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graffiti, graf and sons
Graf male or Gräfin female is a historical title of the German nobility, usually translated as count Considered intermediate among noble ranks, the title is often treated as equivalent to the British "earl" whose female version and consort is a countess


  • 1 History
  • 2 Etymology and origin
  • 3 Nobiliary titles containing the term graf
  • 4 Reichsgraf
  • 5 Margrave
  • 6 Landgrave
  • 7 Gefürsteter Graf
  • 8 Burgrave / Viscount
  • 9 Rhinegrave, Wildgrave, Raugrave, Altgrave
  • 10 In Sweden
  • 11 Modern usage in German surnames
  • 12 Other uses
  • 13 See also
  • 14 Sources and references
  • 15 External links


The comital title Graf is common to various European territories where German was or is the official or vernacular tongue, eg, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Alsace, the Baltic states and other Habsburg crown lands Since August 1919, in Germany, all legal privileges of the nobility have been officially abolished, and Graf, like any other hereditary title, is treated as part of the legal surname1 In Austria its use, as with all hereditary titles and nobiliary particles, is banned by law; whereas in Switzerland the title is not acknowledged in law In the monarchies of Belgium, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg, where German is one of the official languages, the title continues to be recognised, used and, occasionally, granted by the national fons honorum, the reigning monarch

From the medieval era, a Graf usually ruled a territory known as a Grafschaft county In the Holy Roman Empire, many Imperial counts Reichsgrafen retained near-sovereign authority in their lands until the Congress of Vienna subordinated them to larger, neighboring monarchs through the German mediatisation process of 1815, preserving their precedence, allocating familial representation in local legislatures, some jurisdictional immunities and the prestigious privilege of Ebenbürtigkeit In regions of Europe where nobles did not actually exercise Landeshoheit, or sovereignty over the populace, the Graf long retained specific feudal privileges over the land and in the villages in his county, such as rights to peasant service, to periodic fees for use of common infrastructure such as timber, mills, wells and pastures These rights gradually eroded and were largely eliminated before or during the 19th century, leaving the Graf with few legal privileges beyond land ownership, although comital estates in German-speaking lands were often substantial Nonetheless, various rulers in German-speaking lands granted the hereditary title of Graf to their subjects, particularly after the abolition of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 Although lacking the prestige and powers of the former Imperial counts, they remained legal members of the local nobility, entitled to whatever minor privileges were recognised at the ruler's court The title, translated as "count", was generally accepted and used in other countries by custom

Many Continental counts in Germany and Austria were titled Graf without any additional qualification Except in the Kingdom of Prussia from the 19th century, the title of Graf was not restricted by primogeniture: it was inherited by all legitimate descendants in the male line of the original titleholder, the males also inheriting an approximately equal share of the family's wealth and estates Usually a hyphenated suffix indicated which of the familial lands a particular line of counts held, eg Castell-Rudenhausen

In the medieval Holy Roman Empire, some counts took or were granted unique variations of the gräfliche title, often relating to a specific domain or jurisdiction of responsibility, eg Landgraf, Markgraf, Pfalzgraf Count Palatine, Burggraf, Wildgraf, Waldgraf, Altgraf, Raugraf, etc Although as a title Graf ranked, officially, below those of Herzog duke and Fürst prince, the Holy Roman Emperor could and did recognise unique concessions of authority or rank to some of these nobles, raising them to the status of gefürsteter Graf or "princely count" But a grafliche title with such a prefix did not always signify a higher than comital rank or membership in the Hochadel Only the more important of these titles, historically associated with degrees of sovereignty, remained in use by the 19th century, ie Markgraf and Landgraf

For a list of the titles of the rank of Count etymologically related to Graf and for other equivalents see article Count

Etymology and originedit

The word Graf is said to derive ultimately from the Greek verb graphein "to write", but this may be fanciful: Paul the Deacon wrote in Latin ca 790: "the count comes of the Bavarians that they call gravio who governed Bauzanum and other strongholds…" Historia Langobardorum, Vxxxvi; this may be read to make the term a Germanic one, but by then using Latin terms was quite common

Nobiliary titles containing the term grafedit

Some are approximately of comital rank, some higher, some lower The more important ones are treated in separate articles follow the links; a few minor, rarer ones only in sections below

