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Freiherr is a title of nobility of the Holy Roman Empire , which continued in Austria and the German Empire until 1919. As the lowest rank, the baron belongs to the titled nobility, as do count , prince and duke , in contrast to the untitled nobility, who only had the nobility predicate “von” in their name.

Origin of the title

The word Freiherr goes back to the late Middle High German expression vrīherre and means free nobleman. The title is thus identical to the baron , which is derived from the Latinized , originally Franconian liber baro , in German: "Free Lord".

In the nobility diplomas (“nobility letters”) of the Holy Roman Empire , the Germanic title of “free lord” was reproduced with liber baro and not with liber dominus to indicate that it was a Germanic gentleman. The title of baron developed from the Latin liber baro in the non-Germanic languages. In the Germanic-speaking countries (German and Scandinavian), on the other hand, the official title always remained the baron , while in the Romance- speaking countries as well as Great Britain, the Netherlands and Russia the title of baron was or is awarded (see below ).

In German, however, the oral form of address baron became commonplace for a baron when the French language became the lingua franca of the European nobility. The Latinized form of address was considered more elegant, as were the female forms baroness (wife of a baron or baron) or baroness (e) (daughter of a baron or baron). The custom of addressing a baron with a baron began in the 16th century and became a permanent label at German courts in the 18th and 19th centuries, when French was still the language of the court and diplomats. "Baron", "Baroness" or "Baroneß" are still sometimes used as an oral (or written) form of courtesy to address a baron, a baroness or a baroness.

The imperial barons (see below) are a special case, but were the norm in the Holy Roman Empire before 1806 . The barons, like most counts , belong to the lower nobility , while formerly imperial direct counts and princes are considered to be high nobility . Up until the 13th century, however, there was no class barrier between the high and the lower nobility within the German aristocracy ; the medieval counts (then not infrequently also the free lords) were almost equal to the imperial princes as territorial lords, but in later centuries they often rose to the princehood and mostly retained their imperial immediacy until the end of the Old Empire in 1806, when most of them lost their relative independence through mediation .

Imperial Baron

Reichsfreiherr is an unofficial title from the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation . On the one hand, it referred to the owners of territories immediately under the Empire, and on the other hand, also those persons who had been awarded the title of baron by the Roman-German emperor . However, the official title was always Freiherr , the prefix “Reichs” - although it can occasionally be read on baron diplomas and pictorial inscriptions from the 17th and 18th centuries, mostly in the version “of the Holy Roman Empire Baron” , it was never an official one Title; mostly only in the 19th century - with the renewed propagation of the imperial idea after the fall of the Old Reich - some barons called themselves that (" Reichsfreiherr vom und zum Stein ") . According to the opinion of the German Nobility Law Committee and its predecessor institutions, the "imperial titles" (including imperial count and imperial prince ) have always been of a historically explanatory nature, but not of a name-relevant nature. They are also not entered in passports or civil status documents (even from the time of the monarchy) and are therefore not used in the Gotha Genealogical Manual or in the German Adelsblatt .

Owner of an imperial immediate territory

Imperial barons of this group were barons who were enfeoffed with imperial property that was directly subordinate to the German king or emperor and thus had imperial immediacy . These were mostly imperial knights - raised to the baron status - who belonged to the free imperial knighthood. With one exception, they did not belong to the imperial estates (with a seat and vote in the Reichstag ) and in the rank of nobility did not stand above the other barons who were subordinate to a sovereign .

The Franconian Knight Circle , the Swabian Knight Circle and the Rhenish Knight Circle were dissolved at the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 and the Imperial Knights came under the rule of member states of the German Confederation through mediation . A rare example of a Freiherrschaft not assigned to any imperial district was the rule of Schauen from 1689 , also the rule of Lengsfeld , which belonged to the von Boyneburg family, and the imperial rule of Gemen, which also belonged to them from 1801 .

