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Princely crown or princely hat , in princely houses an insignia corresponding to the crown of rank

Prince and Princess are both general designations of rulers ("princes") as well as special nobility titles with their own prince status in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation from the Middle Ages to around 1800, with a " principality " as a designated domain . The elevation to this nobility was called " Prince ". In addition, princes and principalities can also be found in other countries and political structures, sometimes only referred to as such from outside. Similar to the term chief , the European explorers and colonizers transferred prince and principality to real or supposed leaders and domains of other peoples or translated their own designation as "prince".

In a figurative sense, for example, large Celtic tombs were previously referred to as “ princely graves” , even if there were no written sources on the rulership structure at that time. Colloquially , heads of government of federal states are also referred to as sovereigns .


The word “Fürst” comes from the Old High German furisto “der Erste, der Vorderste, der Führende ”, which also forms the basis for similar terms in other Germanic languages: English first “as first, first”, Dutch Vorst , Danish and Norwegian fyrste as well Swedish princes . The Latin predecessor princeps (“the first, leader”), corresponding to the title of the prince , can still be found in the German “ prince, princess ” and the English prince, princess and principality for a principality (for example, Principality of Liechtenstein ). As "Prince of Wales" the title Prince of Wales can be officially translated for the heir to the throne of the British monarchy . As a " princely states " (Princely States) , the native of a prince (will Maharaja , actually "Great King") ruled states under British suzerainty called in India. The French principauté also stands for “principality” (at the beginning of the 19th century also “ margraviate ”), officially at the Principauté de Monaco .

"Prince" is more broadly a collective term for the most important rulers as emperors , kings , dukes and agriculture , medullary and Palatine (so-called " gefürstete " Count , see Count ). In the narrower sense, from the middle of the 13th century ( late Middle Ages ), a prince is understood to be an inheritable title of high nobility and ruler that is higher than the count and the (non-royal) prince, but below the duke. The title is not necessarily tied to a domain and can also be awarded on an honorary basis.

In a broader sense, the term prince is used for independent rulers in non-European cultures , also to avoid the term king and the associated obeisances. Rulers' titles in other languages ​​have been translated into German as princes , for example the Slavic-speaking Knes .

The following terms are derived from the title prince :


In the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation , "Prince" was initially a general term for high noble feudal bearers from the 10th century . In the Middle Ages, the imperial princes included dukes as well as counts, margraves and palatine counts (see high nobility ). At least since that time, the East Franconian or German king was elected by the greats of the empire, and since 1356 ( Golden Bull ) by the 7 electors .

With the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, some German princes became sovereign rulers of their country; in the Gotha court calendar they were listed alongside the kings and grand dukes in the first division . Most of the other princes, whose territory came under the rule of another state through mediation (" mediation "), kept or received the title of prince as an honorary title, such as the Sayn-Wittgenstein ; these mediated genders formed the second section of the “princely houses” in the court calendar .

A German special case were the former counts who ruled directly under the empire , who are occasionally also referred to as prince counts and who also belonged to the second division . They were ranked below the princes, but like them belonged to the high nobility and were equal to them according to the German Federal Act - unlike the ordinary, simple titular counts ; they were addressed as " exalted ". In addition, there were some families who were princes in the 19th century and who had never been sovereign, such as Blücher as “Prince of Wahlstatt”, Bismarck , Bülow or Hardenberg , who were grouped together in a third department alongside foreign princes . Thus, the vast majority of the princes of the Second German Empire were no longer ruling monarchs , as were the princes of the Austrian nobility in the Austrian Empire . So until 1918 sovereign German princes carried the title of “ruling prince”.

The children of a prince are often prince or princess with the former official salutationYour Highness ”, which today is only used in non-official, social correspondence as a politeness when addressing them. These titles are also carried over to the younger lineages that result from them . However, the descendants of some mediatized (" mediated ") or princely houses that were only raised in the course of the 19th century bear the title of Count or Countess with the salutation "Exalted". In both cases, the respective head of the house has the title of prince as the first-born title with the salutation "Your Highness".

