Imperial Count

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Reichsgraf was a denomination in the Holy Roman Empire . "Fürstete Grafen" are imperial counts who were raised to the rank of princes, but still bear the title of count. “ Standesherren ” was the name given to the members of the Reichstag who were entitled to vote and who lost their sovereignty and imperial status after 1803 (Reichsdeputationshauptschluss) through mediatization . They are all listed in the "Gothaischen Genealogical Court Calendar", which appeared annually, in the "Second Department: Genealogy of the German Classes".

Imperial counts as owners of imperial immediate territories of "princely size and importance"

One of the basic requirements for obtaining imperial status was that the corresponding imperial immediate territories have the scope of a territory that had its own chancellery and its own administrative structure.


In the Merovingian and Franconian empires a count was a royal official who exercised royal sovereignty in an administrative unit ( county , Gau ) and was deputy to the king or emperor in certain areas ( march , royal castle, palatinate , royal estate). After the creation of the younger tribal duchies, the previous counts became vassals of the dukes in their tribal territory. Since the Ottonians, the meaning of the title of count changed from the original office to the term for the summarized rights of a nobleman in a certain area due to its increasing heredity and integration into the feudal system. The count's rights were treated more and more under private law through exchange, sale and inheritance divisions. As a result, the old counties split up more and more and were combined with other rights to form new, reduced counties. In addition, many counties were also given away to bishops and archbishops, so that the direct rule of the king was withdrawn and distributed among several vassals. As an outward sign of this development, the name of the county after the center of power of the count instead of the location in a district increasingly prevailed. Since the kings and emperors also owned other possessions such as counties, duchies or royal estates in addition to these titles, there were still many territories that could become imperial immediately after the end of the Staufer period. In addition, many counts, who were vassals of tribal dukes or bishops in the early days, succeeded in breaking away from their feudal sovereignty over time. From all these counties many developed, which over time were only considered to be directly subordinate to the emperor and whose owners were imperial counts or imperial counts and received a seat and vote in the Reichstag .

Power and political role

The seat and vote in the Reichstag were proof of the recognition of the imperial count as part of an imperial estate. In 1521 there were 144 imperial counties in the Holy Roman Empire , in 1792 there were still 99. Reasons for this decrease are class elevations, the extinction of families and mediatization by more powerful imperial princes . Imperial counties existed particularly in the so-called royal areas such as Swabia or Franconia , but were also found in the north-west of the empire, but not in Schleswig-Holstein (with the exception of the Counts of Rantzau 1649/53 to 1727), which was an imperial fiefdom under Danish suzerainty was standing.

In order to be able to assert their political interests more effectively and to preserve their independence, the noble counts organized themselves in count associations and held count days . At imperial assemblies, later imperial diets , beginning in the 16th century, and in the "perpetual imperial diet", the noble counts formed "count banks", also known as "imperial count colleges", within the imperial princes ' council. At the beginning of the 16th century, the Wetterauische and the Swabian Imperial Counts 'Collegium were established, to which the Franconian and in 1653 the Westphalian Imperial Counts' College were added. In 1792 there were four Reichsgrafenbänke (ordered according to the number of internally eligible members):

  1. the (Niederrheinisch-) Niederrheinisch-Westfälische Grafenbank (33)
  2. the Wetterauische Grafenbank (25)
  3. the Swabian Count Bank (24)
  4. the Franconian Count Bank (17)

End of the imperial estate

With the Rhine Confederation Act and the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, most of the imperial counties were mediatized and from then on were subordinate to the great territorial lords surrounding them as “landlords”.

According to the agreements of the Congress of Vienna, the affected, formerly noble families, however, expressly retained their rank as noblemen and were thus considered equal to the ruling houses .

A few exceptions existed within the Rhine Confederation some years longer, mostly to survey principalities by Napoleon , and were mediated by the Congress of Vienna the latest 1815th Only the former imperial counties of Lippe , Reuss (several lines) and Schaumburg-Lippe , which continued to exist as principalities until 1918, survived this date .

Reichsgraf as a presumptuous title for holders of imperial (mostly Viennese) counts diplomas, which did not mean an increase in rank

Diploma on the elevation of Baron Anton Schenk von Stauffenberg (Wilflinger line) to the rank of count by Emperor Joseph II , 1785

Even today, counts of lower nobility who were awarded certificates by the Roman-German emperor or an imperial vicar , incorrectly refer to themselves as imperial counts . Since the respective imperial vicar held this competence during the sedis vacancies of the imperial throne, in these phases - often against payment - far more "counts" were made than by the emperors themselves. Unless expressly provided otherwise, this was recognized throughout the empire and did not require any further Naturalization by the imperial direct princes. In contrast, diplomas that were not issued by the emperor were generally only valid in the countries of the ennobling sovereign. In this way, for example, a King of Prussia could only confer one title with validity within the Kingdom of Prussia, which only meant East Prussia (here only in the Warmia region ) and West Prussia , but not only the originally partly Polish thrones outside the Reich territory the much larger Electorate of Brandenburg on imperial territory; the other electors or lower imperial estates, however, always had to ask the emperor to raise them. On the other hand, the Roman-German Emperor from the House of Habsburg could either award an "hereditary-Austrian title" (in his capacity as regent of the Habsburg hereditary lands , in particular as King of Bohemia or Hungary, with the title only valid for this area) or one Title of the Holy Roman Empire (in his capacity as Emperor, with validity of the title throughout the Holy Roman Empire).

This did not involve any elevation in relation to (non-civil) counts raised by other monarchs, the counts remained in the lower nobility. In documents from the 17th and 18th centuries it was always said "[...] of the Holy Roman Empire, Count of [...]". The name "Reichsgraf" came into being after 1495, when, for example, the Wetterau Counts Association was formed. Later it was founded in 1524 as the Swabian Empire, 1641 Franconian Empire and finally in 1653 the Lower Rhine-Westphalian Empire. The heraldry offices forbade the use of the title “Reichsgraf” in many cases, and the German Nobility Law Committee also contradicts the mostly good-faith but untraditional use of this title, which was never officially awarded to lower-nobility counts, which, as part of the family name, has hardly ever found its way into the passports should have. The German Adelsblatt therefore basically leaves out the “Reichs-” in all family advertisements.

Those "judged by the empire" had no imperial estate. They were awarded, but not increased in the “state”. From the middle of the 17th century onwards, there were also exceptions to attaining imperial status, the so-called personalists : until 1653 (and occasionally afterwards) the imperial status could also be awarded by the emperor to persons who did not have adequate territory. Later, not only the "princely territory" was required to acquire the imperial estate, but also admission to one of the ten imperial circles and admission to one of the four imperial counts' colleges (see above), which obviously meant a curtailment of imperial power.


  • Heffter, August Wilhelm: The special rights of the sovereign and mediatized formerly imperial houses of Germany. 1871, p. 10 on the subject of the imperial estate.
  • Hofkalender, Gothaischer Genealogischer , from 1917, Gotha (Justus Perthes), second section from p. 105
  • Taddey, Gerhard, in: Lexicon of German History , 2nd edition 1983, p. 874/5 on the "New Princely Houses"