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Ideal image of Charlemagne with parts of the imperial regalia made long after his death , painted in 1513 by Albrecht Dürer on behalf of his native Nuremberg

The nobility ( Old High German  adal or edili , noble sex, the noblest, Latin nobilitas ) is a “socially exclusive group with social priority” that exercises rule and usually passes it on within the family. However, there is no clarity of the term and in the individual areas of European rule different criteria apply or were applied as to who belongs to the nobility and who does not. This applies even more to non-European cultures. A member of the nobility is referred to as a nobleman , noblewoman , noblewoman or nobleman .

The aristocracy's claim to power was based, among other things, on performance, upbringing and descent, as well as on assumed divine intent. Leadership classes in various cultures around the world and in various societies are interpreted as nobility. In spite of the very long phases of continuity, the nobility were repeatedly exposed to changes. It could collapse, like the late Roman nobility, or it could form anew. In many countries of the world, the nobility no longer holds their formerly extensive and exclusive political power in their hands, in some cases they even no longer exist (e.g. China), no longer even as an externally perceptible social group. At the same time, there are many states that are ruled or represented by noble houses and in which the nobility plays an important role - from Great Britain to Oman to Cambodia.

In Europe , archeology knows the earliest evidence that is interpreted as such aristocratic life, especially grave finds and the remains of former villas and castles . Ancient Greek, Roman, but also z. B. Etruscan ruling classes are considered nobility. In the Middle Ages, the nobility from Roman and Germanic, ethnically seen partly from Slavic roots, developed into a “multifunctional elite” that led politically and militarily, economically, socially, culturally and religiously, but not necessarily to be interpreted as “nobility” .

The European nobility has grown from around 11/12. Century usually corporately organized. In such class systems, certain rights, privileges, duties and codes of conduct apply to the nobility . With the replacement of the estates by democratic, socialist or communist systems or constitutional monarchies, the nobility in Europe has largely lost its political significance.

The legal and social situation of the nobility has historically been extremely different depending on the region: from the basic whereabouts of class differences (e.g. United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) to the abolition of class privileges and obligations (e.g. Weimar Republic) and its own Abolition (e.g. Austria) up to extinction through persecution, expulsion, imprisonment or murder (e.g. France, Russia, Soviet Zone / GDR).

In Europe, however, the nobility today sometimes represents a relatively closed social class with its own way of life, manners and a differentiated ethos.

Word origin

Whether the word nobility is related to the word Odal (for example: ancestral property of a family , see article) is the subject of a long scientific controversy. Gustav Neckel wanted to demonstrate a complete identity of these terms. Friedrich Kauffmann concluded from the similarity of the words that Odal is ancestral property of a noble family. This is countered by the fact that at the beginning of the tradition, the authors were no longer aware of the relationship between the two words. In addition, it cannot be deduced from such deductions that there was an ancient or common Germanic nobility at all. Otto Behaghel denied any connection between the words "Odal" and "Adel". Werner Conze , however, stuck to a relationship between the terms, as did the currently leading etymological dictionaries of German, Kluge / Seebold and Pfeifer.

The connection between "Odal" and "nobility", "noble" was interpreted to mean that land ownership played a decisive role in the emergence of the nobility. This corresponded to the state of historical research in the 19th and early 20th centuries. But this connection between nobility and landed property can no longer be maintained today. The nobility was not based on economic elements, but on participation in power in the sense of rule over people.

From the occurrence of nōbĭlís or their derivatives in Latin texts, it was often concluded that there was a nobility for the times and societies about which these texts provide information. But that is not mandatory. Even authors of the late Middle Ages knew that the words nōbĭlís and "nobility" are ambiguous. “They knew the distance between the concept and the concept. The term nobility is ambiguous and ambiguous, stated Bartolus von Sassoferato (1314–1357). […] Humanists of the 15th century complained about the exceptionally broad scope of the term nobilitas, its latissimus ambitus ( Giovanni Francesco Poggio Bracciolini : De nobilitate. Strasbourg 1513; Laurence Humphrey : Optimates sive de nobilitate. Basel 1559 p. 84). “There is strong evidence that there was no general word for the nobility in Middle Low German and Early New High German. It was only with the translation of Latin and Early New High German texts into New High German that nobiles / nobilis apparently clearly became nobles, which is by no means clear in the original texts. Martin Luther's translation of the Bible is far from linking the two passages where the Vulgate derives from nōbĭlís (2 Maccabees 6.23; 1 Corinthians 1.26) with “nobility”. "One is 'noble' in relation to the (all -) 'common' people, attracts attention (lat. No (ta) bilis) through fame and 'noble' = noble, generous behavior and finally educates in relation to outstanding human qualities - Talents, virtues, proficiency in different fields (Latin Virtus, Greek Arete) - a community of the 'best' (Greek Aristoi). ”In the Romance languages ​​and in English, the double meaning of the Latin nōbĭlís in the sense of“ noble ” remains and received "noble".

Origin and development


It is often said that nobility is “a universal historical phenomenon that can already be found in the early advanced civilizations ”, from the pharaohs of Egypt to the nobility of Mesopotamia , the Attic Eupatrids , the Byzantine and Roman aristocracy, the Japanese , Chinese and Arab nobility the late Roman senatorial nobility, which formed the bridge to the European nobility of the Middle Ages, etc., to the modern modern nobility. However, this statement is controversial. Tacitus writes that there was once a time when all people were equal and that inherited rule only arose “when equality was lost” ( Tacitus , Annales 3.26). At the latest in the Renaissance, people began to discuss what “aristocratic” and “nobility” were, and the predominance of the nobility that had “always existed” was questioned. Where no written sources are available, archaeological finds of extremely rich grave equipment, which stand next to the simplest, point to social leaders. Archaeologists speak of “ princely graves ” in connection with the richest grave equipment , without - due to a lack of written sources - being able to say anything about the ruling structure.

The claim that all societies described as pre-industrial high cultures had a class of aristocracy cannot be adequately proven; The aristocracy is often not sufficiently differentiated from other ruling classes. This results in such a great heterogeneity of the term nobility that the exact definition of nobility can only be provided with a view to a certain region and a certain period of time. It is also questionable whether the seemingly uninterrupted continuity of “the nobility” in Europe between the Roman Empire and the Second World War actually represents a unity, whether it was constructed in terms of prestige or whether it is a social position that changes with every generation content changes.

As a rule, the nobility initially stands out due to a greater influence on public events, e.g. a. in the form of military superiority or achievement (sword aristocracy, knighthood , samurai , official aristocracy ) and higher economic potential, mostly in the form of real estate (e.g. Roman patriciate ), on the social environment. This gives rise to the claim to dominate them politically. This elevated position is - regardless of the economic basis - mostly hereditary, which results in a central importance of the family .

Special aristocratic upbringing should prepare as comprehensively as possible for bearing military, political, social and cultural responsibility since childhood (cf. “ Nobility obliges ”). This is based on the idea of ​​the aristocracy , i.e. the striving for a rule of the best or most suitable, which is oriented towards the common good. The deciding factor is not only the ability but also the virtue of the person, which is what is happening in Europe and the like. a. reflected in the Christian ideal of chivalrous virtues . The same also applied to the ideal of the just ruler (cf. for example for flathemon ) or an enlightened absolutism .

The idea of ​​the aristocracy also resulted in the rise or elevation of particularly capable and virtuous people to the nobility. It was reserved for the nobility, mostly - regionally different - the highest ranking, the king or emperor , but in some countries also dukes and other princes , to raise non-nobility to the nobility (service or official nobility), e.g. B. in the Holy Roman Empire since Emperor Charles IV. The lord and monarch in turn derived his claim to power from a divine grace or predestination , his dignity from inheritance ( hereditary monarchy ), election ( monarchy by choice ) or even prophecy (see e.g. tarb-feis ) or to have obtained certain marks and tests (cf. for example Arthurian legend , Lia Fáil ).

In general, rule in different regions of the world, in addition to an old descent from well-deserved, famous, mythical or divine ancestors, also with a particularly accepted relationship to the gods (priestly nobility), a special sacredness of the ruler or the ruling dynasty ( royal salvation ) or even one Deification of the ruler ( god-king ) legitimized.



The concept of “nobility” of the European Middle Ages, which was essentially developed in the 19th century, can only be partially transferred to the ancient cultures of the Greeks and Romans. Here, as in feudal societies since the European Middle Ages, descent was not the most outstanding characteristic of the nobility, but rather their achievement or “bestness” (Greek arete , Latin nobilitas ). The ancient aristocracy derived their claim to rule rather from a special achievement (for the state), less from the luck of having been born in a certain family. For example, with the Lex Cassia (44 BC), the Roman Senate granted Gaius Julius Caesar the right to appoint new patricians . Emperor Augustus, who had been a patrician since Julius Caesar's testamentary adoption, had the Senate grant him such a right with the Lex Saenia (29 BC), which was also exercised by Augustus' successor. The occasion was Lucius Saenius , who - like other lower officials - let Augustus use himself as a tool and in return became a suffect consul .

Ancient Greece

Due to the lack of written sources, there is only a limited amount of reliable information about ancient Greece , such as the kingship in Sparta or the rule in the kingdom of Macedonia .

Unlike the power of the Phoenicians based on trade and seafaring, however, the aristocratic dominance in Sparta and Corinth was based primarily on extensive property, holding the priesthood and the privilege of judiciary up to and including the slave trade ( debt bondage ). It was characterized by a division of society into the "noble and rich" ( Kalokagathia ) and the "low". In particular, keeping horses and participating in horse and chariot races at the Olympic Games were reserved for the nobility. One example are the "hippobots" (the mounted nobility) on Euboea .

From the aristocracy that had degenerated into oligarchy and tyranny , the democratic polis developed in city-states such as ancient Athens .

Ancient Rome
Senatorial nobility in Rome: Caecus in the Senate. Fresco by Cesare Maccari 1882/88

In ancient Rome there was a class of equites ( knights ), which is sometimes interpreted as the "lower nobility". The rise of a Roman to a higher rank up to knight was possible, but largely determined by fixed property limits (see census voting rights ). This hierarchy probably went back to the early Roman period, when society was structured according to the army order. The position in the army was determined by the equipment that had to be provided; accordingly, the wealthier occupied higher positions. A eques is in this sense a soldier to horse . Research is divided on the exact position of these warriors. What is certain is that from the Punic Wars onwards, the importance of the eques is primarily based on the economic sector. As a wealthy class without the honorary duties of the senators , they could take on sovereign tasks leased by the state, for example the collection of indirect taxes and customs duties.

The former holders of consular offices (see also Cursus honorum ) and their descendants formed the senatorial nobility , which died out in the 2nd century. From 186 onwards, Emperor Commodus referred to himself as nobilitas Augusti , in order to justify his now controversial rule through a supposed relationship with Emperor Augustus . In the 3rd century, the name nobilissimus became common for the Caesar as the designated successor of the ruler, which only made him recognizable as the son of the ruler. Since Emperor Constantine this became an exclusive denomination.

middle Ages

Carolingian cavalry (manuscript of the 9th century)
Accolade by John II of France

The origin of the medieval nobility is disputed. Werner Hechberger has shown in a study that has covered medieval research since the 19th century “that studies of the history of the medieval nobility - regardless of whether the authors are aware of it or not - are based on theoretical premises, which are the starting point for source analyzes form. These preliminary theoretical considerations change with the presence of historians ”. Time and again, ancient or medieval sources that have come down to us are interpreted in completely different ways by different authors, and sometimes the same passages of text are interpreted in opposite directions, depending on which model of society is explicitly or unconsciously used by the respective author.

According to Marc Bloch's fundamental work Die Feudalgesellschaft (1939), there was already a landowning nobility in the Merovingian and Carolingian early Middle Ages, such as the greats of the Franconian Empire (e.g. the Robertines as ancestors of the Capetians ), the owners of Carolingian counts ( e.g. the Guelphs ), some of them climbers in courtly or ecclesiastical service, others perhaps even originating from Germanic or Celtic large-scale peasant chiefs (of which, however, at most a few could go back to the leaders of the Germanic allegiances of the migration period ). Politically, the weight of this nobility (as well as that of the church and royalty) initially grew at the expense of the other free people . In the Carolingian army, which partially took over functions of the people's assembly, in administration and jurisdiction, the nobility, which grew together from Germanic nobility and Romanesque land nobility, increasingly dominated. According to Bloch, however, this older nobility was at the time of the collapse of the state order in Europe during the onslaught by Vikings , Saracens and Magyars from around 800 to shortly after 1000 AD through a spontaneously arisen, defensive sword nobility (partly unfree-peasant, partly of free or noble origin), who took it upon himself to defend the peasant population as an armored rider and who was fed by them and equipped with (at that time expensive) horses and weapons as well as soldiers . This group then formed the basis of the feudal pyramid. It can be assumed, however, that some of the most powerful families of the High Middle Ages arose from the early medieval elites in terms of genealogy and property .