German English Comment/ etymology
Markgraf Margrave only continental
or Marquess
Mark = march border province + Graf Exercised authority over territory on the border of the Empire
Landgraf Landgrave Land country + Graf Exercised authority over an entire province
Reichsgraf Imperial Count Reich, ie, the Holy Roman Empire + Graf Imperial count, whose title was granted or recognised by the Emperor
Gefürsteter Graf Princely Count German verb for "made into a Reichsfürst" + Graf
Pfalzgraf Count Palatine
or Palsgrave the latter is archaic in English
Pfalz palatial estate, Palatinate + Graf Originally ruled "with the authority of the Imperial Palace"; later, ruler of the "Palace-land", ie, the Palatinate
Rheingraf Rhinegrave Rhein river Rhine + Graf Ruled territory bordering the Rhine River
Burggraf Burgrave Burg castle, burgh + Graf Ruled territory surrounding or dominated by a fortified castle
Altgraf Altgrave Alt old + Graf A count whose title pre-dated Imperial grants of the comital title Unique to the Salm family
Freigraf Free Count Frei = free allodial + Graf Both a feudal title of comital rank and a more technical office
Wildgraf Wildgrave Wild game or wilderness + Graf Ruled territory centered on a wilderness
Raugraf Raugrave Rau raw, uninhabited, wilderness + Graf Ruled territory centered on an undeveloped area of land
Vizegraf Viscount Vize = vice- substitute + Graf


Main article: Imperial Count

A Reichsgraf was a nobleman whose title of count was conferred or confirmed by the Holy Roman Emperor, and meant "Imperial Count", ie a count of the Holy Roman Empire Since the feudal era, any count whose territory lay within the Empire and was under the immediate jurisdiction of the Emperor with a shared vote in the Reichstag came to be considered a member of the "upper nobility" Hochadel in Germany, along with princes Fürsten, dukes Herzöge, electors, and the emperor himself2 A count who was not a Reichsgraf was likely to possess only a mesne fief Afterlehen — he was subject to an immediate prince of the empire, such as a duke or prince elector

However, the Holy Roman Emperors also occasionally granted the title of Reichsgraf to subjects and foreigners who did not possess and were not granted immediate territories — or, sometimes, any territory at all2 Such titles were purely honorific

In English, Reichsgraf is usually translated simply as count and is combined with a territorial suffix eg Count of Holland, Count Reuss or a surname Count Fugger, Count von Browne Even after the abolition of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, the Reichsgrafen retained precedence above other counts in Germany Those who had been quasi-sovereign until German mediatisation retained, until 1918, status and privileges pertaining to members of reigning dynasties

Notable Reichsgrafen included:

  • Castell
  • Fugger
  • Henneberg, a title merged into the imperial dignity
  • Leiningen
  • Nassau-Weilburg since 26 September 1366 previously, simply Graf
  • Pappenheim
  • Stolberg
  • Tyrol as a dominion of the Austrian crown

A complete list of Reichsgrafen with immediate territories as of 1792 can be found in the List of Reichstag participants 1792


A Markgraf or Margrave was originally a military governor of a Carolingian "mark" march, a border province In medieval times the borders of the Holy Roman Empire were especially vulnerable to foreign attack, so the hereditary count of these "marches" of the realm was sometimes granted greater authority than other vassals to ensure security They bore the title "margrave" until the few who survived as sovereigns assumed higher titles when the Empire was abolished in 1806

Examples: Margrave of Baden, Margrave of Brandenburg-Bayreuth Since the abolition of the German Empire at the end of World War I, the heirs of some of its former monarchies have resumed use of margrave as a title of pretence, eg Maria Emanuel, Margrave of Meissen and Maximilian, Margrave of Baden


A Landgraf or Landgrave was a nobleman of comital rank in feudal Germany whose jurisdiction stretched over a territory larger than usually held by a count within the Holy Roman Empire The status of a landgrave was elevated, usually being associated with suzerains who were subject to the Holy Roman Emperor but exercised sovereign authority within their lands and independence greater than the prerogatives to which a simple Graf count was entitled, but the title itself implied no specific, legal privileges

Landgraf occasionally continued in use as the subsidiary title of such minor royalty as the Elector of Hesse or the Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar, who functioned as the Landgrave of Thuringia in the first decade of the 20th century The jurisdiction of a landgrave was a Landgrafschaft or landgraviate and the wife of a landgrave was a Landgräfin or landgravine

Examples: Landgrave of Thuringia, Landgrave of Hesse Landgrave of Leuchtenberg, Landgrave of Fürstenberg princely familyFurstenberg-Weitra The title is now borne by the hereditary heirs to the deposed monarchs of Hesse Donatus, Landgrave of Hesse and Wilhelm, Landgrave of Hesse-Philippsthal-Barchfeld, who lost their throne in 1918

Gefürsteter Grafedit

A gefürsteter Graf in English, princely count is a Reichsgraf who was recognised by the Holy Roman Emperor as bearing the higher rank or exercising the more extensive authority of an Imperial prince Reichsfürst While nominally retaining only a comital title, he was accorded princely rank and, usually, arms by the Emperor

Burgrave / Viscountedit

A Burggraf, or Burgrave, was a 12th and 13th century military and civil judicial governor of a castle compare castellan, custos, keeper of the town it dominated and of its immediate surrounding countryside His jurisdiction was a Burggrafschaft, burgraviate