Usage today

In the European cultural area , the small states of Monaco ( Prince of Monaco ) and Liechtenstein ( Prince of Liechtenstein ) are ruled by princes ( French prince sovereign ). As the co-principality of two heads of state, Andorra is a unique special case. In the United Kingdom ( Prince of Wales ) and Spain ( Prince of Asturias ), the respective Crown Prince is usually appointed by the monarch to be the titular Prince of a part of the country, without this bringing about any governmental power. In most other European monarchies , too , a corresponding title is still used as a title of nobility by the heads of non-ruling royal houses.

In the German Reich, the Weimar Constitution of 1919, together with the abolition of the privileges of the nobility, made the former title prince or princess an integral part of the family name . Thus the title of prince or princess was omitted insofar as it was passed on through firstborn succession ( primogeniture ). However, for reasons of tradition, it is still often carried on unofficially by the bosses of the former royal houses and occasionally also taken over into the passport at the request of the law on the change of family names and first names due to long-term management and general recognition (No. 50 NamÄndVwV), which However, because of the then - contrary to tradition - transfer to all subsequently born descendants of the former royal houses themselves is usually not desired. This currently affects 54 German families, four of which were still ruling federal princes after 1806 (mostly until 1918): Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen , Waldeck and Pyrmont , Reuss and Schaumburg-Lippe .

There are also families in which the title “prince” has remained a regular part of the name of the previous nobility designation (according to Art. 109 Para. 3 of the Weimar Constitution) and applies to every family member, ie is not a first-born title. For female persons in these families, the family name has to be changed to the female form “Fürstin”. Examples of this are the Prince von Wrede and Prince von Urach families . The EDP specialist Maria-Christine Fürstin von Urach was a member of the Supervisory Board of Daimler-Benz AG with this name.

For the Austrian nobility , who were forbidden to use the title of prince by the Nobility Repeal Act of 1919, the same applies to the unofficial use of the prince title as in Germany, with the exception that the “boss of the house” does not usually refer to himself as prince , however so called by others who want to follow tradition.

In Switzerland , titles of nobility are not recognized as part of the family name, and nobility designations are therefore not entered in official papers. On the other hand, the title of nobility “von” is used by the Swiss authorities in civil status files. With regard to the princes, however, this no longer has any practical significance, as the high nobility of Switzerland of imperial princely rank (such as the Kyburger , Lenzburger , Rapperswiler , Toggenburger or Habsburg-Laufenburger ) all died out in the late Middle Ages .

A genealogical handbook of the nobility , published at regular intervals , continues the genealogical work of the Gothaischer Hofkalender in its volume series Princely Houses, which is divided into three sections. The handbook provides information about members of the historical German nobility and about the heads of the European royal houses who are legitimate under house law and who are entitled under nobility to use the princely title (including ruling or previously ruling houses, mediatized houses and merely titled houses). In cases of doubt, the German Nobility Law Committee is called in by the editorial team and monitors compliance with historical nobility law .

Church princes

Clemens August von Bayern (1700–1761) with all the insignia of his ecclesiastical and secular rule: the cure coat and hat stand for the electorate of Cologne , the episcopal pectoral hanging on the chest, the collar of the priest's robe and the miter on the table symbolize his office as Archbishop of Cologne, Prince-Bishop of Münster , Osnabrück , Paderborn and Hildesheim . In addition, he was Grand Master of the Teutonic Order .

In the Holy Roman Empire, high dignitaries of the Catholic Church were designated as spiritual princes , in particular prince-bishops , prince provosts and prince abbesses as well as the grandmasters of the Teutonic Order and the grand masters of the Order of St. John , who in addition to their spiritual office in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church (the managing an abbey , a diocese or archdiocese ) at the same time the secular post of imperial princes within the Holy Roman Empire exercised (see: imperial estates ), so the regency in a Reichsstift : the Erzstifte (secular territories of archbishops ), the high pins (secular territories of Prince bishops ) , the areas of the prince provosts and the imperial prelatures (imperial abbeys and imperial propsteies).

Spatially, these secular territories were rarely congruent with the eponymous spiritual districts (the dioceses ). The latter were based solely on canon law , while the imperial donors were subject to imperial law . The arch donors and high donors, as well as the imperial immediate territories of the imperial-free monasteries, were ruled by dignitaries of the Roman Catholic Church , but were not canonical institutions, but formally scepter loans of the Roman-German king to a certain prelate chair of the church.