It developed a vassal system in which either the more powerful his followers transferred the means and responsibility for their own maintenance (land and people) or - more likely - the weaker their protectors reversed surrendered their lands and this as a fief received back to then the one with In cash or in kind, and leaving the land to the rear for agriculture, polluted the land . The inheritance of fiefs and the admissibility of subcontracting as an after-fief were established in 1037 by Emperor Conrad II with the Constitutio de feudis . So it came about that in the 12th century all duchies and counties were already given as fiefs. Within these individual spiritual and secular territories, however, there was again a complex feudal system.

In the 13th century, in addition to the older, noble-free nobility, more and more members of originally unfree families emerged who distinguished themselves as servants (" ministerials ") by virtue of their warlike or administrative skills. B. as castle men , soon received the sword or the knighthood . This lower group began to see itself as the nobility from the middle of the 13th century, even if the social separation from the “old” nobility continued to play a role for a long time; so the noble free are usually listed as witnesses before the ministerials in documents. The emerging class ideals and cultural characteristics of knighthood , idealized by the minnesang and forms of competition such as the tournament , contributed to the development of a uniform aristocratic culture among the "knight-born" and thus to the merging of the noble free and ministerial to the primeval nobility .

In the Sachsenspiegel from the 13th century, the word "nobility" occurs only once: a legitimate child is either a noble child or a serf child ("adel kint", "egen kint", Ssp. Ldr. I / 51,2) . Otherwise the Sachsenspiegel speaks of "free". The legal book indicates, however, that it means a warlike class ruling over land and unfree peasants. An impressive example is the legend about the origin of the Saxons:

“Our ancestors, who came here and expelled the Thuringians, had been in Alexander's army ... Since there were not so many of them that they could cultivate the field, when they killed and expelled the Thuringian gentlemen, they left them Peasants sit unbeaten and hired out the field to them at just as good a right as the interest farmers still have. (Ssp. Ldr. III / 44.2 and 3) "

The Heidelberg illuminated manuscript of the Sachsenspiegel juxtaposes the two stands, neatly separated. However you want to explain the emergence of the medieval nobility, it was already in full bloom at the time of the Sachsenspiegel. The nobility does not appear here as a knighthood oriented towards the sovereign , as is typical for the later centuries, but rather as a cooperative of knight-born people who saw in the distant, barely perceptible king the guarantor of their old, traditional rights.

Early medieval aristocratic castle of the “ Motte ” type around the year 1000, reconstruction in the Bärnau-Tachov Historical Park
Early middle ages

The early medieval Germanic rulers still ruled predominantly with and in tribal structures and associations. Even among the Merovingians there was no nobility among the Franks. Only when cross-tribal structures were created in the Carolingian Empire and then under the Saxon and Salian rulers in Germany and the first approaches to state formation took place, the rulers had to work alongside the tribal leaders ( dukes ) as non-hereditary officials ( ministerials ) as initially non-hereditary "administrative officials" to install. In doing so, they mostly resorted to their knightly vassals, but sometimes also to qualified climbers. There were parallel developments in the other great European empires. The thinking of the time continued to move in tribal and family structures, and so there was a tendency to make these functions hereditary. Since the “payment” of the functionaries in a society that did not yet have a developed monetary economy took place in the allocation of land for supply, this gave rise to the feudal system and, as a result, the inheritance of the property awarded along with the function.

As noble free (inert atmosphere or nobles) first ones were called, which differs from the other outdoors by the payment of three times wergild distinguished. It is now scientifically proven that the view that these people are nobles per se is a transfer of ideas from the 19th century to the early Middle Ages. It was not until the 12th century that the high nobility emerged in the Holy Roman Empire, as opposed to the official nobility , the ministerial.

High Middle Ages
Emperor Friedrich I. Barbarossa in the noble circle on the Mainz court day of 1184
Late medieval aristocratic seat: Höhenburg in Hochosterwitz , Carinthia

In the 11th and 12th centuries there was a strong increase in the number of ministerials (dependent noble families) because the kings, dukes and clergy princes increasingly used them as administrators of their estates. With the differentiation of this system, different nobility ranks emerged ; Some noble families managed to rise to more or less sovereign rulers of their territories, which were later referred to as imperial directors , others were forced to submit to a liege lord or entered the ministry for economic reasons. Some large imperial ministers in turn appropriated the royal estates administered by them or received them as imperial fiefs in hereditary possession and thus rose, like the noble free who remained independent, into the emerging high nobility ( dukes , princes and ruling counts ), a process that ended in the 14th century. This was followed by a phase in which this high nobility increasingly tried to emancipate themselves from the royal and imperial central authority. In Germany and Italy this was largely successful: Here, at the level of the territories, states were formed in the form of duchies , margraves , palatinate counties , land counties , counties , other dominions and, in Italy, city-states . In addition, there are the principal bishoprics and princedoms. In England and especially France these processes did not go that far and centrally organized national states were formed with a wealthy and influential property and court nobility, which, however, did not exercise independent governmental power, but a derivative in the service of the central monarchy . From around 1100, a Europe-wide, uniform aristocratic culture, knighthood, developed from the military service duties of feudalism . With the advent of closed armor (especially the pot helmet) in the High Middle Ages, friend and foe were no longer recognizable in battle, so that the coat of arms on the helmet and shield served as an identification aid. In addition, the tournament system developed as a social fighting game to a privilege establishing identity ( test of nobility ).

Flowering and decline

Love seat castle, neo-Gothic aristocratic seat

In Europe , the nobility flourished from the High Middle Ages to the late 18th century, although its function in the class society with its class structure changed steadily up to the time of absolutism . While in the early and high Middle Ages the sovereigns almost exclusively employed clergymen for their governmental affairs (since they knew the Latin language and writing), from the 15th, but especially in the 16th and 17th centuries, they increasingly provided middle-class people who knew Latin jurists one who sought to curtail the power of the feudal nobility in favor of the rulers, which, however, often ascended in turn by patents of nobility even in the needle when they stayed there as a "letter Adel" mostly among themselves, if they failed, the manors to buy . The manorial rule formed the economic basis of the nobility.

The transition from the knight army of the feudal vassals to the professional mercenary army ushered in an economic decline of the nobility in the 14th century (and promoted the phenomenon of the " robber barons "), while at the same time in the prosperous cities the commercial ranks rose to patricians , which, however, partially aristocratized early. This happened in many European trading cities, some of which developed into more or less independent city-states, into trade republics such as the German imperial cities , the Hanseatic cities , the Republic of Venice , the Republic of Genoa , Florence , the Republic of the United Netherlands or the Swiss city cantons, the were ruled by the patriciate of the Old Confederation . Sometimes this city nobility was then formally ennobled, sometimes it acquired aristocratic manors, sometimes it asserted its equality and membership of the nobility in its own right; the Nuremberg patriciate is a well-known example. These urban aristocracies were at the head of so-called " aristocratic republics ".

In absolutism , power was concentrated with the ruling princes. They expanded their court in ever more complex ways, which also offered the lower nobility further opportunities to acquire influential and lucrative positions. With the Palace of Versailles and its royal seat, Louis XIV created the prototype of an absolutist court that was copied across Europe. At the same time, he also invented a complicated court ceremony with which he kept the noblesse d'épée , the high-ranking and rich nobility of birth, occupied, while he transferred the responsible positions in the state administration to the noblesse de robe , a new official nobility in which well-educated bourgeoisie also belonged who were economically dependent on the favor of the ruler. Court etiquette now compelled the wealthy aristocrats to spend immense sums of money on their clothing and to spend their time mainly at balls, dinners and other festivities instead of exercising their ancestral powers in the provinces. No aristocrat who was dependent on the favor of the king could risk his absence - so political power rested firmly in the hands of the "Sun King". In the Holy Roman Empire, the regional rulers down to the Duodec princes imitated this system. High and low nobility and church princes created magnificent residences or country castles, including parks, churches and theaters, and often ruined their finances as a result.

Since the 17th century, at the same time newer bourgeois upper classes, the nobility neither belonged nor ascended into him (or wanted to ascend), about which formed Hanseaten who therefore sometimes also called " Citizens noble are called." While in England the gentry had ruled the increasingly powerful House of Commons since the late Middle Ages , in France the upper middle class (consisting of merchants, private bankers and increasingly also industrialists) set the tone in the second half of the 18th century. With the French Revolution and the assumption of state and social tasks by the rising bourgeoisie , the aristocratic rule in France ended and since the " bourgeois king " at the latest, the bourgeoisie took over political power there, while elsewhere (for example in the Kingdom of Prussia ) it was still longer in the Hand of the monarchy and the nobility remained. Economically, however, the peasant liberation in the early 19th century put an end to the traditional feudal rule . The land-owning nobleman no longer lived mainly on services and taxes, but had to try his hand at being an agricultural entrepreneur; The import duties imposed by the nobility in the German Empire cushioned the risk. With the advent of capitalism and industrialization, however, civil education in industry, administration and science proved to be more competitive in the long run than that which was still based on traditional noble professions in the 19th century (officer, diplomat, farmer and forester, hunter and clergyman) Education of the nobility. However, the older bourgeois elites were often detached from the end of the 18th century in the wake of revolutions and industrialization in their local spheres of activity with new business elite, bourgeoisie and educated middle class came into the light.

20th and 21st centuries

In Europe, the nobility in many countries, socialist or communist systems by the development towards republics, constitutional monarchies his political power as a separate state lost, but because of its still effective social prestige represented remains higher than average in representative leadership positions (more than in actual positions of power) and until the 20th century represented a relatively closed social class , today often at least a style-defining social milieu (comparable to the different classes of the bourgeoisie ) with its own ways of life, manners and differentiated ethos Nobility, such as the umbrella organization Cilane and the individual nobility associations in European countries, are used by part of the nobility as interest groups.

The situation of the nobility in the various European countries is very heterogeneous today - a consequence of the very different historical processes in the countries:

  • In some countries in Western and Northern Europe, the nobility is experiencing continuity, despite all changes and the gradual sharing and relinquishing of their political power (e.g. Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Spain). In these countries, noble families are the representatives at the head of the state, albeit partly with no or very limited power (see e.g. constitutional bodies of the United Kingdom ). In Great Britain and Northern Ireland aristocrats sit in the House of Lords, advancement to the nobility through nobility is still possible in some countries (e.g. Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Belgium, Spain), and they are still organized in associations (e.g. the Swedish Riddarhuset ); Aristocrats naturally form part of the elite there.
  • In other European countries, however, there has been a clear break. Among them are countries that have become republics , e.g. B. France, Germany (1918/1919) and Italy. In these countries the nobility have mostly lost their political power in one fell swoop, but in some cases still have a certain social weight, while at the same time they are increasingly opening up to the upper classes and the educated bourgeoisie with regard to marriages.
  • In some countries the nobility was completely abolished, for example in Austria (Nobility Repeal Act 1919). Nobles became ordinary citizens, and the use of a nobility title was prohibited. However, there was no interference with property rights, except for the regent family ( Habsburg laws ).
  • After all, the nobility in some other countries , especially those to the east, experienced an even sharper break through the establishment of socialist or communist dictatorships (Soviet Union, Soviet Zone / GDR, Poland, etc.). Here the nobility were partially stripped of their possessions, driven out, interned or shot.

In Germany today the observance of nobility law , which goes back to the principles of Salic law , still plays a role, especially in the regularly published volume series of the Genealogical Handbook of the Nobility and in the monthly magazine Deutsches Adelsblatt , under the supervision of a " German Nobility Law Committee ", because the design options of today's naming law (adoptions, passing on the name by married women, named husbands, illegitimate children, etc.) produce numerous bearers of names who do not belong to the “historical nobility” (“ false nobility ”). In Austria, however, the deletion of all titles in 1919 prevented such a “flood of titles”; the only thing that counts here is knowing which families and which of the associated namesake belonged or belonged to the nobility.