Over time the office and domain to which it was attached tended to become hereditary by Imperial grant or retention over generations by members of the same family

Examples: Burgrave of Nuremberg, Burgrave of Burggraf zu Dohna-Schlobitten

Initially burgrave suggested a similar function and history as other titles rendered in German by Vizegraf, in Dutch as Burggraaf or in English as Viscountcitation needed Latin: Vicecomes; the deputy of a count charged with exercising the count's prerogatives in overseeing one or more of the count's strongholds or fiefs, as the burgrave dwelt usually in a castle or fortified town Some became hereditary and by the modern era obtained rank just below a count, though above a Freiherr baron who might hold a fief as vassal of the original count

Rhinegrave, Wildgrave, Raugrave, Altgraveedit

Unlike the other comital titles, Rhinegrave, Wildgrave Waldgrave, Raugrave, and Altgrave are not generic titles Rather, each is linked to a specific countship, whose unique title emerged during the course of its history These unusually named countships were equivalent in rank to other Counts of the Empire who were of Hochadel status, being entitled to a shared seat and vote in the Imperial Diet and possessing Imperial immediacy, most of which would be mediatised upon dissolution of the Empire in 18063

  • Rhinegrave German: Rheingraf was the title of the count of the Rheingau, a county located between Wiesbaden and Lorch on the right bank of the Rhine Their castle was known as the Rheingrafenstein Castle After the Rhinegraves inherited the Wildgraviate see below and parts of the Countship of Salm, they called themselves Wild-and-Rhinegraves of Salm34
  • When the Nahegau a countship named after the river Nahe split into two parts in 1113, the counts of the two parts, belonging to the House of Salm, called themselves Wildgraves and Raugraves, respectively They were named after the geographic properties of their territories: Wildgrave German: Wildgraf; Latin: comes sylvanus after Wald "forest", and Raugrave German: Raugraf; Latin: comes hirsutus after the rough ie mountainous terrain35
    • The first Raugrave was Count Emich I died 1172 The dynasty died out in the 18th century Charles I Louis, Elector Palatine purchased the estates, and after 1667 accorded the wife and children of his arguably bigamous morganatic second marriage to Baroness Marie Luise von Degenfeld, the title of "Raugravine/Raugrave"6
  • Altgrave German: Altgraf, "old count" was a title used by the counts of Lower Salm to distinguish themselves from the Wild- and Rhinegraves of Upper Salm, since Lower Salm was the senior branch of the family3

In Swedenedit

The corresponding titles in Sweden are greve m and grevinna f and would commonly be used in the third-person in direct address as a mark of courtesy, as in grevinnan

Modern usage in German surnamesedit

German nobility, although not abolished unlike the Austrian nobility by the new First Austrian Republic in 1919, lost recognition as a legal class in Germany under the Weimar Republic in 1919 under the Weimar Constitution, article 109 Former hereditary noble titles legally simply transformed into dependent parts of the legal surname with the former title thus now following the given name, eg Otto Graf Lambsdorff7 As dependent parts of the surnames nichtselbständige Namensbestandteile, they are ignored in alphabetical sorting of names, as is the eventual nobiliary particle, such as von or zu,8 and might or might not be used by those bearing them The distinguishing main surname is the name following the Graf, or Gräfin, and the eventual nobiliary particle Today, having lost their legal status, these terms are often not translated, unlike before 1919 The titles do, however, retain prestige in some circles of society

Other usesedit

The suffix -graf occurs in various office titles which did not attain nobiliary status but were either held as a sinecure by nobleman or courtiers, or functional officials such as the Deichgraf in a polder management organism

See alsoedit

  • German nobility
  • History of Germany
  • Holy Roman Emperor
  • List of German monarchs
  • Reichstag Holy Roman Empire
  • Sendgraf

Sources and referencesedit


  • WorldStatesmen: see every modern state; here Germany/Holy Roman Empire
  1. ^ Weimar Constitution Article 109, sentence 2
  2. ^ a b Velde, François 2008-02-13 "Heraldicaorg" The Holy Roman Empire Retrieved 2008-03-04 
  3. ^ a b c d Almanach de Gotha, Salm Justus Perthes, 1944, pp 169, 276, 280 French
  4. ^ Rheingraf article in: Meyers Konversations-Lexikon, 4 Aufl 1888–1890, Bd 13, S 0780 f
  5. ^ Raugraf article in: Meyers Konversations-Lexikon, 4 Aufl 1888–1890, Bd 13, S 0605 f
  6. ^ Raugraf at wissende
  7. ^ Article 109 of the Weimar Constitution constitutes: Adelsbezeichnungen gelten nur als Teil des Namens und dürfen nicht mehr verliehen werden "Noble names are only recognised as part of the surname and may no longer be granted"
  8. ^ Cf DIN standard # 5007, part 2

External linksedit

  • Lexikon article "Raugraf"

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