Elevation of rank

As imperial barons - according to the imperial counts - those aristocrats were also referred to who had received their title of baron through a document from the Roman-German emperor or an imperial vicar , regardless of whether they belonged to the primeval nobility - and in this way experienced a rise in rank - or to that Post office .

An increase in rank by the emperor (in this capacity, because he could also confer titles restricted to his hereditary lands ) was valid throughout the empire. Foreign titles, on the other hand, had to be recognized when naturalized in the Reich. In this case, the title had nothing to do with imperial immediacy or an enfeoffment with imperial property , but merely indicated that it had been awarded by the emperor or an imperial vicar before 1806 . Before 1806, this applied to most of the elevations to the baron class, since except for the emperor (or king of his hereditary lands), this could only be carried out by the Prussian king, who in practice hardly ever did so before 1806. The other princes were only allowed to raise their barons (and counts) status after the end of the Holy Roman Empire  - as sovereigns in the German Confederation and from 1871 in the German Empire  .


Old barons crown
General crown of barons

The baron's crown is a crown of rank and is usually designed as a golden hoop, from the upper edge of which seven pearl-studded silver points protrude (aristocratic crown: five points, count's crown: nine points). In the case of a flatter shape, the pearls lie directly on the ring, eliminating the prongs (this also corresponds to the French baron's crown). Around 1800 the five-pointed crown was also considered a baron crown.

The French, Swedish, Spanish, Portuguese, Belgian and English barons crowns are to be distinguished from the seven-pointed German barons crown.

Salutation and feminine forms

Austrian baron diploma for Dr. Wilhelm and Dr. Alfred Berger , 1878

Members baronial families stood in the 17th and 18th centuries , the Informal Honor , later Hochwohlgeboren or high and Honor to. Since in the 19th century untitled lords of (as well as, especially in Bavaria and Austria, the newly ennobled knights and nobles of ) and increasingly also bourgeois dignitaries insisted on the salutation "Highly Born", the non- ruling counts (ruling: illustrious ) as well the barons or barons from the primeval nobility to the salutation Hochgeboren , which was reserved for the dukes until the 17th century . This salutation was mostly only used in written form, while the oral baron or baroness remained in use. The old forms of address have been preserved in the custom, on letterheads over the name of a baron (or count) the letters SH ( his high born or high born ) or IH ( your high born or your high born ) - for a baroness - or to put SHIH for a married couple.

In the German Empire it was customary to put the title of nobility in front of the first name. Since the Weimar Constitution came into force in 1919, former titles of nobility in Germany have been part of the family name under the law . In Austria it was already common during the monarchy to insert the title of nobility between the first name and the family name (e.g. Alfred Freiherr von Berger ). This was not only done in official correspondence, but also at court.

The female form is "Dame" (Baroness) for the wife of a baron or "Baroness" (baroness baroness was relatively unusual) for the unmarried daughter of a baron. According to a ruling by the Imperial Court of Justice during the Weimar Republic , which is still valid in Germany today, the wives of barons may correctly call themselves “Freifrau” (e.g. Ilselore Freifrau von Braun; a contrary opinion wanted on the spelling “Ilselore Freiherr von Braun "exist).

Since the colloquial “Fräulein” for an unmarried woman went out of use, the form “Freiin” has been perceived by some carriers as discriminatory. A change of name to "Freifrau" is generally not opposed by the authorities in this regard. In the opinion of the Cologne Higher Regional Court , decision of November 20, 2014 - 2 WX345 / 14 - the designation "Freiin" does not only refer to an unmarried daughter of a baron. Thus, after a marriage, if a married name was not determined, this designation does not reflect an incorrect marital status of the wife. In this case, there is no entitlement to change the nobility addition to "Freifrau". The sometimes mistakenly used designation “Freiherrin” instead of “Freifrau” or “Freiin” is wrong because it never existed as a title.

