(male) or Gräfin
(female) is a historical title
of the German nobility
, usually translated as "count
". Considered to be intermediate among noble ranks
, the title is often treated as equivalent to the British title of "earl
" (whose female version is "countess").
Image of a Grafenkrone
, the heraldic coronet
of a Graf
The German nobility was gradually divided into high and low nobility. The high nobility included those counts who ruled immediate imperial territories of "princely
size and importance" for which they had a seat and vote on the count's benches of the Reichstag.
title of Graf
is common to various European territories where German was or is the official or vernacular tongue, including Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Alsace, the Baltic states
and other former Habsburg crown lands
. In Germany, all legal privileges of the nobility have been officially abolished since August 1919, and Graf
, like any other hereditary title, is treated as part of the legal surname.
In Austria, its use is banned by law, as with all hereditary titles and nobiliary particles
. In Switzerland
, the title is not acknowledged in law. In the monarchies of Belgium, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg, where German is one of the official languages
, the title continues to be recognised, used and, occasionally, granted by the national fons honorum
, the reigning monarch.
From the Middle Ages
, a Graf
usually ruled a territory known as a Grafschaft
(county). In the Holy Roman Empire
, many Imperial counts (Reichsgrafen
) retained near-sovereign authority in their lands until the Congress of Vienna
subordinated them to larger, neighboring monarchs through the German mediatisation
process of 1815, preserving their precedence, allocating familial representation in local legislatures, some jurisdictional immunities and the prestigious privilege of Ebenbürtigkeit
. In regions of Europe where nobles did not actually exercise Landeshoheit
over the populace, the Graf
long retained specific feudal
privileges over the land and in the villages in his county, such as rights to peasant service, to periodic fees for use of common infrastructure such as timber, mills, wells and pastures.
These rights gradually eroded and were largely eliminated before or during the 19th century, leaving the Graf with few legal privileges beyond land ownership, although comital estates in German-speaking lands were often substantial. Nonetheless, various rulers in German-speaking lands granted the hereditary title of Graf to their subjects, particularly after the abolition of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. Although lacking the prestige and powers of the former Imperial counts, they remained legal members of the local nobility, entitled to whatever minor privileges were recognised at the ruler's court. The title, translated as "count", was generally accepted and used in other countries by custom.
counts in Germany and Austria were titled Graf
without any additional qualification. Except in the Kingdom of Prussia
from the 19th century, the title of Graf
was not restricted by primogeniture
: it was inherited by all legitimate descendants in the male line
of the original titleholder, the males also inheriting an approximately equal share of the family's wealth and estates. Usually a hyphenated suffix indicated which of the familial lands a particular line of counts held, e.g. Castell-Rudenhausen
In the medieval Holy Roman Empire, some counts took or were granted unique variations of the gräfliche
title, often relating to a specific domain or jurisdiction of responsibility, e.g. Landgraf
, etc. Although as a title Graf
ranked, officially, below those of Herzog
(duke) and Fürst
(prince), the Holy Roman Emperor
could and did recognise unique concessions of authority or rank to some of these nobles, raising them to the status of gefürsteter Graf
or "princely count". But a grafliche
title with such a prefix did not always signify a higher than comital rank or membership in the Hochadel
. Only the more important of these titles, historically associated with degrees of sovereignty, remained in use by the 19th century, specifically Markgraf
For a list of the titles of the rank of Count etymologically related to Graf
(and for other equivalents) see article Count
Etymology and origin
The word Graf
derives from Middle High German
, which is usually derived from Latin
is in turn thought to come from the Byzantine
, which ultimately derives from the Greek verb γρᾰ́φειν (graphein
, "to write").
Other explanations have been put forward, however; Jacob
and Wilhelm Grimm
, while still noting the potential of a Greek derivation, suggested a connection to Gothic
, meaning "decision, decree". However, the Grimms preferred a solution that allows a connection to Old English
), in which the ge-
is a prefix, and which the Grimms derive from Proto-Germanic *rōva
, meaning number.
Nobiliary titles containing the term Graf
Some are approximately of comital rank, some higher, some lower. The more important ones are treated in separate articles (follow the links); a few minor, rarer ones only in sections below.
was a nobleman
whose title of count
was conferred or confirmed by the Holy Roman Emperor
, and meant "Imperial Count", i.e. a count of the Holy Roman Empire. Since the feudal
era, any count whose territory lay within the Empire and was under the immediate
jurisdiction of the Emperor with a shared vote in the Reichstag
came to be considered a member of the "upper nobility" (Hochadel
) in Germany, along with princes (Fürsten
), dukes (Herzöge
, and the emperor himself.
A count who was not a Reichsgraf
was likely to possess only a mesne fief
) — he was subject to an immediate prince of the empire, such as a duke or prince elector
However, the Holy Roman Emperors also occasionally granted the title of Reichsgraf
to subjects and foreigners who did not possess and were not granted immediate territories — or, sometimes, any territory at all.
