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The courtiers of Catherine the Great

The court , the court or the court society is the totality of the persons who immediately and permanently surround a ruling prince and his family. Monarchical courts are historical examples of elaborate ritualized forms of rule .


The “court” (Latin curia , aula , French cour , English court ) is originally a place name, see Hof (place name) . It goes over to the free space enclosed by the buildings of a property , where the lord's followers gathered, and then also describes this followers themselves. It is also the name for the residence of a prince (court camp) as well as for the prince himself with himself Family and its surroundings. As a princely household, each court was organized institutionally and socially and structured hierarchically. The central organizational feature were his court offices . Court rules regulated the daily routine at the court and the responsibilities of individual functionaries within their offices. Among the largest social groups in the royal court were the court aristocracy, commoners and ordinary people.

Since the late Middle Ages , European princes and monarchs have tried to pull the landed gentry together in the courts in order to have them under control and to consolidate their central power. The sociologist Norbert Elias called this the “courtization of the nobility” ( Die Höfische Gesellschaft , 1969). The form of government that arose in this context is called absolutism . A high point was French absolutism under Louis XIV. His court in Versailles Palace was the largest in Europe and shaped the culture of the nobility worldwide . The social group of the court nobility was formed . Its membership in the court ( courtesy ) was associated with great prestige and was increasingly sought by the commoners.

The loss of power of the courts in the 19th century was often tried to compensate with special brilliance, for example in some (German) small states or in the French Second Empire (see Operetta State ). This splendor often did not support the concerns of the rising bourgeoisie : There were only a few examples of courts where intellectual interests were promoted and science and art were cultivated, such as the Medici court and the “ Weimar Court of the Muses ”. The court theaters, on the other hand, were increasingly opened to the bourgeoisie.

Court attitudes were always very different. The court system of the Orient , which owed its origin in part to theocratic views, was often imitated in the Western states.


The Ancient Egypt is one of the oldest examples of a courtly society. Everything revolves around the central figure of the king. The civil servants expressed their closeness to the ruler, especially in their titles. They call themselves confidante or follower of the king, but also his majesty's only friend or his majesty's first friend . This goes so far that they identify with body parts of the king. The king's mouth , or the king's two ears, are popular official designations. The favor of the king is felt to be extremely important. It was the ruler who decided on careers at court.

Ancient Rome and Byzantium

In ancient times , the functions of court officials regularly coincided with those of public servants. It was, for example, under the Roman emperors , with whom the high military officials formed both the immediate environment and the court of the emperor.

Court keeping in Byzantium was particularly complicated and it was widely imitated.

Western Europe in Modern Times

In the Holy Roman Empire of the early modern period , the electors as holders of the ore offices were also the first court officials of the emperor; but this essentially amounted to a mere title, as was later also the case with regard to the hereditary offices of the empire.

A particularly elaborate court ceremony developed in Burgundy and from there came with the rule of the Habsburgs ( Charles V ) to Spain and to the Viennese court of the two Habsburg lines, where the particularly strict Spanish court ceremony was used.

In his classic study, Norbert Elias identified the rule of Louis XIV with his court at Versailles Palace as the high point in the development of court society . In the course of the expansion of central government authority and the modernization of warfare, the old nobility (“sword nobility”) had been marginalized, and their discontent had repeatedly erupted in uprisings ( fronde ). The king drew the high nobility to court, ceremonially highlighted them, but used this ceremony for his constant control and discipline. The court aristocracy was also so heavily burdened by the representation obligations of the court offices that they often became impoverished, while political power was increasingly exercised by civil officials.

The French fashion and label industry found many copies throughout Europe in the 18th century.

Courtyards at the end of the 19th century

The courts of the late 19th century were by and large organized in a conformist manner, but in detail the structure of the court servants and their functions, especially with regard to the extent of the court keeping, were very different. These court servants together formed the prince's court. They were broken down into court officials and court servants (court officers), depending on whether it was a matter of honorary service to the monarch and his family, of higher court administration, or only of lower duties.

The higher court officials were the owners of the actual court offices (court charges, court staffs), while the others had to perform mere honorary services ( court ladies , chamberlains , chamberlains ). Court offices could only be held by aristocrats, just as the nobility used to be the prerequisite for high courage .

In this regard, a court ranking determined the order and ranking of the people appearing at court. A special court ceremony ( court etiquette ) was maintained at the courts, to which special officials ( master of ceremonies ) were appointed.

In order to appear at court, special court clothing was required, which was prescribed in detail on special occasions, especially at court mourning. In addition, good and cultivated (courtly) manners were required in order to be accepted at court. The protocol and the etiquette had to be observed very carefully so as not to cause a scandal. The aristocratic gentlemen, for example, were not allowed to take off their shoes and walk barefoot or only in stockings through the palace and park, because this was considered gross.


The court officials were subordinate to the minister of the royal house , for example in Prussia , where the herald's office for registry and aristocratic matters, the royal house archive and the court chamber of the royal family property were initially subordinate to him. The King's Secret Cabinet for civil affairs , but also the Secret Cabinet for military affairs , were also under the House Ministry, while the adjutants general and the adjutants wing of the emperor and king and the imperial military cabinet were not as royal officials, but as such of the German Reich and the German Kaisers acted.

On the other hand, under the royal house minister stood the various court batches, which in Prussia were divided into supreme, upper and simple court batches. The highest court ranks were: the chief chamberlain, the chief marshal, the chief innkeeper, the chief clerk and the chief hunter.