But even today there are some families in Germany who instead of the baron use the baron in their official name; As a rule, these are members of Baltic German aristocratic families who had received their ranks as Russian nobility titles , since the Baltic knighthoods were subject to the Tsar . After their flight to the German Reich as a result of the October Revolution and subsequent expropriations in the Baltic states or after their annexation by the Soviet Union in 1940, some members of such families chose the German baron title as their official name when they were naturalized , which was largely exempted by the registry offices . Therefore it occasionally happens that members of the same entire family have different titles in their surnames.

The Austrian nobility was stripped of its title in 1919 by the Nobility Repeal Act and abolished as a state. However, because this was a one-time legal act, it is no longer applicable to today's marriages with corresponding German namesake. The formation of the female forms, however, does not occur. Through a marital name change, the somewhat absurd sounding "Ilselore Freiherr von Braun" mentioned above can actually be revived in Austrian (and probably also some other foreign) passports.

There are also baronial families in the Swiss aristocracy , since Switzerland was officially part of the Holy Roman Empire until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 and the emperor not only conferred the imperial nobility, but also the baron status occasionally to Swiss families, namely to primitive noble families and to officers in imperial families Services. Other families were raised in ranks by the French kings or the popes. In Switzerland, the nobility predicate “von” is an official part of the name, but not the title Freiherr or Graf, which is therefore only used unofficially, as is now the case in Austria, the Czech Republic or Italy.

European countries

While in many European countries the title "Baron" was used, the addition "Freiherr" is also used, for example, in the Scandinavian nobility (Swedish: friherre ).

Comparable nobility titles:

  • Hungary - báró, báróné
  • Ukraine - Baron, Baronesa
  • Croatia - barun, barunica
  • Poland - Baron, Baronowa
  • Lithuania - baron, baroness
  • Latvia - Barons, Baroness
  • Belarus - Baron, Baronessa
  • Russia - Baron, Baronessa
  • Italy - barons, baronessa
  • Great Britain - Baron, Baroness
  • Sweden - friherre, friherrinnan (fröken (fräulein) for the baroness)
  • Denmark - baron, baroness (also for the baroness)
  • Norway - former, friherrin (also for the baroness)
  • Finland - vapaaherra
  • Netherlands - Baron, Barones
  • Portugal - Barão, Baronesa
  • Spain - Barón, Baronesa
  • Czech Republic - baron (svobodný pán), baronka (svobodná paní)
  • France - baron, baronne

See also


  • Wolfgang Ribbe, Eckart Henning : Pocket book for family history research. Verlag Degener & Co., Neustadt an der Aisch 1980, ISBN 3-7686-1024-1
  • Eugen Haberkorn, Joseph Friedrich Wallach: auxiliary dictionary for historians 2nd 6th edition, Francke Verlag, Munich 1964, ISBN 3-7720-1293-0
  • Christian Schulze Pellengahr: Does a nobility award come into effect after reunification? In: Das Standesamt 56 (2003), pp. 193–198.

Web links

Wiktionary: Freiherr  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ The imperial rule of Gemen fell in 1801 from the Counts of Limburg-Styrum to the Barons of Boineburg-Bömelberg ; if these had not expired in the male line in 1826, they would consequently have to be kept in the second department of the Princely Houses in Gotha .
  2. ^ Adolf Matthias Hildebrandt (founder), Ludwig Biewer (arrangement): Wappenfibel. Handbook of Heraldry. 19th edition, published by HEROLD, Association for Heraldry, Genealogy and Related Sciences , edit. on behalf of the Herolds Committee for the German coat of arms . Degener, Neustadt an der Aisch 1998, p. 89.
  3. ^ Adolf Matthias Hildebrandt (founder), Ludwig Biewer (arrangement): Wappenfibel. Handbook of Heraldry. 19th edition, published by HEROLD, Association for Heraldry, Genealogy and Related Sciences , edit. on behalf of the Herolds Committee for the German coat of arms . Degener, Neustadt an der Aisch 1998, p. 89.
  4. RGZ 113, 107.
  5. ^ Johannes Baron von Mirbach: Noble names, noble titles. CAStarke Verlag, Limburg an der Lahn, 1999, ISBN 3-7980-0540-0