Code of honor of the European nobility

The code of honor for the European nobility is the resolution on the code of conduct of the nobility, which was passed on September 2, 1989 in Porto, Portugal, by the official European nobility associations represented in the CILANE (Commission d'Information et de Liaison des Associations Nobles d'Europe) which every nobleman and noblewoman should be measured against in the 21st century. The following values ​​are considered to be forward-looking, desirable and worth preserving:

  1. Intellectual and moral values: respect for other religious and philosophical traditions (regardless of which religion or philosophical worldview the noblewoman belongs to), high value placed on the dignity of the person, exclusion of intolerance and sectarianism, promotion of human rights regardless of origin, social situation and Ethnicity, cultivating honesty, keeping your word, fulfilling obligations.
  2. Family values: promoting a sense of family and family ties, considering the family as a starting point for society, appreciation of marriage, “beauty of conjugal love”, protection of cultural heritage, memory of the deceased, preservation of family traditions, family solidarity, respect between the generations .
  3. Social values: "Seeing the meaning of freedom in striving for excellence, taking responsibility and serving unselfishly", calling to responsibility, to leadership for the good of all and not for the sake of one's own benefit, maintaining the spirit of service, acquiring language skills , Profession instead of mediocrity, cultivating an attitude that is not based on direct profit and power, but on benefit for society , responsibility stemming from history, entrepreneurial spirit and the courage to be willing to make sacrifices, active participation in building Europe, citizenship and action oriented towards the common good, concern the well-being of others, especially the weaker, maintaining politeness and appropriate manners, roots in the local community, solidarity with land, sense of home and justified national pride, protection of the environment, preservation of natural resources and recognition of the positive role of humor in society be a role model.

Nobility by country

The country names mentioned in the following are used for geographical, political and cultural orientation, since imperial and state borders have changed over time.



During the Habsburg rule, the nobility (who were mostly nobility from the time of the Holy Roman Empire) had great political importance. During the unification with the Netherlands (1814-1830) the country had an estate constitution , according to which the nobility sat in a special chamber of the Reichstag (Eerste Kamer) . This was abolished after independence and the nobility lost all political importance, although the king still has the right to confer nobility titles, basically no higher than the count. Belgians who have recently been raised to the nobility are z. B. Dirk Frimout (Burggraf, 1986), Ilya Prigogine (Burggraf, 1989), Albert Frère (Baron, 1994), Eddy Merckx (Baron, 1996), Frank De Winne (Burggraf, 2002) and Jacques Rogge (Graf, 2002) . Foreign nobles who had become Belgian subjects are only considered noble if they are accepted by the king into the nobility of the kingdom through a "reconnaissance de noblesse", usually at the suggestion of the Raad van Adel / Conseil Héraldique . There is a personal and a hereditary nobility in Belgium: the hereditary nobility is either passed on to all offspring or passes from man to man according to the law of the firstborn. The ranks are: untitled nobility, Junker ( Jonkheer or Ecuyer ), Knight ( Ridder or Chevalier ), Freiherr ( Baron or Baron ), Burgrave ( Burggraaf or Vicomte ), Count ( Graaf or Comte ), Marquis ( Markies or Marquis ), Prince ( Prins or Prince ), and Herzog ( Hertog or Duc ). There are no princes in Belgium.


The oldest reports about nobility in the area of ​​today's Germany can be found in the Germania of Tacitus, which appeared in Rome in 98 AD. The Frankish abbot Nithard , a grandson of Charlemagne , describes in 842 in Book IV, cap. 2 of its history the three estates of the Saxons . The tribal duchies came into being in Franconian times . With the conquest of Saxony, Charlemagne expanded the Franconian count system to what would later become the entire Holy Roman Empire.

In the High Middle Ages , the original noble free and the ministerial merged through the feudal system to form the class of knight-born, whose families that still exist today are referred to as primeval nobility . A feudal pyramid was created, the steps of which are called army shields . In the late Middle Ages and in the early modern period, the sovereigns emerged from the nobles of the third and fourth army shields and the Reichsministeriales . When the Reichstag became a permanent institution of the imperial constitution in 1495 , the owners of large imperial fiefs (electors, princes, dukes, counts and imperial prelates) received hereditary seats and thus became imperial estates .

The granting of nobility titles to commoners began in the German lands (Germany, German-speaking area) in the time of Emperor Charles IV. Following the French model, civil servants (especially those with legal knowledge) were raised to the nobility class ( letter nobility ). In the Holy Roman Empire, ennoblement was a privilege of the emperor or, during vacancies, the imperial vicar . Since 1806 the princes of the Confederation of the Rhine and after 1815 all German princes could raise their rank up to the count, the kings up to the prince status. This remained so even after the establishment of the German Empire on January 18, 1871 to 1918.

With the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, a large part of the imperial estates that had hitherto been directly imperial came under the rule of member states of the German Confederation through mediation ; As noblemen they only retained rudimentary special rights; Even the lower nobility had hardly any special rights in most of the countries of the German Empire . Until the early 20th century, however, large parts of public life, especially prominent positions in administration, diplomacy and the military, were customarily reserved for nobles; Outstandingly qualified bourgeoisie were often ennobled and formed a nobility of officers, civil servants and professors that was socially closer to the bourgeoisie and hardly ever established in the country.

After the end of the monarchy, Article 109 of the Weimar Constitution (Constitution of the German Reich of August 11, 1919) stipulated: “Privileges or disadvantages of birth or class under public law are to be abolished. Designations of nobility are only part of the name and may no longer be awarded. ”The wording“ The nobility has been abolished ”proposed by the parliamentary groups of the USPD and SPD in the National Assembly was rejected on July 15, 1919 after lengthy discussion. According to the Association of German Aristocratic Associations (VdDA), around 80,000 members of noble families live in Germany today .

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the “abolition” of the nobility in 2018, the columnist Jens Jessen published an essayistic consideration of its survival, its peculiarities and remaining aspects of its difference from the bourgeoisie .


As in Germany, the French nobility originally emerged from the feudal system of the Middle Ages. During the time of the Bourbon kings, the older nobility was considerably weakened by numerous elevations of rank and the introduction of the nobility ( noblesse de robe ) and finally wiped out by the revolution. Napoleon I created a new nobility and at the same time incorporated part of the old nobility into his system. The short-lived 2nd Republic abolished the nobility, Napoleon III. restored it, but the 3rd Republic finally abolished it in 1870. Since then, noble titles have only been part of the name.

Holy See

The Holy See (as a particular subject of international law not to be confused with the Vatican State ) can also confer nobility, but this has been the case since the pontificate of John XXIII. no longer practiced, although the theoretical possibility still exists.

The Pope is a ruling European monarch, albeit in an elective monarchy (as once in the Kingdom of Poland ) and therefore also in the I. section of the series Princely Houses of the "Gotha" with its own article. In the Holy Roman Empire, however, the ruling clergy princes were referred to as church princes and, to this day, the cardinals , for whom the “Gotha” contains an explanation of the clerical princes , but which are not listed there by name. The popes created their own papal nobility , from which they themselves often emerged.


Italian nobleman of the 15th century hunting with falcon and dogs . Engraving by Andrea Mantegna , around 1465.

The medieval feudal law in Italy and the Italian law of inheritance differed considerably from the Frankish law; therefore the Italian nobility is only partially comparable with the French or German. But the Italian landed aristocracy also developed from feudalism, and in contrast to other European countries, Italy also had a strong class of urban nobility, the Signoria . A characteristic of the development of the Italian nobility was that the medieval counties and baronies were quite small, so that the later marquis and counts often only had insignificant land holdings.

Only in the Kingdom of Italy (1861–1946) can one speak of “nobility” in the sense of traditional “nobility research”. In the 19th century there were ranks in Italy similar to those in Germany, France, Great Britain, Spain: Prince (Principe) , Herzog (Duca) , Margrave (Marchese) , Count (Conte) , Vice Count (Visconte) , Baron (Barone) ) , knights (Cavaliere) , Private (Patrizio) and Noble (Nobiluomo) . Because of the high number of titled nobles in the old town and country nobility, a small nobility could hardly develop. With the end of the monarchy, the titles of nobility were abolished in Italy in 1946.


The so-called Venetian nobili , which must be called precisely Nobilhòmo (Venetian: Nobilòmo or Nobiluomo ), can not be compared with the traditional nobility : They were merchants from those families who were admitted to the Venetian Parliament, the Grand Council, its committees and government offices elected the Doge and all other government officials from among their ranks. Otherwise, these nobili did not differ from the rich Venetian patrician families, who no longer had access to them after the expansion of the Great Council in 1297 (usually incorrectly called serrata = lock). They therefore had an independence and a self-confidence that must be a thorn in the side of every monarch, since they were not the backs of a ruler. That is why Napoleon and the Habsburg emperors did everything in their power to turn the Venetian nobilhòmini into vassals during their rule over Venice. After the repossession of Venice, Emperor Franz I of Austria once again made the word nobilòmo a criminal offense, as had already happened in 1798.


Besides the grand ducal family, there are no prince or ducal families in Luxembourg. According to the Luxembourg constitution , the Grand Duke has the right to “de conférer des titres de Noblesse” (conferring titles of nobility). Even today, the Grand Duke continues to raise the nobility. Mostly, however, it is about ennobling in the family circle. The nephew of the Grand Duchess Charlotte, Gustaf Lennart Nicolaus Paul Bernadotte, was ennobled to “Comte de Wisborg” in 1951 (see for example: Succession to the throne in Sweden ).


The origins of the nobility and the development and subsequent loss of their privileges followed the same path as in Belgium. Originally the nobility was divided into the land nobility and the city ​​patriciate and initially had power in their hands, but this was lost with the introduction of the republic in 1795. In 1807 the temporary King of Holland Louis Bonaparte tried to revive the nobility with his titles, predicates and privileges, which, however, met with energetic resistance from his brother Napoleon Bonaparte . The Dutch constitution of 1848 finally abolished all noble privileges and the royal prerogative of nobility. Today's Dutch nobility consists primarily of landowners. Traditionally, the nobility also held a number of functions at court. The Dutch nobility is not untitled. A part of the name van or de is usually not a reference to a noble name. The ranks from the lowest title are: Junker (Jonkheer) (e.g .: Jonkheer van Amsberg is a noble name, Dhr. Van Vollenhoven is civil), knight (ridder) , baron (baron) , burgrave (burggraaf) , count (graaf) , Duke (hertog) , prince (prins) .


The nobility in the Habsburg hereditary lands , which belonged to the Holy Roman Empire, was organized according to the regulations in force in the empire until 1806. The Habsburg rulers, as Roman emperors, awarded the title of imperial prince to outstanding noble houses of the Danube monarchy . Since 1806, the statutes laid down by the respective monarch for the Austrian Empire, founded in 1804, have been in force . In the Kingdom of Hungary , which was part of the Empire until 1867, the Hungarian nobility rules also applied, in the other crown lands also the rules handed down there (Galicia: Polish rules; Croatian, Italian, Bohemian rules). After the end of the Habsburg monarchy, the titles of nobility were abolished in their successor states, German Austria and subsequently the Republic of Austria and in Czechoslovakia after 1918. With the Austrian Nobility Repeal Act of 1919, the nobility was explicitly repealed and the use of nobility designations was made a criminal offense.


The Polish aristocracy was originally a pure warrior caste and, in their struggle with the royal power, created something unique throughout Europe: the so-called aristocratic republic . Up until the beginning of the 16th century, the Polish nobility had no family names, apart from a few very old clan names or descriptive surnames from pagan times. The name of the property or estate with the preposition z, de was added to the baptismal name , which meant the same as the German von (e.g. Jurand ze Spychowa, Jurand de Spychowo = Jurand from / from Spychowo ). It was not until after 1500 that the custom of transforming these into adjectives with the ending -ski, -cki or -icz spread . The coat of arms community was named after the name, if available : Longin Podbipięta herbu Zerwikaptur .

With the partitions of Poland , the nobility of the majority of the untitled nobility in the three partition areas was not recognized (however, these families never lost their Polish nobility), because they could not sufficiently prove their noble origin (this was also very expensive) or out of pride before the occupier did not want to do this. The high nobility, on the other hand, retained their privileges and received their title of prince confirmed by the dividing powers. The so-called middle nobility got by those who awaited title of count and permission entails to start. In 1918, re-established Poland , the nobility was finally abolished in 1921 and the use of titles prohibited. The 1935 constitution lifted the ban, but in 1945 the nobility was finally abolished with the reintroduction of the 1921 constitution and the estates were nationalized and parceled out in an agrarian reform without compensation. Today the former Polish noble families have reorganized themselves and maintain their history and customs.