Such titles were purely honorific
Notable Reichsgrafen included:
was originally a military governor of a Carolingian
), a border province. In medieval times the borders of the Holy Roman Empire were especially vulnerable to foreign attack, so the hereditary count of these "marches" of the realm was sometimes granted greater authority than other vassals
to ensure security. They bore the title "margrave" until the few who survived as sovereigns assumed higher titles when the Empire was abolished in 1806.
was a nobleman of comital rank in feudal Germany whose jurisdiction stretched over a territory larger than usually held by a count within the Holy Roman Empire
. The status of a landgrave was elevated, usually being associated with suzerains
who were subject to the Holy Roman Emperor but exercised sovereign authority within their lands and independence greater than the prerogatives to which a simple Graf
(count) was entitled, but the title itself implied no specific, legal privileges.
occasionally continued in use as the subsidiary title of such minor royalty as the Elector of Hesse
or the Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar
, who functioned as the Landgrave
in the first decade of the 20th century. The jurisdiction of a landgrave was a Landgrafschaft
or landgraviate, and the wife of a landgrave was a Landgräfin
A gefürsteter Graf
(English: "princely count") is a Reichsgraf
who was recognised by the Holy Roman Emperor as bearing the higher rank or exercising the more extensive authority of an Imperial prince
). While nominally retaining only a comital title, he was accorded princely rank and, usually, arms
by the Emperor.
, or Burgrave
, was a 12th- and 13th-century military and civil judicial governor
of a castle (compare castellan
) of the town it dominated and of its immediate surrounding countryside. His jurisdiction was a Burggrafschaft
Over time the office and domain to which it was attached tended to become hereditary by Imperial grant or retention over generations by members of the same family.
Examples: Burgrave of Nuremberg
, Burgrave of (Burggraf zu
suggested a similar function and history as other titles rendered in German by Vizegraf
, in Dutch as Burggraaf
or in English as Viscount
); the deputy of a count charged with exercising the count's prerogatives in overseeing one or more of the count's strongholds or fiefs, as the burgrave dwelt usually in a castle or fortified town. Some became hereditary and by the modern era obtained rank just below a count, though above a Freiherr
' (baron) who might hold a fief as vassal of the original count.
Rhinegrave, Wildgrave, Raugrave, Altgrave Unlike the other comital titles, Rhinegrave, Wildgrave (Waldgrave
, and Altgrave are not generic titles. Rather, each is linked to a specific countship, whose unique title emerged during the course of its history. These unusually named countships were equivalent in rank to other Counts of the Empire who were of Hochadel
status, being entitled to a shared seat and vote in the Imperial Diet
and possessing Imperial immediacy
, most of which would be mediatised
upon dissolution of the Empire in 1806.
- Rhinegrave (German: Rheingraf) was the title of the count of the Rheingau, a county located between Wiesbaden and Lorch on the right bank of the Rhine. Their castle was known as the Rheingrafenstein Castle. After the Rhinegraves inherited the Wildgraviate (see below) and parts of the Countship of Salm, they called themselves Wild-and-Rhinegraves of Salm.
- When the Nahegau (a countship named after the river Nahe) split into two parts in 1113, the counts of the two parts, belonging to the House of Salm, called themselves Wildgraves and Raugraves, respectively. They were named after the geographic properties of their territories: Wildgrave (German: Wildgraf; Latin: comes sylvanus) after Wald ("forest"), and Raugrave (German: Raugraf; Latin: comes hirsutus) after the rough (i.e. mountainous) terrain.
- Altgrave (German: Altgraf, "old count") was a title used by the counts of Lower Salm to distinguish themselves from the Wild- and Rhinegraves of Upper Salm, since Lower Salm was the senior branch of the family.
The corresponding titles in Scandinavia are greve (m.) and grevinna (f.) and would commonly be used in the third-person in direct address as a mark of courtesy, as in grevinnan.
Modern usage in German surnames
, although not abolished (unlike the Austrian nobility
by the new First Austrian Republic
in 1919), lost recognition as a legal class in Germany under the Weimar Republic
in 1919 under the Weimar Constitution
, article 109. Former hereditary noble titles legally simply transformed into dependent parts of the legal surname
(with the former title thus now following the given name, e.g. Otto Graf Lambsdorff
As dependent parts of the surnames (nichtselbständige Namensbestandteile
), they are ignored in alphabetical sorting of names, as is any nobiliary particle
, such as von
and might or might not be used by those bearing them. The distinguishing main surname is the name following the Graf
, or Gräfin
, and the nobiliary particle if any. Today, having lost their legal status, these terms are often not translated, unlike before 1919. The titles do, however, retain prestige in some circles of society.
The suffix -graf
occurs in various office titles which did not attain nobiliary status but were either held as a sinecure
by nobleman or courtiers, or functional officials such as the Deichgraf
(in a polder management organization).
Sources and references
- ^ Weimar Constitution Article 109, sentence 2
- ^ "Duden"..
- ^ Grimm, Jacob; Grimm, Wilhelm. "Deutsches Wörterbuch"..
- ^ a b Velde, François (2008-02-13). "Evolution of the Council of Princes from 1582 to 1803". Heraldica.org. Retrieved 2008-03-04.
- ^ a b c d Almanach de Gotha, Salm. Justus Perthes, 1944, pp. 169, 276, 280. French.
- ^ Rheingraf. In: Meyers Konversations-Lexikon. 4. Auflage. Band 13, Verlag des Bibliographischen Instituts, Leipzig/Wien 1885–1892, S. 0780.
- ^ Raugraf. In: Meyers Konversations-Lexikon. 4. Auflage. Band 13, Verlag des Bibliographischen Instituts, Leipzig/Wien 1885–1892, S. 0605.
- ^ Raugraf Archived 2007-06-03 at the Wayback Machine at wissen.de
- ^ Article 109 of the Weimar Constitution constitutes: Adelsbezeichnungen gelten nur als Teil des Namens und dürfen nicht mehr verliehen werden ("Noble names are only recognised as part of the surname and may no longer be granted").
- ^ Compare DIN standard # 5007, part 2.
Last edited on 10 May 2021, at 12:53
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