Graf or Gräfin 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".
HistoryThe comital 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 fount of honour, the reigning monarch.
From the Middle Ages, a Graf usually ruled a territory known as a Grafschaft. In the Holy Roman Empire, many Imperial counts 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 Royal intermarriage. 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.
Many Continental 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. Landgrave, Margrave, Pfalzgraf, Burgrave, Wildgraf, Waldgraf, Altgraf, Raugraf, etc. Although as a title Graf ranked, officially, below those of Herzog and Fürst, 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 and Landgraf.
For a list of the titles of the rank of Count etymologically related to Graf see article Count.
Etymology and originThe word Graf derives from italics=yes, which is usually derived from italics=yes. Graphio is in turn thought to come from the Byzantine title grapheus, which ultimately derives from the Greek verb γρᾰ́φειν. Other explanations have been put forward, however; Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, while still noting the potential of a Greek derivation, suggested a connection to italics=yes, meaning "decision, decree". However, the Grimms preferred a solution that allows a connection to italics=yes, in which the ge- is a prefix, and which the Grimms derive from Proto-Germanic , meaning number.
Nobiliary titles containing the termSome are approximately of comital rank, some higher, some lower. The more important ones are treated in separate articles ; a few minor, rarer ones only in sections below.
|Mark = march + Graf. Exercised authority over territory on the border of the Empire.|
|Landgraf||Landgrave||Land + Graf. Exercised authority over an entire province.|
|Reichsgraf||Imperial Count||Reich, i.e., Empire + Graf. Imperial count, whose title was granted or recognised by the Emperor.|
|Gefürsteter Graf||Princely Count||German verb for "made into a Reichsfürst" + Graf.|
|Pfalzgraf||Count Palatine |
|Pfalz + Graf. Originally ruled "with the authority of the Imperial Palace"; later, ruler of the "Palace-land", i.e., the Palatinate.|
|Rheingraf||Rhinegrave||Rhein + Graf. Ruled territory bordering the Rhine River.|
|Burggraf||Burgrave||Burg + Graf. Ruled territory surrounding or dominated by a fortified castle.|
|Altgraf||Altgrave||Alt + Graf. A count whose title pre-dated Imperial grants of the comital title. Unique to the Salm family.|
|Freigraf||Free Count||Frei = free + Graf. Both a feudal title of comital rank and a more technical office.|
|Waldgraf||Wildgrave||Wald = forest + Graf. Ruled a heavily forested area.|
|Raugraf||Raugrave||Rau + Graf. Ruled territory centered on an undeveloped area of land.|
|Vizegraf||Viscount||Vize = vice- + Graf.|
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.
In English, Reichsgraf is usually translated simply as count and is combined with a territorial suffix or a surname. Even after the abolition of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, the Reichsgrafen retained precedence above other counts in Germany. Those who had been quasi-sovereign until German mediatisation retained, until 1918, status and privileges pertaining to members of reigning dynasties.
Notable Reichsgrafen included:
- Counts of Castell
- County of Henneberg, a title merged into the imperial dignity
- House of Leiningen
- Nassau-Weilburg since 26 September 1366
- County of Stolberg
- Tyrol as a dominion of the Austrian crown
MargraveA Markgraf or Margrave was originally a military governor of a Carolingian "mark", 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.
Examples: Margrave of Baden, Margrave of Brandenburg-Bayreuth. Since the abolition of the German Empire at the end of World War I, the heirs of some of its former monarchies have resumed use of margrave as a title of pretence, e.g. Maria Emanuel, Margrave of Meissen and Maximilian, Margrave of Baden.
LandgraveA Landgraf or Landgrave 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 was entitled, but the title itself implied no specific, legal privileges.
Landgraf 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 of Thuringia 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 or landgravine.
Examples: Landgrave of Thuringia, Landgrave of Hesse, Landgrave of Leuchtenberg, Landgrave of Fürstenberg-Weitra. The title is now borne by the hereditary heirs to the deposed monarchs of Hesse, who lost their throne in 1918.A gefürsteter Graf 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.
Burgrave / ViscountA Burggraf, or Burgrave, was a 12th- and 13th-century military and civil judicial governor of a castle of the town it dominated and of its immediate surrounding countryside. His jurisdiction was a Burggrafschaft, burgraviate.
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 Dohna-Schlobitten
Initially burgrave 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' who might hold a fief as vassal of the original count.
Rhinegrave, Wildgrave, Raugrave, AltgraveUnlike the other comital titles, Rhinegrave, Wildgrave, Raugrave, 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 German nobility#Divisions of nobility 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 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 and parts of the Countship of Salm, they called themselves Wild-and-Rhinegraves of Salm.
- When the Nahegau 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 after Wald, and Raugrave after the rough terrain.
- * The first Raugrave was Count Emich I. The dynasty died out in the 18th century. Charles I Louis, Elector Palatine purchased the estates, and after 1667 accorded the wife and children of his arguably bigamous second marriage to Baroness Marie Luise von Degenfeld, the title of "Raugravine/Raugrave".
- Altgrave 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.