In Portugal , the hereditary nobility was only created in the 14th century under King John I , who also introduced the title of duke. King Alfonso V added the titles of marquis, viscount and baron. These houses formed the high nobility who were allowed to exercise jurisdiction . The lower nobility consisted of the Fidalgos , the knights and the legal scholars ( doutores or letrados ). During the time of this king, the formation of the majorats (morgados) began .

In the 18th century, during the reign of Joseph I , the minister Pombal created a counterweight to the old nobility, the postal nobility , which consisted of landowners, merchants and scholars. The aristocratic jurisdiction was abolished in 1790, with the revolution of 1820 the nobility lost all privileges. After the introduction of the republic in 1910, the nobility was abolished.


The Russian nobility (Dworjanstwo) was a mixture: next to dynastic families, descendants of the Ryurik , the Gediminas and ancient Caucasian princely families, there were sons of the lowest people, next to ethnic Russians an international society made up of members of the incorporated peoples and immigrants of various nationalities. In ancient times, the boyars were considered a nobility in Russia . Their titles were not hereditary and they also had no permanent property. The position of the nobility was regulated by a ukase Peter I of January 24, 1722, who created a ranking table ( rank table) for the civil servant classes. Peter also introduced the dignity of counts and barons. From now on there was the personal and the hereditary nobility. In the course of the 18th century the rights and privileges of the nobility were expanded considerably. At the same time, in 1785, under Catherine the Great , the nobility received total rights of disposal over the peasants who were subject to them. This was only changed under Tsar Alexander II .

The October Revolution of 1917 abolished the nobility from (Decree of 10 jul. / 23 November 1917 greg. ), Many nobles were persecuted, imprisoned and shot. Only after 1991 were aristocratic associations and organizations of aristocratic tradition allowed again. The Russian nobility no longer exists as a social class.

San Marino

The small republic of San Marino still conferred titles of nobility in the 1970s, less to residents than to foreigners for “services to the state”, but often more for money. In 1980 the conferring of nobility was abolished.


In the High Middle Ages, the nobility developed from noble free and ministerial like in the rest of the empire. Many families exercised their own jurisdiction, some gained a high aristocratic , dynastic position such as the Habsburgs , Kyburgers , Lenzburger , Thiersteiner , Rapperswiler , Toggenburger or Werdenberger .

In the late Middle Ages, a federal patriciate developed in the free imperial cities that emancipated themselves from the 13th to the 15th centuries , made up of wealthy merchant families with or without nobility letters, bourgeois notables and occasionally landed nobility who had become urban. These patricians often acquired country estates or manors with their own jurisdiction, built castles and led an aristocratic way of life. In the cities they formed the governing council and ousted guilds and craftsmen from power. With this approach of the bourgeois notables to the way of life of the nobility and the increasing isolation from ascendants, the patriciate was formed in the cities of the early modern period , a term that was introduced in the Renaissance , comparable to the patriciate in the Italian Signoria , such as the Venetian nobilhòmini . Like them - and in contrast to the rest of the landed gentry in the Old Kingdom - the patricians mostly also remained active economically (mainly in trade, but increasingly also in mercenaries ), in contrast to the otherwise socially similarly structured English gentry , who lived mainly on lease income.

Since Switzerland was officially part of the Holy Roman Empire until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 , the Roman-German Emperor not infrequently conferred imperial nobility on Swiss families, in particular on many patricians who had settled in the country or on officers in the imperial service. A few years after breaking away from the empire, Bern, for example, created its own social hierarchy that was not based on nobility law in the empire. In the city ​​and republic of Bern , many noble landlords from the area around the city merged with the local patriciate to form an aristocracy that exercised power until 1798, the French invasion . In addition, members of the Bern patriciate acquired lordships in the areas administered by Bern, which were associated with the right to hold a nobility title. Even after 1648, foreign powers such as France, Prussia or the Holy See conferred titles of nobility on Swiss in their service. In Neuchâtel , which was ruled by Prussia in personal union until 1848, many patrician families were accepted into the post office until the 19th century. If members of Swiss aristocratic families entered foreign military services (for example those of the Vatican or France and Prussia ), they usually carried their titles there. 90% of the members of the Swiss Guard killed by the sans-culottes in the Tuileries Storm in 1792 were Swiss nobles.

Formally, the “gracious gentlemen” in the cities of Switzerland temporarily lost their power with the Helvetic Republic and definitely with the liberal revolutions in the 1830s and 1840s ( regeneration in 1831 and Sonderbund war in 1847). The former patrician families played an important economic and social role until the beginning of the 20th century.

Legally or socially, the nobility and patriciate no longer have any significance in egalitarian Switzerland. The use of the predicates and titles is entirely up to personal discretion, however, titles such as Graf or Freiherr cannot be entered in official documents, only the predicate “von”. However, it is not very easy in Switzerland to identify the old nobility (e.g. the Counts of Erlach , Counts of Hallwyl , Barons von Bonstetten , Lords of Salis , von Planta and others), modern, post-aristocratic patriciate (von Graffenried , von Wattenwyl ) and to distinguish the common non-aristocratic names of origin ( von Gunten , von Siebenthal , etc.). As a synonym for “from”, “de” is used in western Switzerland , such as de Reyff, de Watteville etc.

For the individual sexes: see category: Swiss noble family



The beginnings of the Danish-born nobility in the country go back to the formation of the royal guard , the house chaps , which was a nobility of warlike character. The first privileges of the nobility were given to him by King Canute VI. bestowed in the 12th century, which elevated the nobility and clergy to privileged positions over the bourgeoisie and the peasant, thereby suppressing Nordic freedom and equality. The privileges of the nobility increased after the Schleswig-Holstein nobility, who enjoyed important privileges, immigrated in large numbers to Denmark after the Oldenburgs ascended to the throne . This domination of the nobility in the state lasted until 1660. In that year King Friedrich III. (Frederik III.) Declared by the clergy and bourgeoisie to be the absolute ruler in the country: The old nobility only retained their social preference, but had to share it with the newly created court nobility from 1671. Since that year, King Christian V has carried out numerous ennobling and raising the rank of bourgeois and naturalized foreigners, who formed the court nobility loyal to the king. The new constitution of 1849 then canceled the last remaining privileges of the nobility.

Today there are still about 225 genders in Denmark, a third of which are naturalized , of foreign origin. There are three ranks: untitled nobility, barons and counts. The head of state no longer carries out any ennobling or raising of rank.


Most of the Finnish nobility is from the Swedish population and has its origins in the period before 1809, when Finland was part of Sweden. In the subsequent Grand Duchy of Finland under the Russian Tsar, the nobility retained their position as one of the four estates of the Finnish parliament and the authority to participate in legislation and tax approval until 1906 . The tsar also elevated numerous distinguished personalities to the nobility, most recently General August Langhoff, who was made baron in 1912.

For the old and new nobility (as in Sweden) there is a knight's house , once a special chamber of the parliament, today more of an association that maintains tradition. Few nobles are landowners. Most of the sons of the Finnish nobility served in the Russian army during the time of the Grand Duchy (see Gustaf Mannerheim ). The number of sexes is around 200 today. There are three ranks: untitled nobility, barons and counts.


In Norway, his immediate followers, the Hirð, initially developed into a feudal aristocracy. In the Middle Ages the Jarle nominated by the king and the feudal men he appointed were at the head of individual landscapes. Some Danish noble families immigrated to Norway during the personal union with Denmark (1397-1814). Larger aristocratic land holdings in Norway are only represented by two estates, the County of Jarlsberg and the Barony of Rosendal.

In Section 108 of the Norwegian Basic Law of 1814, the establishment of new counties, baronies, parent houses and entails was prohibited. In 1821 a law stipulated that anyone who did not prove his title of nobility with legal documents by the next ordinary storting would lose it. Since then there have been a few noble families.


The Swedish nobility emerged in the period from the middle of the 11th to the middle of the 13th century during constant feuds between different royal families and developed from the free peasantry. In 1279, the tax exemption of the nobility and their duty to serve in the cavalry were laid down in the statute of Alsnö. At that time there was no distinction between high and low nobility. It was not until Erich XIV. At his coronation in 1561 that the most powerful and wealthy noblemen became counts and barons, so that a high and a low nobility emerged. Christina I. increased the lower nobility by around 400 families. King Gustav II Adolf united the nobility in a knight's house. The last ennoblement took place in 1902 by King Oskar II .

In 2004 there were still about 619 Swedish noble families, including 46 count houses, 124 barons and 449 noble houses, with a total of about 28,000 people. Their meeting place is the Riddarhuset in Stockholm.


In Spain , the nobility was abolished by the Republican Constitution of 1931 and reintroduced under the regime of General Francisco Franco in 1948.

The grandees of Spain (Spanish Grandes de España )

The old nobility was under the kings Charles III. and Charles IV. considerably weakened by many ennoblings. King Joseph Bonaparte abolished the titles of grandees , but after the return of the Bourbons they were reintroduced and a new upper house of parliament was created, where the grandees were given permanent seats. The abolition of the majorates in 1855, decreed by the Cortes , was a sensitive blow to the position of the grandees : it led to ruin for many families, while others worked their way up again in the fields of trade, industry and art. At the beginning of the 20th century, around 200 noble families lived in insecure circumstances and did not even have the right to use their old titles, because each time the title was passed from father to son, high taxes had to be paid to the tax authorities, which meant financial opportunities most genders exceeded. During the old monarchy until 1931, 392 grandees were listed in the Spanish state calendar, of which only 35 had sufficient property status to be able to take their seat in the Senate.

Titulated nobility (Spanish titulados )

It consists of the following ranking of titles: Principe, Duque, Marqués, Conde, Vizconde and Barón . Nobilitations and elevations of rank are carried out by the king; for example, was Salvador Dalí by King Juan Carlos I to Marqués de Púbol appointed.

In 1992 there were 4 titles for the royal family, 404 grand titles of Spain and 2,351 titles of nobility. Since some carriers combine several titles, there are fewer people than titles (for example, the 18th Duquesa de Alba had a total of 50 titles). There are hereditary titles of nobility as well as personal ones, which expire with the death of the bearer. The titles of nobility are under state control; the transfer of a hereditary title must be requested by the legal heir.

Untitled nobility (Spanish Hidalgos )

The lower nobility consists of the estates Hidalgo, Caballero and Escudero , which are usually grouped under the name Hidalgos . The blood needle of the Hidalgos - hidalgos de sangre - can only be obtained through noble birth and cannot even be bestowed by the king.

The title Don , originally reserved for the king, is used today for all notables. The members of the titled and untitled nobility no longer enjoy any special privileges in the kingdom. Although Spain is currently a monarchy, the untitled nobility, i.e. the Hidalgos, are not subject to any direct state control. The descendants of the Hidalgos are nevertheless united in the Royal Spanish Aristocracy Corporation, the Real Asociación de Hidalgos de España , which monitors compliance with historical nobility law . The members are personally listed in a nobility register . This aristocratic association is a member of the umbrella organization of the European aristocratic associations ( CILANE ).

Czech Republic

Since the founding of Czechoslovakia in 1918, there has been no nobility in the Czech Republic . The use of the former titles is prohibited. After 1989, those aristocratic families who had held Czechoslovak citizenship in the interwar period received their property expropriated under communism back . Prominent examples are the Schwarzenberg and Lobkowicz houses . Some representatives of the former high nobility went into politics; so was Karel Schwarzenberg Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic.


The conditions in Hungary were similar to those in Poland. A feudal association that is found everywhere else in medieval Europe never existed there. Every member of the warlike tribe of the Magyars , who was not dependent on anyone and could follow the king's banners, counted themselves as nobility ( nemesség ). In this way the very numerous Hungarian nobility arose, which, like in Poland, make up about 12-16% of the total population. The magnate families gradually emerged from the mass of the nobility . At the beginning of the 11th century, King Stephen I (the saint) gave the country a constitution through which the crown of the Arpad family became hereditary and prelates with the high nobility and the lower nobility were regarded as privileged classes.

