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A manor ( lat . Praedium nobilium sive equestrium ) was a property with which by law or custom privileges of the holder, in particular exemptions, the firm capacity and Diet ability were connected.

Origin and privileges

Cronheim manor, with castle , fortified church , Allodium (Vorwerk) and tithe barn
Niedertopfstedt manor around 1860, Alexander Duncker collection
Manor Maldeuten around 1860,
Alexander Duncker collection

The feudal system had already arisen in the Franconian Empire in order to economically enable the knighthood to perform the duties of knighthood as armored riders . In connection with this, in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, there were also exemptions from the taxes and peasant burdens otherwise liable for rural property (such as billeting , compulsory labor, etc.). The Knights were in favor as vassals and ministerials the feudal lords to cash benefits ( "Knight Horse funds") is committed to military service on horseback and later alternative, the part still in the Thirty Years' War were and driven afterwards.

Since the 14th century, the old feudal armies were replaced by mercenary troops , which led to the end of knight service and thus to an economic decline of the German nobility . Pay and booty now flowed into other pockets, which was one of the reasons for the robber baron system . The owners of the manors now lived mainly from the taxes of their heir subordinates or backers ( servants and landlords ), to a lesser extent also from self-sufficiency with the help of servants and maids . The income from levies in kind was often relatively modest because the farmers were mostly poor. In his letter to Willibald Pirckheimer from the year 1518, Ulrich von Hutten vividly describes the cramped and worried conditions at the home castle.

In addition, there were other privileges associated with the manors. The owner of a manorial system had in the caste system of the Middle Ages most of the Niedere jurisdiction or Patrimonialjurisdiktion held, in rarer cases, the High jurisdiction . They exercised legal functions at the same time - until the peasants were liberated - and also represented the local authorities with local police powers (comparable to a mayor), sometimes up to the 20th century. Furthermore, the prerogatives of the manor owners included hunting rights , often fishing rights , brewing rights and other ban rights . The ecclesiastical right of patronage is often associated with the possession of a manor to this day.

In order to defend their political rights, the owners of feudal or allodial estates organized in some regions in associations in the late Middle Ages, the so-called knighthoods . These exercised political co-determination rights in the state parliaments , where the manor owners formed the knighthood within the state estates . The country estates of originally stood for all nobles of the region as a personal right, but was even considered over time in the form of a real right as an accessory of the manors ( nobilitas realis ). In Prussia and also in other states, registers of the manors were kept because of their importance for the class and landscape elections, the so-called manor registers , as lists of the respective goods and their current landowners. Only the matriculated landowners were entitled to the estate.

While originally only aristocrats were allowed to own manors, from the 16th century manors could also be acquired by bourgeoisie, usually with a sovereign exemption, whereby the knights also had to participate through enrollment. Most of the time, the new manor owners then looked to the sovereign for ennoblement and were often ennobled. In the 17th century there were also increasing numbers of bourgeois manor owners, and the number has increased sharply since the second half of the 18th century. With the acquisition of a manor, the real rights associated with the property were also transferred to the new owner.

In the more modern constitutions, such as the Prussian constitution of 1850 , this right to special representation of the manor owners in the state parliaments was often completely repealed. In Prussia, however, the manors were still important for the district and provincial assemblies. Manors in Prussia usually formed their own municipal districts , which existed alongside the rural community of the same name until around 1929. In Mecklenburg the general estate of the manor owners existed until 1918, in Lower Saxony it still exists today (see present below ).

The economic operation of the mostly extensive property of such a property required certain buildings. These consisted of a manor house , often an administrator's building, stables of various types and sizes, barns, dairy buildings, sometimes a distillery or brewery, as well as the necessary apartments for the workers. When the goods were laid out, the principle prevailed that construction and maintenance were to be procured from the proceeds of the property and that the yield limits were therefore not to be exceeded.


There were obligations and privileges associated with the manors. Constitutional powers in the form of real rights were tied to the estate - rights that were only available to the respective estate owner. The constitutional powers were thus directly linked to the operation and were transferred to the new owner when they were transferred. This then had to be enrolled in the respective knighthood against payment of an admission fee.

In some countries, manors had to have a minimum size in order to enable the owner, who is usually noble, to have an independent and thus befitting existence; the possible additional exercise of a civil profession was irrelevant here. In Prussia this minimum was between 40 and 80 acres (10 to 20 hectares ) at the end of the 18th century , depending on the quality of the soil and the legal provisions of the individual provinces. Another requirement is a so-called castrum nobile , i.e. the existence of a manor house . In Brandenburg around 1900 a manor with a net income from property tax of 1500  Marks per year was part of a large estate ; Depending on the quality of the soil, property of 100 to 200 hectares was a prerequisite. However, the regulation was not applied rigidly. In some cases, however, the property rights were not tied to land, but were based on manorial rights or on capital ownership . In the knighthoods of the Kingdom of Hanover there were also many old Burgmannshöfe , which were listed in the registers of the knighthoods, but never had large land holdings and often consisted only of a small house.

Comparable estate forms

Other forms of estate were the feudal allodial estate , in Schleswig-Holstein the noble estate and, as its special form, the chancellery estate . In the Bavarian Reichskreis there were the court brands and country estates , in Tyrol the knight castles and the modern residences . The royal estates of the rulers were called domains or chamber estates , in Prussia they were called caskets .


To this day, the knighthoods still exist in Schleswig-Holstein (where the knightly estates are called noble estates , regardless of the assignment of their respective owners to the historical aristocracy or middle class) and in Lower Saxony.

