiselev, Vasily Tarnovsky and Alexander Abaza. The group concluded that it was not enough to free the serfs, but that they must be provided with sufficient land and the ability to self-govern.
Miliutin completed his plans for Karlovka in early 1858. Elena took his suggestion and then set about creating her own plans, based on his proposals, to free her serfs. It seems that she disagreed with Miliutin's suggestions on only one point - she felt they should be given more land than he suggested. She decreed that 44,000 desiatinas, nearly half of her estate lands, were to be given to the peasants. There would be a transition period of six years, during which the serfs would first pay their rent via labor. Later on, when more prosperous, they would begin to pay rents in cash. Village officials, to be elected by the peasants, would be put in charge of seeing to it that rents were paid. At the end of six years each peasant would be given their own individual plot of land and the option of either purchasing the land for 25 rubles per desiatina or of continuing to rent the land for 1.5 ruble per desiatina. Miliutin's plans were meticulous and explained in detail how each family could be enabled to save enough money to purchase their plots outright.
She submitted her proposal to the Committee on Peasant Affairs on 8 March 1858, but it was not reviewed by the committee until January 1859. Finally in May 1859 she was given permission to begin carrying out her plans, with a few alterations, for Karlovka. The alterations being that the size of the individual plots was reduced to 3/4 of a desiatina for each peasant. There would also be no transition period. Instead the peasants would be given the right to purchase their land whenever they chose for 25 rubles per desiatina. Those who did not purchase land would be allowed to live free of charge on their household plot and would be charged 1.5 rubles per annum for each desiatina of arable land they privately plowed. Rent would be subject to revision every twelve years and was calculated based on the median price of grain. Elena also agreed that should the government announce general emancipation in the future that she would extend any additional rights given by such a decree to her peasants.
Miliutin would later hold a prominent position on the Editing Commission (1859-1860) that drafted the act of emancipation in 1861. He benefited greatly from his work with Elena at Karlovka as it provided him with much needed practical experience and knowledge regarding the lives and living conditions of Russian serfs.
According to another article "Kavelin and Russian Liberalism," by Daniel Field also published in the Slavic Review (1973), Elena's plans were never fully implemented because just two years later universal emancipation was declared.