Graf (male) or Gräfin (female) is a historical title of the German
nobility, usually translated as "count". Considered to be intermediate
among noble ranks, the title is often treated as equivalent to the
British title of "earl" (whose female version is "countess").
2 Etymology and origin
3 Nobiliary titles containing the term graf
7 Gefürsteter Graf
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 of
Graf is common to various European territories
where German was or is the official or vernacular tongue, including
Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Alsace, the
Baltic states and other former Habsburg crown lands. In Germany, all
legal privileges of the nobility have been officially abolished since
August 1919, and Graf, like any other hereditary title, is treated as
part of the legal surname. In Austria, its use is banned by law, as
with all hereditary titles and nobiliary particles. 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
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
Congress of Vienna
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,
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
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, e.g. 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, e.g. 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
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, i.e. Markgraf and Landgraf.
For a list of the titles of the rank of
Count etymologically related
Graf (and for other equivalents) see article Count.
Etymology and origin
Graf is said to derive ultimately from the Greek verb
graphein ("to write"), but this may be fanciful:
Paul the Deacon
Paul the Deacon wrote
Latin ca 790: "the count (comes) of the Bavarians that they call
gravio who governed Bauzanum and other strongholds…" (Historia
Langobardorum, V.xxxvi); 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 graf
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.
Margrave (only continental)
Mark = march (border province) + Graf. Exercised authority over
territory on the border of the Empire.
Land (country) + Graf. Exercised authority over an entire province.
Reich, i.e., (the Holy Roman) Empire + Graf. Imperial count, whose
title was granted or recognised by the Emperor.
German verb for "made into a Reichsfürst" + Graf.
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",
i.e., the Palatinate.
Rhein (river Rhine) + Graf. Ruled territory bordering the
Burg (castle, burgh) + Graf. Ruled territory surrounding or dominated
by a fortified castle.
Alt (old) + Graf. A count whose title pre-dated Imperial grants of the
comital title. Unique to the Salm family.
Frei = free (allodial?) + Graf. Both a feudal title of comital rank
and a more technical office.
Wild (game or wilderness) + Graf. Ruled territory centered on a
Rau (raw, uninhabited, wilderness) + Graf. Ruled territory centered on
an undeveloped area of land.
Vize = vice- (substitute) + Graf.
Main article: Imperial Count
Reichsgraf was a nobleman whose title of count was conferred or
confirmed by the Holy Roman Emperor, and meant "Imperial Count", i.e.
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 himself. A count who was not a
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
Reichsgraf to subjects and foreigners who did not possess and were
not granted immediate territories — or, sometimes, any territory at
all. Such titles were purely honorific.
Reichsgraf is usually translated simply as count and is
combined with a territorial suffix (e.g.
Count of Holland, Count
Reuss) or a surname (
Count von Browne). Even after the
abolition of the
Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire in 1806, the Reichsgrafen retained
precedence above other counts in Germany. Those who had been
German mediatisation retained, until 1918,
status and privileges pertaining to members of reigning dynasties.
Notable Reichsgrafen included:
Henneberg, a title merged into the imperial dignity
Nassau-Weilburg since 26 September 1366 (previously, simply Graf)
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
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
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, e.g. Maria Emanuel,
Margrave of Meissen and
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
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
Elector of Hesse or the Grand Duke of
Saxe-Weimar, who functioned as the
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.
Landgrave of Thuringia,
Landgrave of Hesse,
Landgrave of Fürstenberg-Weitra. The title is now borne
by the hereditary heirs to the deposed monarchs of
Hesse and Wilhelm,
Hesse-Philippsthal-Barchfeld), who lost their throne in 1918.
Graf (English: "princely count") is a
was recognised by the
Holy Roman Emperor
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 / Viscount
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.
Burgrave of Nuremberg,
Burgrave of (Burggraf zu)
Initially burgrave suggested a similar function and history as other
titles rendered in German by Vizegraf, in Dutch as Burggraaf or in
English as Viscount (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
Rhinegrave, Wildgrave, Raugrave, Altgrave
Unlike the other comital titles, Rhinegrave,
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 1806.
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 Salm.
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
Raugrave (German: Raugraf; Latin: comes hirsutus)
after the rough (i.e. mountainous) terrain.
Count Emich I (died 1172). The dynasty died out
in the 18th century.
Charles I Louis, Elector Palatine
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".
Altgrave (German: Altgraf, "old count") was a title used by the counts
Lower Salm to distinguish themselves from the Wild- and Rhinegraves
of Upper Salm, since
Lower Salm was the senior branch of the
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 surnames
German nobility, although not abolished (unlike the Austrian nobility
by the new
First Austrian Republic
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, e.g. Otto
Graf Lambsdorff). 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, 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
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
History of Germany
Holy Roman Emperor
List of German monarchs
Reichstag (Holy Roman Empire)
Sources and references
WorldStatesmen: see every modern state; here Germany/Holy Roman Empire
Weimar Constitution Article 109, sentence 2
^ a b Velde, François (2008-02-13). "Heraldica.org". The Holy Roman
Empire. Retrieved 2008-03-04.
^ a b c d Almanach de Gotha, Salm. Justus Perthes, 1944, pp. 169, 276,
^ Rheingraf. article in: Meyers Konversations-Lexikon,
4. Aufl. 1888–1890, Bd. 13, S. 0780 f.
^ Raugraf. article in: Meyers Konversations-Lexikon,
4. Aufl. 1888–1890, Bd. 13, S. 0605 f.
^ Raugraf at wissen.de
^ 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").
^ Cf. DIN standard # 5007, part 2.
Lexikon article "Raugraf"