In 1405 united in the National Convention of the gentry with the representatives of cities to objects panel while the high dignitaries and the nobility formed the Upper House in which each bishop or magnate was represented in person. The lower nobility had the unconditional preponderance in the table of rank; Every nobleman who owned land (even if he ran a small farm) had a seat and vote at the county meetings. (Such small nobles were popularly hétszilvafás nemes - "nobleman with seven plum trees" - called.) The nobility was exempt from duties, taxes and billeting and from military service: He just took the field when a Noble Levy ( insurrection - Nemesi felkelés) for King and fatherland had been proclaimed. A nobleman could only be judged by his own kind and the more important offices were reserved for him. It was not until 1843 that non-noble people were admitted to the offices.

The Magyar nobility had only two titles: Count (gróf) and Baron (báró) . The rank and title of prince or duke (herceg) only belonged to the sons of the king. Other nobles usually only had the spelling of the ending of their family name in -y (instead of -i ) or the lower -case nobility prefix (e.g. nagybányai Horthy Miklós ) as an outward sign of their rank .

Five families of counts received foreign princely titles: Batthyány (1764), Esterházy (1687), Erdődy (1654) and Odescalchi (1689) were made imperial princes by the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Koháry (1815) and Pálffy (1816) by the Emperor of Austria Princes of the empire; these titles were recognized in Hungary. Later ten foreign princely houses also acquired the Hungarian indigenous population . During the time of the monarchy with one king - until 1918 - in addition to these 14 princely houses, there were 98 counts and 94 baronial families in Hungary, whose titles, however, did not go back further than around 1550 and were Habsburg awards. This number grew after 1918, as the imperial administrator Admiral Miklós Horthy carried out a large number of civil status surveys (for example in a kind of “knighthood”, see Vitézi Rend ) in the monarchy . These medals in the time of the Kingdom of Hungary (1920-1945) are recognized hereditary ennoblings. In Germany, members of such families can, if they lost their Hungarian citizenship before January 1947, use their names with “von” or “Ritter von”. The orders established after the war and their titles, however, have no legal quality in the sense of historical nobility law.

The abolition of the nobility and the subdivision of estates after 1945 deprived the Hungarian nobility of their livelihoods, but many aristocrats stayed in the country and only emigrated in 1956 in order to have an often miserable existence in Germany or Austria. The only ones who were partially spared from the confiscation were the Esterházy princes , because they had some of their estates in Burgenland , Austria, since 1921 . After 1991 many representatives of the nobility, including the high nobility, returned to Hungary (see also Isépy ).

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is one of the few countries in Europe where titles of nobility are still awarded today. The British nobility is divided into two classes, the gentry , the lower nobility, and the peerage or Nobility , the Higher nobility. The highest dignity of peerage is that of Duke . The Duke is followed by the Marquess (Margrave), then the Earl (Count), the Viscount (Vice Count) and the Baron (Freiherr). The noble dignities of the gentry are those of the baronet and those of the knight .


China and Indochina

Until the abolition of the empire in 1912, there was a high nobility in China , consisting first of all of the members of the ruling Manchu dynasty (in Europe they were called “princes”) and second of the narrow circle of ten houses that made up the hereditary nobility had received from previous emperors, u. a. the head of the descendants of Confucius , the Kong family, and that of the offspring of the 17th century warlord of Formosa , the Koxinga .

In the other nobility awards, each subsequent generation inherited only the one level lower nobility (there were five levels), so that the noble dignity disappeared again after five generations.

Belonging to the nobility gave only privileges in the appointment of court posts. In civil service and in the army, the literary and military exams tipped the scales regardless of social background.

In the bourgeois and later the communist republic, the nobility disappeared without a trace. Many emigrated to Hong Kong , Taiwan , Singapore , Southeast Asia or the USA . The former imperial family, which was granted an allowance by the state until 1924, also have a job today.

The latest development since around 2003 seems to bring a renewal of the old traditions. The heads of the descendants of Confucius (1937: 650,000 people (women not counting)) have the right to reside in the old family palace in Qufu . An upswing for the last emperor's clan is not expected, as the members of the Qing dynasty were viewed as foreign, non-Chinese invaders.


The Hindu rulers in India generally carried the title Raja or Maharaja , whereas the Islamic rulers used the titles Shah , Sultan or in the Mughal Empire Padischah . The word Raja means "royal ruler"; Prince regents were also called Raja .

The Mughal Empire (1526–1757) defined “nobles” (umarā) as “public servants with a rank ( manṣab ) of over 1000”; the highest ranks, except for princes, were 7,000. Theoretically, anyone could be hired by the emperor with a high rank and thus become noble, and this also happened with not a few poets and clergy who immigrated to India. This nobility was a pure warrior and official nobility, whereby no fundamental distinction was made between army and administration. Nobles were not landlords in the European sense, but received a salary from the tax revenue of a specified area ( jāgīr ) . From this salary they had to maintain a fixed number of cavalry and provide them in case of war. Nobles were transferred frequently, every three years on average. Since 1597 the number of riders (savār) has been fixed in a separate rank and the original rank has been called zāt ("personal"). The rank of nobleman has since been considered z. B. 3000 zāt , 1000 savār stated.

With the attitude, the nobleman got a title (khitāb) , which in Muslims usually consisted of the designation of a virtue plus khan (= approximately English sir ), e.g. B. Mahābat Khān = the Lord Dignity. From then on he was addressed with this title. Hindus were given the title Rāja instead of Khān . In theory, neither offices nor titles were hereditary. The latter were reassigned after the death of a nobleman, sometimes before, when the nobleman had earned a higher title and the old one had become free. However, the sons of nobles were usually hired in small offices through the recommendation of their relatives and then made careers. From around Shah Jahan (1628–1658), the “home-born” (khāna-zād) sons raised in the traditions of the nobility were preferred by nobles, and their ethics became ideal.

An exception to this were the long-established Hindu nobles, who as a rule received the tax revenue of their home area (vaṭan jāgīr) , and whose lands were hereditary, usually with primogeniture . This was true for the great Rajas of Rajasthan, but also for many small country nobles ( zamīndār ) throughout India, who since Akbar (1561-1605) became the link between the state apparatus and the peasants. However, the state reserved the right to remove unruly Hindu nobles as well as public servants.

When the Mughal Empire collapsed in 1720, provincial governors or generals were able to establish hereditary principalities in the areas they controlled. The British provided this military aid, made them dependent on themselves (also financially) and generally strengthened the position of these princes as long as they remained loyal.

At the time of British rule over India (1757-1947), there were about 600 so-called princely states (princely states) , areas where the British a limited autonomy had conceded under local princes. When the princely states were divided into the independent states of India and Pakistan in 1947, they had to choose one of these two countries. The hesitation of the Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir and the interest of both states in the area led to the Kashmir conflict .

After India became independent, the princely states or associations of these initially became Indian federal states and the princes became their prime ministers. In 1956 all princely states were dissolved by the States Reorganization Act and incorporated into Indian states, and South India was also completely reorganized according to language areas. Indira Gandhi limited the nobles' land holdings and abolished their appanages, so that they have largely lost their importance today. Some have retained their role in religious festivals, such as the duty of the former king of Orissa to sweep the chariots at the chariot festival .

In Pakistan , the nobility continues to play a major role in politics.


Minamoto no Yoritomo , the first shogun of the Kamakura shogunate

Until the 5th century AD, the nobility in Japan was just a loose association of clans dominating the land. In the 6th century, the imperial central power of the Tennō granted hereditary status to some of the clan chiefs. The actual authority of the heads of the clans was thus delegated and legitimized by the state.

In the 7th century, in the course of the establishment of the strongly Chinese-influenced Ritsuryō system, the nobility criterion of birth was replaced by administrative ability. By state law from the year 701, the nobility of birth was replaced by a nobility of merit of civil servants ( Kuge ) . Under the leadership of this nobility of merit, which increasingly concentrated in the capital Heian-kyō (today Kyōto ), associations of down-to-earth warriors and estate administrators from the provinces increasingly ousted the civil nobility from power until around 1200. The so-called sword nobility ( Buke , especially Samurai , Daimyō , Shōgun ) then ruled in Japan until 1868. The Tennō only had high priestly, culture-preserving and legitimizing tasks. In 1884 during the Meiji restoration by (or at least in the name of) the imperial power , civil and sword nobility were combined into a single nobility ( Kazoku ) , and the samurai class as such was abolished. By the law of July 7, 1884, the nobility was divided into five classes according to the British peerage system , but Chinese titles were used for it. In contrast to the rule applicable in China, he was hereditary indefinitely according to the principle of the firstborn, so that the younger sons of a titled noblewoman and the heir son during the life of the father were without a nobility predicate. After the Second World War, the nobility as an institution was eliminated by the 1946 constitution. Only the imperial family itself remained.


Since then, seven co-conspirators the Achaemenid Darius I had helped the Great to the royal power, and thus to the ancestors of the mighty seven Persian tribes were their descendants were in favor equipped with various privileges should always powerful over the centuries noble families next to the Shah at the Rule directly or indirectly.

The Middle Persian royal inscriptions of the Sassanids already differentiate between four precisely defined groups of aristocrats: the šahrdārān (regional dynasts and royal sons entrusted with ruling over important parts of the empire), the wāspuhragān (members of the Sassanid clan without direct descent from the ruler), the wuzurgān (heads the most important noble families and other members of the high nobility and the āzādān (other noble Iranians)). The rank of aristocrat was for a long time independent of the favor of the king, owed, together with the external signs of his dignity (tiara with coat of arms-like symbols, belt, earrings), above all name and ancestry and was thus a sign of his political and economic special position.

The Persian tribal aristocracy also consisted of seven Persian and Parthian clans (Sassan, Aspahbad, Karin, Suren, Spandiyadh, Mihran, Guiw) at the time of the Sassanid dynasty, and the late medieval Turkmen military and administrative elite of the Safavid dynasty also formed from seven Tribes of the so-called Qizilbāš (Turkish: Kızılbaş) or "red heads" (Ustāğlu, Rumlu, Šāmlu, Zhulqadir, Qāğār, Afšār, Tekkelu).

The 1785-1925 ruling imperial house of Kajaran finally came to one of these Qizilbāš strains and met first in self-understanding, organization and structure throughout the Safavid tradition originated legally structured power structures.

Engelbert Kaempfer reports from the court of the Persian great king during the Safavid era (1501–1722) about the rulership structures in Persia: “... the empire (was) divided into five districts and main provinces. The Schahe 25 Großbeyge (beyglarbeygi), to which all other governors, khans, and state officials were subordinate, with the exception of the crown property administrators (wāzir), who were directly and directly privately subordinate to the Shah, set over this imperial territory. The governors, in turn, commanded subordinates (soltān), who had to account to their masters. These "imperial lords" (beyg) built their court ranks as closely as possible to the model of the imperial court, gathered magnificent entourage around them and competed with the Shah in display of splendor. In their jurisdiction, the aristocrats also had jurisdiction. The income from his territory, which a Beyg or Khān had like his own property, he spent largely on the remuneration of his servants and his troops with whom he had to protect the imperial borders. He also had to feed imperial troop contingents on his land and pay certain taxes to the court every year. But he was constantly dependent on the favor of the Shah. The dignity of a Beyglarbeyg was so high that its bearer had a seat on the Reichshofrat. Among these Grand Beygen, in turn, some imperial princes stood out in terms of reputation and age with the title of wāli (“governor”). As descendants of those rulers to whom the individual regions were already subject before the Safavids, they were of princely blood; it was appointed by the Shah, but he could only appoint one member of the once ruling house to Wāli. "


In Polynesia , several island kingdoms existed in pre-colonial times, but these went under (e.g. on Rapanui ) or were abolished by the colonial powers.


Only in Tonga is there still a more than 900 year old royal dynasty. The influence of the nobility on politics and society continues to be great. King Taufaʻahau Tupou secured hegemony in 1845 after fighting between rival noble houses. Resistance from the rest of the Tongan leaders led to the reformulation of the law in 1850, so that an advisory assembly - fakataha - was created in which the traditional leaders were to advise the king. In 1862 there was another change in the law: in the Edict of Emancipation , ordinary Tongans were freed from their dependence on traditional Tongan leaders. When Tuʻi Tonga died on December 9, 1865 without an heir, there was no longer any equal rival for power and so the Tongan constitution was enacted on September 16, 1875 by King Georg Tupou I based on the British model. King Taufaʻahau Tupou IV. , A direct descendant of the first king, lived in relative wealth with his family, some influential nobles and the growing non-noble elite until his death on September 10, 2006. Only after reforms following the unrest in 2006 could 17 of the 26 parliamentarians be elected by the people, 9 seats are still reserved for the nobility.