As secular rulers, the spiritual imperial princes were represented in the Imperial Council of the Reichstag . Three of the German prince archbishops were also entitled to elect emperors as electors ( Kurmainz , Kurköln , Kurtrier ). According to the imperial register of 1521, the ecclesiastical imperial princes - in addition to the three ecclesiastical electors - included the archbishops of Salzburg , Magdeburg , Bremen and Besançon (previously also the patriarchate of Aquileia ), as well as 46 other prince-bishops. In addition, there were a large number of imperial prelates, some of whom also had the title of prince (prince abbots and princely abbesses). The spiritual imperial princes were reduced to 33 by 1792, including the three electors, the two prince-archbishops of Salzburg and Besançon, 22 prince-bishops and some prince abbots. Shortly before the secularization of 1802/1803, the immediate imperial spiritual states comprised 25 ore and high monasteries and 44 prince provosts and imperial provosts . Since the Reformation , some ecclesiastical principalities have also been ruled by Protestant prince-bishops (such as the arch donors Magdeburg and Bremen and the Hochstifter Lübeck and Osnabrück ; the latter alternating between denominations), while others (such as Brandenburg , Meißen , Naumburg-Zeitz or the dioceses of the Livonian Confederation ) had been annexed by secular neighbors. With more than three million inhabitants, one eighth of the population of the Holy Roman Empire lived “under the crook ”, in terms of area, with almost 95,000 square kilometers, even a quarter of the empire belonged to the “ Germania Sacra ”.

While the monasteries had secular hereditary bailiffs since the Middle Ages , usually neighboring counts or princes, often from the founding families who were responsible for military and administrative matters (e.g. defense in the event of war, including the building of protective castles, posting of bills , collecting taxes, Jurisdiction over the subjects), the bishops exercised these functions themselves. The monk Caesarius von Heisterbach wrote around 1230: “Since most of the bishops in Germany have the two swords, the spiritual and the secular; and because they judge blood and wage wars, they have to worry more about the wages of their knights than about the salvation of the souls entrusted to them. "

The non-princely, but imperial prelates held the highest jurisdiction (mostly exercised by the bailiff), but were only jointly represented in two colleges in the Reichstag on the spiritual bench, in the Swabian and Rhenish Reichprälatenkollegium , each of which gave them a common curiate voice (no separate virile voice ) granted, comparable to the four count banks in the Imperial Council of Dukes . However, these secular functions ended with the secularization that followed the end of the Old Kingdom in 1806.

As church leaders about the apply also to this day Cardinals , through their eligibility for papal election also government functions in an elective monarchy (until 1870 the Papal States , and since 1929 the Vatican City ) and the subject of international law of the Holy See to exercise. The title cardinal is therefore used like a princely title between first and last name. According to the explanation of the clerical princes in the Gotha court calendar or in the genealogical manual of the nobility , the cardinals are ranked with (non-ruling) princes from the ruling house. In the term church prince in the broader sense, i.e. not only for cardinals but also for bishops , the idea of ​​a noble lifestyle and princely appearance of spiritual leaders still lives on today .

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: Fürst  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikiquote: Prince  - Quotes

Individual evidence

  1. A list of all the “ princes ” of non-class nobles in the Kingdom of Prussia since 1803 can be found in René Schiller: From knights to large estates: Economic and social transformation processes of the rural elites in Brandenburg in the 19th century. Berlin 2003, p. 537.
  2. ^ Technical lexicon for the registry office , Verlag für Standesamtwesen, Frankfurt am Main 1987 (seventh edition), ISBN 3-8019-5631-8 . Entry under the keyword Fürst , p. 231
  3. WREDE : “The members of this family bear the title Prince / Princess von Wrede. In German, all members actually bear the title Fürst / Fürstin. "
  4. ^ Sönke Lorenz , Dieter Mertens and Volker Press (eds.): Das Haus Württemberg. A biographical lexicon. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1997, ISBN 3-17-013605-4 , pp. 390-398
  5. Germany's highest IT woman, Princess von Urach, has died ,, September 14, 1990
  6. In the passports issued by the Vatican State , the official title is SRE (Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae) cardinalis = Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, with the salutation Eminence (abbreviated SE = His Eminence) .
  7. ^ Duden online : Church prince. Retrieved September 26, 2019; Quote: "Prince of the Church, the [...] meaning: high spiritual dignitary (especially bishop, archbishop, cardinal)".