titles: Continental Titles

Continental Titles

Continental titles of nobility have evolved since the time of feudalism, when knights came to be regarded as noble and titles became hereditary. Under the Holy Roman Empire a complex nobility, not confined to the territories of the empire, developed; titles were conferred upon many persons outside the imperial boundaries. Most modern titles of nobility in the Western world descended from these (see the accompanying tabletable entitled Hereditary Western European Titles of Nobility for masculine and feminine forms of equivalent titles in Western Europe).

The title count [Fr. comte, Ger. Graf, Ital. conte] comes from the Latin comes, a noble attached to a kingly court and serving as an adviser to the king. The title Graf was taken over by the Holy Roman Empire from Carolingian and Merovingian terms for a noble appointed by the king and having military and legal authority over a certain territory. The creation of border territories (marches) gave rise to the title of Markgraf (in English, margrave); the corresponding French title is marquis, from which the English title marquess is derived. A Landgraf (in English, landgrave) was a count whose territory included a number of fiefs. There was also the title of Pfalzgraf (count palatine; see Palatinate). Herzog (duke) was a title denoting sovereignty over a large territory such as Bavaria or Saxony. After 1806 the title Grossherzog (grand duke) was also used. The title Fürst (prince) was below that of duke; there existed also the title Prinz, which was a courtesy title extended to various persons, notably the sons of a duke or king. Titles in descending order below emperor and king were Herzog; Pfalzgraf, Markgraf, and Landgraf, all of about equal rank; Graf; Baron, Freiherr or Freier (all baron in English); and Ritter (knight). The prefix Reichs- before any of these titles meant that the holder held the title directly from the emperor, i.e., he was not the vassal of any other lord.

At the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, the German and Austrian nobility retained the titles they had held under the empire. In addition, the male members of the Austrian imperial family were called archdukes, i.e., dukes of the blood royal. This corresponded to the title in the Russian imperial family usually translated as grand duke and in Spain to infante. French titles of nobility in descending order are duc; prince (only a prince of the blood royal was above a duke; an ordinary prince was often the son of a duke and was below a duke), marquis, comte, vicomte, baron, seigneur or sire, and chevalier (knight). The heir to the throne was called the dauphin. Members of the French nobility have no privileges at all, but they retain their titles under the law. In Italy, titles of nobility, in descending order, are duca, principe, marchese, conte, visconte, and barone. In Spain they are duque, principe, marqués, conde, visconde, and barón.

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