In Schleswig-Holstein, as in other Prussian provinces, the landowners remained “authorities of the lowest administrative level”, i.e. practically mayors , until the estate districts were dissolved in 1928 , legitimized by the land ownership for the estate district. After that, the Schleswig-Holstein Knighthood became an association of families who run the noble estates as private farms. Together with the knighthood of the former Duchy of Lauenburg , it is the sponsor of a private association, the Knighthood Society Schleswig-Holstein / Lauenburg eV

The building of the knighthood and the landscape of the former principality of Lüneburg in Celle
Seat of the Calenberg-Grubenhagen landscape in Hanover

In Lower Saxony the knighthoods are not private associations, but corporations under public law and their existence is protected by Article 72 of the Lower Saxony constitution . They are organized regionally according to the former principalities. Members are still the owners of the manors registered in the manor registers. It is also independent of the affiliation of the respective manor owner to the historical nobility or middle class. Some of the knights still own their old estates, where they hold their meetings.

The class rights have also been preserved in rudiments to this day, for example through the membership of the knighthoods in a landscape (state estates) , namely the landscapes and landscape associations in Lower Saxony , such as the knighthood of the Duchy of Bremen as a member of the landscape of the duchies of Bremen and Verden , the Lüneburg knighthood as a member of the landscape of the former principality of Lüneburg , the Osnabrück knighthood as a member of the landscape of the former principality Osnabrück , the Schaumburg knighthood as a member of the Schaumburg landscape , the Hoya-Diepholzschen knighthood as a member of the Hoya-Diepholzschen landscape , the knighthood of the former bishopric Hildesheim as a member of the landscape of the former Principality of Hildesheim , the knighthood of the former Principality of Calenberg-Grubenhagen-Göttingen as a member of the Calenberg-Grubenhagen landscape ; The latter is also a member of the Southern Lower Saxony Regional Association and the Hameln-Pyrmont Regional Association . The knights of Hildesheim and Calenberg are still the sponsors of the Calenberger Kreditverein , a public mortgage and Pfandbrief bank, and the Knights of Bremen are the sponsors of the Knighthood Credit Institute in Stade . The knighthood of the old Duchy of Braunschweig also ran its own bank until 1991.

In contrast to the Lower Saxon corporations, the traditional Althessian knighthood as well as the Rhenish knighthood are now privately organized aristocratic associations, to which in the first case the enrolled rural noble families belong in their entirety and in the second case the owners of the manors in the former Prussian Rhine province belong to the historical nobility. The Baltic Knighthoods are also traditional associations of formerly resident noble families from the Baltic States.

The knighthood of the Duchy of Bremen emerged from the Archbishopric of Bremen , first mentioned in 1397 , and is now a corporation under public law with its seat in Stade . It is still currently the sponsor of the Stade Knightly Credit Institute .

The Mecklenburg Knighthood , which existed until 1945, was a division of the Mecklenburg State Parliament until 1918 . The knighthood area comprised approx. 46% of the total area of ​​Mecklenburg.

The Frankish knights circle , the Swabian knights circle and the Rhenish knights circle were, however, with the end of the Holy Roman Empire dissolved in 1806 because by then the interest groups of the imperial knights - so rich free Ritter - were that then through media coverage under the control of member states of the German Confederation came. The Nuremberg patriciate , which was also mediatized with its former imperial council rule , founded the so-called Selekt des Nuremberg patriciate in 1799 as a representation of interests in the Bavarian state , which still exists as a private association today.


  • Manfred Wilde : The knights and free estates in northern Saxony. Their constitutional status, their settlement history and their owners (= from the German Aristocratic Archives. Vol. 12). CA Starke, Limburg / Lahn 1997, ISBN 3-7980-0687-3 (also: Chemnitz, Technical University, dissertation, 1996).
  • Axel Flügel: Bourgeois manors. Social change and political reform in Electoral Saxony (1680–1844) (= bourgeoisie. Vol. 16). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2000, ISBN 3-525-35681-1 ( digitized version ).
  • René Schiller: From a manor to a large estate. Economic and social transformation processes of the rural elites in Brandenburg in the 19th century (= elite change in modernity. Vol. 3). Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-05-003449-1 ( digitized version ).
  • Sabine Bock : manors and manors. Reflections on the historical cultural landscapes of Mecklenburg and Western Pomerania. Edited by the State Center for Political Education Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Thomas Helms Verlag Schwerin 1996, 2nd expanded and revised edition 2001, 3rd revised edition 2007.
  • Wolf Reinecke: Land estates in the constitutional state , Göttingen 1975, ISBN 3-509-00610-0 .
  • Karl Friedrich Rauer: Hand register of the manors represented in all circles of the Prussian state on district and state parliaments, 1857, digitized

Web links

Commons : Rittergüter  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Rittergut  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Digital Archive Marburg: Excerpt from Ulrich von Hutten's (1488-1523) letter to the Nuremberg patrician Willibald Pirckheimer (1470-1530) about life in a castle, October 25, 1518
  2. Membership in the Old Hessen Knighthood has remained a personal right to this day.
  3. ^ René Schiller: From manor to large estate. Berlin 2003, p. 183f.
  4. ^ For example, the Stillhorn loan capital in the Principality of Lüneburg. See: Ulrike Hindersmann : Rittergüter der Lüneburg Landscape: The Rittergüter der Landschaft of the former Principality of Lüneburg, 2015, ISBN 978-3-8353-1680-5 .
  5. Ulrike Hindersmann: The knightly nobility in the Kingdom of Hanover . Hahn, Hannover 2001, ISBN 978-3-7752-6003-9 , plus Diss. Univ. Münster, 1999.
  6. ^ Website of the Schleswig-Holstein Knighthood