The term 'Eiki motuʻa describes a nobleman whose privileges date back to before the constitution, ' Eiki nopele someone who later attained the nobility. A Tu'i was a tribal leader, with the name of the tribe being added.


Old Egypt

The exaggeration of the Egyptian ruler gives the impression of a central state run by royal officials at first glance. The actual balance of power, however, is quite similar to the formation of elites in other cultures. Initially, Egypt was regionally divided into Gaue, whose princes had to be brought into line. Even after the first unification of the empire, they strove to inherit their privileges or looked for the throne. Dynasty changes were common, only in particularly uncertain times could a general "from the people" penetrate these circles. The famous officials with the flowery titles, ministerials accordingly, strived for dynastic permanence and could pose a threat to the ruler. The state religion, intended as a stabilization, led over time in the temple economy to a caste of priests with a tendency to insubordination - comparable to prince-bishops .

West Africa

The Ouattara dynasty ruled the west of what is now Burkina Faso . Tiéba Ouattara was king of the Kong kingdom there during the conquest phase .

The Fulbe have a caste system characteristic of West African ethnic groups. Take the Futa Jallon in Guinea as an example : at the head of the state are families who are descendants of the warlike Muslim jihadists from the 18th century. After the establishment of the theocracy in the Futa-Jallon, the area was divided among various fighting clans and has remained in the possession of these families to this day. It can be assumed that all members of the Diallo, Bah (or Baldé) and Barry clans are of this descent.

Today's African nation-states have by no means grown historically, but are a product of colonialism. It is therefore difficult to limit clans of the individual ethnic groups to a certain territory.


Hereditary diseases

Hereditary diseases among the nobility are among the phenomena that have been documented in some family trees. They are also the subject of individual scientific studies.

Duties and Privileges, Rights and Limitations

Like the other classes in class societies, the nobility have certain exclusive rights, privileges, duties and restrictions. Certain privileges of the nobility became a symbol of the class, such as B. hunting . Further rights include B. the jurisdiction or the church patronage , to the privileges z. B. the eligibility, to the obligations z. B. the "cure and food" of the servants in case of illness and the restrictions z. B. certain occupational or activity bans such as behavioral requirements.

An early description of noble privileges and duties can be found in the “Historiarum Libri IV” (“Four Books of History”) by Nithard , a grandson of Charlemagne , from 842. He writes about the Saxon nobles that they are entitled to a triple Wergeld, but also had to atone for offenses with a triple penance. A similar structure of multiple wergeld such as fines for nobles can be found in the Sachsenspiegel by Eike von Repgow from the 13th century. William Robertson describes a multiple gradation: an offense (from insulting to murder) against a nobleman cost the perpetrator more wergeld than if she had met a "Freyen", and he received more than a simple "Leut". If the perpetrator was a slave, one kept to his master, who then had to pay the wergeld. If the perpetrator was a nobleman, he had to pay more for his offense than the "Freye", and the latter more than the "Leut".

An example of a legal codification of rights, privileges, duties and restrictions in a modern class society is the General Land Law for the Prussian States from 1794. It contains a detailed catalog of laws that define noble behavior and sanction missteps as well as the provision of the nobility define: "The defense of the state, as well as the support of its external dignity and internal constitution". The privileges include, among other things: submission to the highest court in the province, acquisition of noble goods, jurisdiction on their behalf, honorary rights associated with their church patronage, right to vote in district and state assemblies for the resident nobility, etc. Restrictions include : Acquisition of rustic land , exercise of civil trade, admission to a guild or guild, etc. The secret operation of civil trade, joining a guild or guild, an dishonorable way of life with which the nobleman disparaged himself to the common people or committing crimes led to the loss of noble rights.

Social prestige

With regard to the social prestige associated with a title of nobility, tensions could and can arise between commoners and nobles, but also among nobles among themselves.

  • This could be expressed in the fact that an increase in status was deliberately rejected: Otto von Bismarck was reluctant to accept the award of the title of count and later the title of prince and duke (he never held the title of duke).
  • Even for Hanseatic people , the assumption of nobility titles was in some cases expressly forbidden, at least frowned upon and unusual. The nobility could not acquire any real estate in Hamburg until 1860 and were thus excluded from the hereditary citizenship and from civil honorary offices. (See: Hanseatic and nobility ).
  • The nobility established before 1806 viewed the Napoleonic and post-Napoleonic nobility with skepticism. For example, Bavarian titles were not very popular with old families. In the 1950s, the mother of the then prominent member of the Bundestag Karl Theodor Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg, when asked by a Spiegel reporter whether she would not have liked to become a Bavarian countess, said: "A Franconian baron spits on a Bavarian count".

Name by seat or office

The aristocratic name was originally a designation of origin, based on the family seat. In the event of a change of location or ownership, the name also changed at that time - so the Counts of Arnstein became the Counts of Barby when they took over the rule of Barby Castle. Sometimes the new property was added as an additional part of the name (“from” stone “to” Altenstein). Likewise, the secondary lines are formed in this way (which is why today the trunk and secondary lines are sometimes indicated as linked: " Habsburg-Laufenburg ", "von Habsburg zu Laufenburg" or "von Laufenburg"). It was only in the course of the early modern period, parallel to the emergence of modern family names, that the “von” became independent of ownership, while the “zu” remained a nobility predicate dependent on ownership. That today “from and to” an expression for “of high, old nobility; posh "is, is because a" to and "could only lead a nobleman, who has been resident in the modern era at the old family seat, and so unmistakably old nobility in primogeniture (so" of Liechtenstein ", while the Branch lines were called " from Liechtenstein to Nikolsburg ").

Some noble families also have very common family names (Fuchs, Frübös, Gross, Gans, Pflugk , Stein, Schwarz), clan names ( Beissel, Knuth , Schilling , Landschad) or names of offices ( Marschall , Schenk , Truchsess , Droste , Spies). The respective place of residence was added to this name with the predicate “from” or “to” ( Gans zu Putlitz , Marshal von Bieberstein , Schenck zu Schweinsberg , Schenk von Stauffenberg , Droste zu Hülshoff ). Were later in Germany by ennoblement based on merit and bourgeois to noble name ( Goethe , Schiller , etc.), they kept in the imperial nobility and in Austria the tradition that a place name is to be performed in the noble name (for example, Fischer von Erlach ) which usually had some kind of reference to the person raised to the rank of nobility (civil residence, inheritance or estate, or - as in the case mentioned - from the mother's surname: Fischer is the father's surname and the mother was born Erlacher ).




  • Eckart Conze ( ed. ): Small lexicon of the nobility. Titles, thrones, traditions. Beck, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-406-51070-1 .
  • Werner Conze : Keyword “nobility, aristocracy”. In: Basic historical concepts. Historical lexicon on the political-social language in Germany. Volume I, Stuttgart 1972, pp. 1-48.
  • Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira : The nobility and the comparable traditional elites in the speeches of Pope Pius XII. to the patriciate and the nobility of Rome. Vienna 2008, ISBN 3-9501846-1-9 .
  • Walter Demel : The European nobility. From the Middle Ages to the present. Munich 2005, ISBN 3-406-50879-0 .
  • Walter Demel: The specifics of the European nobility - first considerations on a global historical topic. In: Zeitblicke .


  • Winfried Schmitz : Missed opportunities. Nobility and aristocracy in archaic and classical Greece, in: Hans Beck, Peter Scholz, Uwe Walter (ed.): The power of the few. Aristocratic rule, communication and "noble" lifestyle in antiquity and early modern times. Historical magazine . Booklets. NF Vol. 47, Munich 2008, 35-70.

middle Ages

Modern times

Reference books on individuals and families

  • Almanach de Gotha , Gotha 1901 and 1930.

Representations of individual states


  • Danmarks Adels Aarbog , Copenhagen 1932

Germany, Roman-German Empire north of the Alps

  • Andermann, Kurt and Peter Johanek (eds.): Between non-nobility and nobility (= lectures and research by the Constance working group for medieval history, vol. 53). Stuttgart 2001.
  • Eckhart Conze and Monika Wienfort (eds.): Nobility and Modernism - Germany in European Comparison in the 19th and 20th Centuries , Cologne 2004, ISBN 3-412-18603-1 .
  • Elisabeth Fehrenbach (ed.), Elisabeth Müller-Luckner: Nobility and the bourgeoisie in Germany 1770–1848 (= writings of the historical college . Colloquia. Vol. 31) . Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, 1994, ISBN 3-486-56027-1 ( digitized version )
  • Gothaisches Genealogisches Taschenbuch (divided into counts, barons and nobles), Justus Perthes Gotha, 1763–1942.
  • Genealogical paperback of the knight and noble families , later genealogical paperback of noble houses , 19 years, Irrgang, Brno 1870–1894 (Brünner Taschenbuch - BTB) (GTdAH).
  • Genealogical manual of the nobility - Adelslexikon . Limburg / Lahn 1972-2005.
  • William D. Godsey Jr .: Noble Survival and Transformation at the Beginning of the Late Modern Era. The Counts Coudenhove from Rhenish Cathedral Canons to Austrian Priests, 1750-1850 . In: German History 19, 2001, pp. 499-524, ISSN  0266-3554 .
  • Mark Hengerer and Elmar L. Kuhn (eds.): Adel im Wandel. Upper Swabia from the early modern era to the present. Ostfildern 2006, ISBN 3-7995-0216-5 .
  • Dieter Hertz-Eichenrode: New Wilhelmine nobility? On the practice of conferring nobility in Prussia before 1914 . In: Historische Zeitschrift 282/2006, pp. 645-679, ISSN  0018-2613 .
  • Iris Freifrau v. Hoyningen-Huene: Nobility in the Weimar Republic. The legal and social situation of the Imperial German nobility 1918–1933 . Limburg 1992, ISBN 3-7980-0690-3 .
  • Wolfgang Jahn / Margot Hamm / Evamaria Brockhoff (eds.): Nobility in Bavaria, knights, counts, industrial barons. Licensed edition for the Scientific Book Society, Augsburg 2008.
  • Gisela Drossbach / Andreas Otto Weber / Wolfgang Wüst (eds.): Seats of the nobility - rule of the nobility - representation of nobility in Bavaria, Franconia and Swabia. Results of an international conference in Sinning Castle and Residence Neuburg ad Donau, 8.-10. September 2011 (Neuburger Kollektaneenblatt 160/2012 - Swabian historical sources and research 27), Neuburg ad Donau 2012. ISBN 978-3-89639-897-0 .
  • Larry E. Jones: Catholic Conservatives in the Weimar Republic. The Politics of the Rhenish-Westphalian Aristocracy, 1918-1933. In: German History 18, 2000, pp. 61-85, ISSN  0266-3554 .
  • Detlev Freiherr von Linsingen: The Kgl. Westphalian baronates and the emergence and development of the nobility. A contribution to current issues of the historical German nobility, Augsburg 2012.
  • Stephan Malinowski : From King to Leader. Social decline and political radicalization in the German nobility between the German Empire and the Nazi state. Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-05-004070-X .
  • Johannes Rogalla von Bieberstein: Aristocratic rule and aristocratic culture in Germany. CA Starke, Limburg adL 1998, ISBN 3-7980-0686-5 .
  • Hansmartin SchwarzmaierNobility - I. Middle Ages . In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie (TRE). Volume 1, de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1977, ISBN 3-11-006944-X , pp. 437-446.
  • Stephan SkalweitNobility - II. Reformation period . In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie (TRE). Volume 1, de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1977, ISBN 3-11-006944-X , pp. 446-452.
  • Martin Schmidt:  Aristocracy - III. Nobility and Church from 17th to 20th centuries . In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie (TRE). Volume 1, de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1977, ISBN 3-11-006944-X , pp. 452-454.
  • Ulrich Schmilewski: The Silesian nobility up to the end of the 13th century: origin, composition and political-social role. Würzburg 2002 (= Scientific Writings of the Association for the History of Silesia. Volume 5).
  • Hans-Ulrich Wehler: European nobility 1750–1950. Goettingen 1990.
  • Monika Wienfort : The nobility in modern times. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2006.
  • Wolfgang Wüst: “Aristocratic self-image in transition? On the significance of patrimonial jurisdiction 1806–1848 ”. In: Walter Demel, Ferdinand Kramer (Hrsg.): Nobility and Adelskultur in Bayern ( ZBLG, supplement 32). Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-406-10673-6 , pp. 349-376.