The chief cook, the Upper Castle captain of Upper Court and: as upper Court officials were listed house marshal , the chief equerry and director of the royal gardens, the Grand Master of Ceremonies, the upper garment Chamberlain ( Grandmaître de la wardrobe ), the chief hunter , the Lord Chamberlain, the general director of the Royal Drama ( court theater ) and the vice upper court officials. The latter include the emperor's court marshal, the emperor's house marshal, the vice-chief hunter, the vice chief of the castle, the two vice chief ceremonies, etc. The chief court and house marshal, the chamberlain and the chief master of ceremonies all carried the title "Your Excellency" .

The following were designated as simple court batches: the castle captains, who are in charge of the numerous royal castles, the court masters, the master of ceremonies , the stable masters, the chamberlains , the court marshals of the royal princes and the court hunter masters.

The court also included the general director of the royal court music , the royal personal physicians, the private chancellery and the king's reader.

The wives of the crowned heads also had their royal household, which in Prussia was made up of the chief chamberlain, the palace ladies, the chief chamberlain, the personal physician and the cabinet secretary, apart from the lower ranks; likewise the princes and princesses of the princely houses. The ranking of the Court officials was with the ranks of all as socially acceptable deemed persons in Prussian Hofrangreglement of 1878 set.


In the Austrian Empire , the highest court offices were the chief steward, the chief chamberlain, the chief court marshal and the chief stableman, as well as the guards , namely the colonel, the captain of the Arcièren bodyguard , the captain of the Hungarian bodyguard , the captain of the kuk Trabanten bodyguard and the Hofburgwache and the Captain of the kuk bodyguard rider squadron .

The so-called court services included the chief kitchen master , the chief silver chamberlain , the chief bar master , the chief hunter master and the chief ceremonial master.

In addition there was the military court of the emperor, consisting of the general and the adjutants , as well as the military chancellery and the emperor's cabinet chancellery. The court at the Austrian imperial court was subdivided into the court of the individual family members and comprised over two thousand people for decades in the 18th century. Well over a thousand of these belonged to the emperor's court.


The distinction between spiritual and secular court charges at the papal court, the Roman Curia, is peculiar . The highest ecclesiastical court charges ( cardinals of the palace) are here the Protodatarius (see Dataria ), the secretary of the Breven , the secretary of the petitions and the state secretary and prefect of the apostolic palaces.

The secular court charges are: the Grand Master of the Ordo Hospitalis sancti Johannis Ierosolimitani , the Obersthofmarschall, the Oberststallmeister and the Postmaster General. The highest hereditary offices and the leaders of the papal body guards are added to the clerical Oberhof and Hofbrgen.

Spiritual court offices

In the Middle Ages, some princes received papal permission to have their own court clergymen, so-called court confessors, as they had founded special court churches earlier (see court chapel (office) ). In the 16th and 17th centuries, the posts of these confessors at Catholic courts were often filled by Jesuits , who often achieved great influence. Protestant princes employed court preachers or court chaplains at their court churches.

Court criticism

Criticism of the conditions of court society, which forced its participants to be insincerity and dissimulation ( dissimulatio ), accompanied the court throughout its existence. Court criticism emerged as a topos and genre in Latin Europe in the 12th century.

See also


Web links

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

Individual evidence

  1. cf. Sabine Bock : The courtyard of a property. Open space between business and representation. In: Melanie Ehler (ed.): Princely garden (t) dreams. Palaces and gardens in Mecklenburg and Western Pomerania. Lukas, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-936872-05-8 , pp. 107-122.
  2. Ute Essegern: Princesses at the Electoral Saxon Court. Concepts of life and life courses between family, court and politics in the first half of the 17th century. Leipziger Universitätsverlag, 2007, ISBN 978-3-86583-074-6 , p. 35.
  3. Christine Raedler: On the structure of the court society of Ramses' II. In: Rolf Gundlach, Andrea Klug (Ed.): The Egyptian court of the New Kingdom. Its society and culture in the field of tension between domestic and foreign policy (= royalty, state and society of early high cultures. Vol. 2). Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2006, ISBN 3-447-05324-0 , pp. 40-64.
  4. ^ The court society . Frankfurt 1969.
  5. On the ruinous court life, see the letters of Madame de Sévigné . In addition Jacob Burckhardt : The letters of Madame de Sévigné. In: Lectures on cultural history. Stuttgart 1959.
  6. ^ Academy project for the late Prussian monarchy of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences. Retrieved May 17, 2019 .
  7. cf. The Prussian court rank regulations of January 19, 1878. In: Röhl: Kaiser, Hof und Staat. 1988, pp. 95-97.
  8. Irene Kubiska-Scharl, Michael Pölzl: The careers of the Viennese court staff 1711–1765. A representation based on the court calendar and court party protocols (= research and contributions to the history of Vienna. Vol. 58). Studien-Verlag, Innsbruck et al. 2013, ISBN 978-3-7065-5324-7 , pp. 95, 97.
  9. An overview of this from Rüdiger Schnell : "Curialitas" and "dissimulatio" in the Middle Ages. On the interdependence of court criticism and court ideal. In: Journal of Literary Studies and Linguistics . Volume 41, 2011, pp. 77-137.
  10. ^ The Royal Hanoverian Court Marshal Ernst von Malortie wrote numerous works on the keeping of court from the 17th to 19th centuries.