  • André F. Borel d'Hauterive, Albert Révérend: Annuaire de la Noblesse de France. Bureau de la Publication, Paris Vol. 48 (1892) - Vol. 84 (1938) [predecessor and successor: Annuaire de la noblesse de France et des maisons souveraines de l'Europe ].
  • Monique de Saint Martin: The nobility - sociology of a class. Constance 2003.

Great Britain

  • Burke's Peerage and Baronetage. London 1892.
  • Burke's Landed Gentry. London 1870.
  • David Cannadine: The Invention of the British Monarchy 1810–1994. Berlin 1994, ISBN 3-8031-5147-3 .
  • David Cannadine: The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy. London 2005, ISBN 0-14-102313-9 .


  • Alexander Francis Cowan: The Urban Patriciate: Lübeck and Venice 1500-1700. Cologne / Vienna 1986.
  • Oliver Thomas Domzalski: Political careers and distribution of power in the Venetian nobility (1646–1797). Sigmaringen 1996.
  • Dieter Girgensohn : Church, politics and aristocratic government in the Republic of Venice at the beginning of the 15th century. Göttingen 1996.
  • Volker Hunecke: The Venetian nobility at the end of the republic 1646–1797. Demographics, family, household. Tübingen 1995.
  • Hagen Keller: Aristocratic rule and class society in Northern Italy (9th – 12th centuries). Tuebingen 1979.
  • Peter Kunz: Nuremberg and Venice: Mutual influences and parallelisms in two European aristocratic republics. Saarbrücken 2009.
  • Marion Lühe: The Venetian nobility after the fall of the republic (1797-1830). Cologne 2000.
  • Marco Meriggi: The Lombard-Venetian nobility in the pre-March period. In: Armgard Rehden-Dohna, Ralph Melville (ed.): The nobility on the threshold of the bourgeois age 1780-1860. Stuttgart 1988, 1998, pp. 225-236.
  • Margarete Merores: The Venetian Nobility. A contribution to constitutional history. In: Vierteljahrschrift für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte, Vol. XIX / 1926, pp. 193–237.
  • Margarete Merores: The great council of Venice and the so-called Serrata from 1297. In: Vierteljahrschrift für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte Vol. XXI / 1928, pp. 33–113.
  • Gerhard Rösch: The Venetian nobility until the closure of the Great Council. Sigmaringen 1989, Stuttgart 2001.


  • Hans A. Dettmer: The documents of Japan from the 8th to the 10th century. Wiesbaden.
  • Horst Hammitzsch (ed.): Japan manual. Wiesbaden 1990, ISBN 3-515-05753-6 .
  • Cornelius J. Kiley: [Article] in: Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan. Tokyo 1983.


  • Ivo Cerman: Habsburg Nobility and Enlightenment. Educational behavior of the Viennese court nobility in the 18th century. Stuttgart 2010.
  • Karl F. von Frank zu Döring: Old Austrian nobility lexicon. Self-published, Vienna 1928.
  • Gudula Walterskirchen : The hidden estate - nobility in Austria today. Vienna 1999, completely revised. New edition 2007, ISBN 3-85002-428-8 .
  • Genealogical paperback of noble houses in Austria . Vol. 1–5, Vienna 1905–1913 (TAÖ).


  • Simon Konarski: Armorial de la noblesse polonaise titrée. Self-published, Paris 1957.


  • S. Andoljenko: Nagrudnyje znaki russkoj armii. Paris 1966.
  • Jessica Tovrov: The Russian Noble Family - Structure and Changes. New York 1987.


  • Sveriges Ridderskaps och nobility calendar. Stockholm 1933.
  • Christopher von Warnstedt (ed.): Ointroducerad Adels calendar. Uppsala 1975.


Web links

Commons : Adel  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Aristocracy  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikisource: Adel  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. a b Monika Wienfort : The nobility in modernity , Göttingen 2006, p. 8.
  2. For example, there is a complaint that "after reviewing the research literature, the hangover reliably arises ... Classical aristocratic history literature ... dealt with individual families and genders ..., often only to make plausible the noble origin of the genders in question." (Mark Mersiowsky: Niederadel, Goßbauern und Patriziat. In: Kurt Andermann, Peter Johanek (Ed.): Between Non-Adel and Adel. Stuttgart 2001, p. 241 f.) And: "Everyone knows what is meant by nobility, as long as he doesn't have to write a book about it. Then the problems of the exact definition begin. ”(Dominic Lieven: Farewell to power and dignity. The European nobility 1815–1914. Frankfurt / M. 1995, p. 9, quoted by Ewald Frie: Adel um 1800: Stay up? In : zeitenblicke 4/2005, No. 3 and with Uwe Walter: Aristocratic existence in antiquity and the early modern times - some unfinished thoughts. In: Hans Beck, Peter Scholz, Uwe Walter (eds.): The power of the few . Oldenburg 2008, p 368.)
    Lothar W. Pawliczak: No understanding of "nobility" without clearly defined noble concept! In Erhard Crome, Udo Tietz (Hrsg.): Dialektik - Arbeit - Gesellschaft. Festschrift for Peter Ruben . Potsdam 2013, pp. 115–128.
  3. Ronald G. Asch: European nobility in the early modern times. Cologne / Weimar / Vienna 2008. The question was raised whether the word “nobility” is applicable to non-European cultures and languages ​​at all, if nobility “perhaps only has a noteworthy parallel in historical Japan” (Walter Demel: Der Europäische Adel. 2nd edition, Munich 2011, p. 8.). It was opposed to an ahistorical expansion of the term nobility “to all aristocrats on all continents”, which came about “mainly because of functionalist definitions”. (Joseph Morsel: The invention of the nobility. In: Otto Gerhard Oexle, Werner Paravicini (Hrsg.): Nobilitas. Göttingen 1997, p. 313f footnote 3)
  4. See Ralf G. Jahn: The Greek nobility from late antiquity to the present . Retrieved June 21, 2013.
  5. see also: List of current monarchies
  6. Hermann Ament : Germanen: On the way to higher civilization . Retrieved June 21, 2013.
  7. a b Walter Demel : The specifics of the European nobility. First reflections on a global historical topic: Estates nobility” In: Zeitblicke 9, No. 3/2005, December 13, 2005. Accessed on May 26, 2011.
  8. So it was questioned "whether there was even an 'aristocracy' (as a legal status) or only an upper class in the early Franconian period" (Hans-Werner Goetz: Nobilis. The nobility in the self-image of the Carolingian era. In: Vierteljahrschrift für Sozial- and Wirtschaftsgeschichte 70-2 / 1983, p. 154f with references; Heike Grahan-Hoek: The Franconian Upper Class in the 6th Century. Sigmaringen 1976) and the use of the term nobility for the Merovingians as an anachronism (Heiko Steuer: Frühgeschichtliche Sozialeinrichtungen in Mitteleuropa. Göttingen 1982, p. 529). There are indications of an East Slavic nobility up to the 8th and 9th centuries. Century "neither in the written sources nor in the arch. Findings ". (A. Gieysztor: Adel (partial contribution). In: Lexikon des Mittelalters, Vol. 1, Munich / Zurich 1980, Sp. 133, 141). Gina Fasoli repeatedly emphasized that the terms “nobility”, “aristocracy”, “patriciate” were problematic for classes in European cities in the Middle Ages. z. B. Gina Fasoli: Oligarchy and middle class in the cities of the Po Valley from the 13th to the 14th century. In: Reinhard Elze, Gina Fasoli (ed.): City nobility and bourgeoisie in the Italian and German cities of the Middle Ages. Berlin 1991, p. 366; This: Città e feudalità . In: Structures féodales et féodalisme dans l'Occident méditerranéen (Xe-XIIe siecle). Roma 1980
  9. Nithardus : Historiarum libri IV, Dear IV, 2. In: Bibliotheca Augustana (Latin.). Project by Ulrich Harsch. Retrieved May 26, 2011; Eike von Repgow: Sachsenspiegel. 3rd book, chapter 45; General land law for the Prussian states of February 5, 1794.
  10. a b Examples:
    • I. There are class differences in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland . However, they have recently been changed again in some areas, e.g. B. in the upper house. (See United Kingdom Political System .)
    • II. In Belgium , the nobility has lost its legally binding political leadership position since the establishment of the parliamentary monarchy in 1830, but they still form an important part of the country's elite.
    • III. In Germany (then German Empire ) in 1919 was the Constitution of the German Reich ( Weimar Constitution ) in Article 109 announced the cancellation of "... public [n] privileges or disadvantages of birth or of the state." (See Wikisource, Constitution of the German Empire, Article 109 ).
    • IV. In Austria the nobility was abolished in 1919 with the Nobility Repeal Act (law of April 3, 1919 on the repeal of the nobility, secular knights and ladies' orders and certain titles and dignities) and the use of titles of nobility was prohibited.
    • V. SBZ / GDR : All goods belonging to the nobility in the Soviet occupation zone were confiscated without compensation by the German authorities in 1945–1948 as a result of the land reform . (See also: Dieter Felbick: Keywords of the post-war period. Verlag de Gruyter, Berlin 2003, p. 352, and Hans-Ulrich Wehler: Deutsche Gesellschaftgeschichte. Fifth volume - Federal Republic and GDR 1949–1990. CH Beck, Munich 2008, p. 216 and 430)
    • VI. Russia / Soviet Union : See October Revolution abolishes the nobility .
  11. ^ Ijoma Mangold: In a class of its own. In: Zeit Online / Die Zeit , No. 41, October 7, 2010, p. 17 19.
  12. As noble or noble in many European societies nichtständischen the members of the family are called, which formed the nobility stands times qua law.
    Examples (ex. I – XI for Germany, ex. XII for Austria, ex. XIII – XIV for France):
    • I. The “definition of nobility” is shifting “from legal to socio-cultural characteristics”. (Monika Wienfort: The nobility in modern times. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2006, p. 9.)
    • II. “In the present, aristocrats [in Germany] no longer have any legal or political privileges. Nevertheless, a disproportionately large number of aristocrats belong to the political or economic, regional or local elites. ”(Ibid., P. 10.)
    • III. "According to conservative estimates, the nobility makes up no more than 0.1% of the German population today." (Ibid., P. 159)
    • IV. “But this was not the end of the history of the German nobility. Rather, as Wienfort judges looking ahead to Weber, “the nobility will continue to exist in the 21st century as long as it finds faith in its nobility quality - in its own ranks and in the mass media”. In this respect, the nobility also remains an issue for contemporary history. A history of the nobility in the Federal Republic of Germany opens up opportunities for knowledge in at least two ways: on the one hand as an essential part of a Federal Republican elite history, on the other hand as a downright Weber test arrangement. ”( Monika Wienfort: Adel in der Moderne. Göttingen 2006. Reviewed by Martin Kohlrausch, DHI Warsaw . In: H-Soz-u-Kult, May 31, 2007. Page accessed on May 26, 2011.)
    • V. “The business policy of the young Federal Republic also facilitated the integration of the nobility into the socio-political order. In line with a respectable formation of tradition, at a time when the conspirators of July 20, 1944 were still often stigmatized as "traitors", the conspicuously large proportion of nobles in this opposition was recognized, but the nobility as a whole was also recognized as a resilient formation . This attitude also reconciled the nobility with the new socio-political conditions. ”( Hans-Ulrich Wehler : Deutsche Gesellschaftgeschichte. Fifth Volume - Federal Republic and GDR 1949–1990. C. H. Beck, Munich 2008, pp. 166f.)
    • VI. "Politically, the nobility generally opted for the CDU / CSU, at best the free democrats won over some aristocratic outsiders." (Ibid., P. 168.)
    • VII. “It is well known that a third of the opponents of National Socialism executed in this connection were aristocrats. [...] The mental arrival of the aristocracy in the Federal Republic is thus also owed to a class-related history policy, which linked a canon of virtues defined as aristocratic with the willingness to actively oppose National Socialism. ”( Eckart Conze / Monika Wienfort: Introduction - Themes and Perspectives on historical research on nobility in the 19th and 20th centuries. In: Eckart Conze / Monika Wienfort: Adel and Modernism - Germany in European Comparison in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Böhlau, Cologne 2004, p. 4.)
    • VIII. “And doesn't a look at the nobility after 1945 also provide insights into the social structure of the Federal Republic? […] And if one is interested in these processes and mechanisms, one cannot consider the year 1945 as the end point of aristocratic history either. "(Ibid., P. ... 12.)
    • IX. “Considerations like the Schulenburgs or Einsiedels, but on closer inspection also those of Moltke, point to the continued effect of a specifically aristocratic self-image, but also to the connection, if not the identity of the ethos of the class and the ideal of the elite, of service ideology and claim to power. In this perspective, the thoughts and actions of resistance of the assassin himself, from Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, gain a dimension relevant to the history of the nobility. ”(Eckart Conze: Adel und Adeligkeit im Resistance of July 20, 1944. In: Reif, Heinz (ed. ): Nobility and bourgeoisie in Germany II. Akademieverlag, Berlin 2001, p. 282f.)
    • X. Michael Seelig, MA, project description: The East Elbe nobility in the Federal Republic of Germany 1945 / 49–1974. ( Memento from February 13, 2013 in the web archive ) Dissertation project at the Philipps University of Marburg . (Page accessed on May 26, 2011.)
    • XI. Eckart Conze: The nobleman as a citizen? Class consciousness and change in values ​​in the nobility of the early Federal Republic. In: Manfred Hettling / Bernd Ulrich (eds.): Bürgerertum nach 1945. Hamburg 2005, pp. 347–371.
    • XII. Gudula Walterskirchen: Aristocracy in Austria today. The hidden stand. Haymon, Vienna / Innsbruck 2010.
    • XIII. "Meanwhile, the movement that transferred the idea of ​​nobility from the legal and political sphere to a cultural system of social representation can probably not only be observed in France." (Claude-Isabelle Brelot: The desire for nobility and class culture in post-revolutionary France. In: Eckart Conze / Monika Wienfort: Nobility and Modernism - Germany in European Comparison in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Böhlau, Cologne 2004, p. 63.)
    • XIV. Monique de Saint Martin: The nobility - sociology of a class. UVK Verlagsgesellschaft, Konstanz 2003.
  13. Monika Wienfort speaks of a "specifically aristocratic canon of values ​​in the context of terms such as honor, duty and sacrifice, which was developed as a counter model to" bourgeois "ideas of individual willingness to perform." (Monika Wienfort: Der Adel in der Moderne , Göttingen 2006, p. 11). Based on Lord Ralf Dahrendorf, Hans-Ulrich Wehler speaks of the nobility as a “prestige upper class” and a “closed society”, “which has its own rituals, its specific code of honor, corporate principles of lifestyle, its descent prestige and exclusive social intercourse stood out from their bourgeois environment. ”(Hans-Ulrich Wehler: Deutsche Gesellschaftgeschichte. Volume 5: Federal Republic and GDR 1949–1990 , Munich 2008, p. 167).
  14. ^ Nobility. In: Digital dictionary of the German language . Retrieved June 21, 2013
  15. ^ Gustav Neckel: Nobility and Followers. In: Contributions to the history of the German language and literature. 42, 1916, pp. 385-436, here p. 385.
  16. ^ Friedrich Kauffmann: From the vocabulary of legal language. In: Journal for German Philology. 47, 1918, pp. 153-209.
  17. Otto Behaghel: Odal. In: Meeting reports of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. Philological-historical department. 1935, issue 8, Munich 1935.
  18. Conze, p. 1.
  19. Kluge: Etymological dictionary of the German language. 24th edition 2002; Wolfgang Pfeifer: Etymological dictionary of German. 3rd edition 1997.
  20. Gustav L. v. Maurer: History of the market constitution. Erlangen 1856. See also Klaus Schreiner: Grundherrschaft - a modern term for a medieval thing . In: Gerhard Dilcher , Cinzio Violante (Hrsg.): Structures and changes in rural forms of rule from 10.-13. Century in Germany and Italy in comparison . Berlin 2000.
  21. Werner, Col. 119.
  22. "Etymological investigations have proven to be of little informative value to clarify the origins of the nobility. The question of whether the two basic Old High German words adal (origin, especially noble origin) and udal (special possession) have a common linguistic-historical root and whether one can therefore speak of an inalienable family estate as the starting point for nobility quality, remained open. […] The meaning of the term nobilis, which in Roman times was reserved for the owners of the consulate (later also the curulic offices) and their descendants, had expanded considerably in late antiquity. In the Middle Ages, nobilis was generally an 'everyday word'. […] In social contexts, the term refers to the origin […] The question of whether nobiles was also understood to mean a defined class, class or legal status cannot be answered without temporal and regional restrictions. [...] In more recent regional studies, the nobiles of the 9th to 12th centuries are generally regarded as members of an upper social class of the free without any special legal status. "(Werner Hechberger: Adel, Ministerialität und Rittertum im Mittelalter. Munich 2004, p. 62 f, 70 f with references.)
  23. Klaus Schreiner: Religious, historical and legal legitimation of late medieval aristocratic rule . In: Otto Gerhard Oexle; Werner Paravicini (ed.): Nobilitas . Göttingen 1967, p. 383
  24. ^ Walter Demel: The European nobility from the Middle Ages to the present . 2nd edition Munich 2011, p. 9
  25. As early as the 13th century, preachers like Wilhelm Peraldus († between 1261–1275) and Berthold von Spangenberg († 1272) argued that God had not created a “silver Adam” from which nobiles could be derived (Klaus Schreiner: Religiöse, Historische und Legal legitimation of late medieval aristocratic rule . In: Otto Gerhard Oexle, Werner Paravicini (ed.): Nobilitas . Göttingen 1967 p. 396 with references to sources ibid. footnote 52). The best known is the verse, "Since Adam repents and Eve spun, / Who was there a nobleman?", From the woodcut "The Adel" by Lucas Cranach the Elder. Ä. be. Its oldest surviving version probably comes from the English rebel John Ball : When Adam dalf and Eve spun / Where was then the gentlemen? This saying was spread both by the Hussites and in the German Peasants' War.
  26. ^ Werner Paravicini: Interest in the nobility. An introduction . In: Otto Gerhard Oexle; Werner Paravicini (ed.): Nobilitas . Göttingen 1967, p. 19.
    Similarly, summing up an extensive research project, the question was asked “to what extent one can assume a uniform European nobility, a 'European Nobility', to quote the book title by Michael Bush, or whether or to what extent only 'national' or even only 'regional' noble societies existed, so, to use HM Scott, 'European Nobilities' ”. (Walter Demel, Walter: “European nobility” or “European nobilities”? In: Wolf Dieter Gruner; Markus Völkel (Ed.): Region - Territorium - Nationstaat - Europa . Rostock 1998, p. 81) The literature on which in Reference is made to this quote: Michael M. Bush: The European Nobility . 2 vols. New York 1983/1988; HM Scott (Ed.): The European Nobilities in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries . 2 vols. London / New York 1995.
  27. Tacitus , Annalen , 11, 25, 2 .; Cassius Dio , Roman History , 52, 42, 5.
  28. ^ Jacob Burckhardt : Greek cultural history, collected works. Darmstadt 1956, Volume 5, pp. 159–166: The Greek Aristocracy
  29. ^ Werner Hechberger : Nobility in the Frankish-German Middle Ages. On the anatomy of a research problem. Ostfildern 2005, p. 11.
  30. ^ Josef Fleckenstein: Foundations and beginning of German history. (German history 1). Göttingen 1988, p. 40.
  31. ^ Störmer, Wilhelm: Work area II. Aristocracy and ministeriality at the time of Hartmann von Aue, in: Cormeau, Christoph; Störmer, Wilhelm (ed.): Hartmann von Aue. Epoche, work, effect, Munich 2007, pp. 40–79.
  32. ^ The Heidelberg illuminated manuscript of the Sachsenspiegel - digital. Retrieved July 8, 2019 . Offer from Heidelberg University Library.
  33. This is proven in detail on the basis of the documents handed down by Heike Grahn-Hoek: The Franconian upper class in the 6th century. Studies on their legal and political position . Sigmaringen 1976
  34. See in particular Grahn-Hoeck 1976, pp. 9–38 and other passages on corresponding misinterpretations of historical sources.
  35. ^ Karl Bosl : Society in the history of the Middle Ages. 4th edition. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1987, ISBN 3-525-33389-7 , p. 56.
  36. ^ Hans-Ulrich Wehler: German History of Society, Fifth Volume - Federal Republic and GDR 1949–1990. Verlag CH Beck, Munich 2008, p. 167
  37. Monika Wienfort: The nobility in the modern age. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2006, p. 47: “While in Great Britain, but also in other European states such as the Netherlands, Belgium and the Scandinavian countries, monarchy and nobility experienced continuity in the 19th and 20th centuries, because they remained dependent on each other, the nobility in Germany (as in Austria and Hungary, Italy, not to mention Russia) had to adjust to a different political system. "
  38. Monika Wienfort: The nobility in the modern age. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2006, a. a. P. 47
  39. Dieter Felbick: Keywords of the post-war period. Verlag de Gruyter, Berlin 2003
  40. Institut Deutsche Adelsforschung: Frequently asked questions: Adeliger Ehrenkodex , accessed on March 16, 2013
  41. ^ The constitution of the German Empire of August 11, 1919; online at Wikisource
  42. ^ Negotiations of the constituent German National Assembly . Stenographic reports. tape 328 . Berlin 1920, 57th session of July 15, 1919, p. 1559–1569 ( ).
  43. ^ Berliner Zeitung: The bourgeois imperial couple
  44. Frankfurter Rundschau: Your Highness ask for the ball
  45. Jens Jessen : What remained of the nobility. A bourgeois consideration , on Klampen Essay 2018, ISBN 978-3-86674-580-3
  46. The year 1297 is a certain turning point in Venice. A decision not to admit any more new families was never taken. The establishment of the Grand Council as an institution whose membership was hereditary was a lengthy process that dragged on until the mid-14th century.
  47. Legislation of the Republic of San Marino regarding the nobility ( Memento of August 21, 2003 in the Internet Archive ) (Italian; PDF; 30 kB)
  48. Andreas Z'Graggen: Nobility in Switzerland: How ruling families shaped our country over centuries , NZZ Libro 2017
  49. Athar Ali, Sayyid Muhammad: The Mughal Nobility Under Aurangzeb, Delhi 4th ed. 2011, pp. 7 and 175.
  50. ^ Richards, John F .: The Mughal Empire (The New Cambridge History of India I.5), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, pp. 64 ff .; 84 ff.
  51. ^ Athar Ali, Sayyid Muhammad: Apparatus of Empire, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1985, p. Xiii
  52. Anwar, Firdos: Nobility under the Mughals, 1628–1658 , Delhi: Manohar, 2001
  53. ^ Richards, John F .: Power, Administration and Finance in Mughal India , Aldershot and Brookfield 1993, p. 263.
  54. Chandra, Satish: Essays on Medieval Indian History , Delhi 2nd ed. 2005, p. 293 ff.
  55. ^ Richards, John F .: The Mughal Empire (The New Cambridge History of India I.5), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, pp. 79 ff.
  56. Alam, Muzaffar: The Crisis of Empire in Mughal North India, Awadh & the Punjab, 1707–1748 , Delhi 4th ed. 2001, pp. 204 ff.
  57. Engelbert Kaempfer: At the court of the Persian Great King, 1684–1685 , Ed. Werner Hinz, Stuttgart: Erdmann, 1984, p. 103 f.
  58. ^ Royal family and nobility on Tonga
  59. Werner Bartens: The ideal gene cocktail. In: . July 2, 2015, accessed October 13, 2018 .
  60. General Land Law for the Prussian States of February 5, 1794, ninth title. Of the duties and rights of the nobility. (§§ 35,36)
  61. General Land Law for the Prussian States of February 5, 1794, Fifth Title. Of the duties and rights of masters and servants. (Sections 86–96)
  62. Nithardus: Historiarum libri IV, Dear IV, second
  63. ^ William Robertson: History of the government of Emperor Carl the Fifth along with an outline of the growth and progress of social life in Europe up to the beginning of the sixteenth century - part two. Verlag Franz Härter, Vienna 1819, pp. 84ff
  64. General Land Law for the Prussian States of February 5, 1794, ninth title. Of the duties and rights of the nobility. (§ 1)
  65. General land law for the Prussian states of February 5, 1794
  66. See synonym details for '(the) fine gentleman · (the) noble gentleman · Herr von und zu' ,