Short excursion

Herkunft und Entwicklung des Adels

    Origin and development of the nobility

    It is not always possible to make clear statements about the historical significance and development of nobility. Nobility is usually regarded as a part of human history that existed in the early advanced civilizations and existed as a social phenomenon over time, for example, in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, the Chinese and Japanese dynasties, the Roman and late Roman empires, and finally in the Middle Ages and modern times. However, this has not been sufficiently proven.

    Tacitus, for example, writes of a once prevalent time of equality of people and hereditary rule, which only came into being with the end of this period. Sometimes assumptions have to be made beyond that, because written sources are missing or insufficient. On the basis of archaeological finds such as rich grave furnishings of the so-called "princely tombs", for example, a higher position of a person can be concluded without a title of nobility having been handed down, and thus something can be said about social ruling structures.

    However, the fact that titles of nobility are said to have existed in all pre-industrial societies is also disputed because the noble class is not always validly distinguished from other higher classes in records. The term "nobility" is therefore to be understood in a very heterogeneous way, and its definition depends on the specific time and place. Furthermore, it is not clear whether aristocracy in Europe can be considered as a prestige-based entity from the Roman Empire to World War II or as a social role that differs and changes in its content at different points in time.

    As a rule, however, the nobility can be assumed to have an elevated and publicly more influential position in society, which is hereditary and thus family-dependent. This can include different types of responsibility such as military (knighthood) or political (official nobility). Land ownership also set the nobility apart from other, poorer classes, which in most cases were controlled by them.

    The following were allocated to the social areas of responsibility noble children The nobility was extensively prepared in their education at a very early stage, since the nobility saw itself as the most suitable class in society for ruling, striving for the highest virtues. These were expressed in Europe predominantly in Christian ideals such as chivalry, but also just governance/enlightened absolutism.

    Virtuous, unranked persons could also be elevated to the nobility by those of higher rank. Depending on the region and powers, therefore, not only the emperor but also kings or princes (as in the Holy Roman Empire) could confer the title of nobility on non-nobles. By God's grace the reigning monarch derived his claim to rule, which he inherited or was granted by election or trial. In addition, rule in various world religions was also legitimized by other things such as a supposed special connection to the gods (priestly nobility) or even holiness or deification of a dynast (royal salvation, god-king).

    The nobility in the early Middle Ages and history until the late Middle Ages

    Adelstitel Formen

    Noble titles are a typical European phenomenon. Many historians have researched the history of noble families. And yet, the origin of nobility in the Middle Ages is still not fully understood. Based on the previous research, one can see how certain sources from the Middle Ages have been interpreted quite differently by different scholars over time. From when there is what we understand today as nobility, is therefore controversial. But there are common theses that have been advocated again and again.

    An important milestone in historical research is the book "Die Feudalgesellschaft" (Feudal Society), published in 1939 and written by Marc Bloch. It shows that already at the time of the Merovingians and Carolingians, i.e. in the early Middle Ages, there was a nobility that owned a considerable amount of land. Bloch includes the Robertines as well as the Guelphs, but also a number of upstarts who made their careers at court or through service in the church. Bloch describes how the political influence of these families continued to grow. In the military, but also in the administration, certain families dominated.

    During a troubled period, other families then replaced this influence. When between 800 and 1000 of our era the Vikings and other groups invaded Europe, families came to power who strongly defended themselves with the sword against these attacks. Thus, noble titles could also be acquired through defense performance. The families who took up the defense here did not have a noble background in every case. Some were even unfree before. The nobility of this time is also called sword nobility. But it was also partly composed of the old elites with noble titles. In the next period, a feudal system with extensive dependencies emerged. Noble titles ensured the possibility to be higher up in this pyramid.

    In the thirteenth century, more and more people had a title of nobility. Even those who came from families that were not even free to begin with could prove themselves through military service or in administration and come to have a title of nobility. In any case, by the middle of the thirteenth century, families that were appropriately distinguished understood themselves to be nobility.

    In addition to the mere title of nobility, this awareness was further reinforced by certain ideals of rank. Chivalric tournaments and the Minnesang contributed to a foundation of chivalric virtues that enjoyed great prestige among the population. Anyone who held a title of nobility was associated with it. No matter whether someone belonged to the originally free and powerful or was added to this circle due to a certain achievement - from that time on he belonged to the primitive nobility.

    But at what point does the title of nobility acquire the social significance that we know today?

    One of the sources from the middle of the thirteenth century is the Sachsenspiegel. However, there is only one mention of the word "nobility" in it. In the Heidelberg illuminated manuscript that exists for the Sachsenspiegel, however, the two estates are depicted separately. Accordingly, it is a matter of two classes that were thought of separately. Whenever the origin of the titles of nobility and their meaning is assumed - at the time of this document they were obviously already a fixed social quantity. However, the social influence of this group differs considerably through the centuries.

    The nobility in the early Middle Ages

    Der Ehrenkodex des Adels

    In the early Middle Ages, the rulers of Germania ruled largely through the tribal associations of the time. They deliberately integrated them into their exercise of power. A nobility, as we know it today, did not yet exist under the Merovingians, for example. This slowly changed with the transition to the Carolingian Empire.

    When the Salians and Saxons ruled, they wanted to create structures that spanned all of present-day Germany. In order to create a network of power across the tribes, they appoint administrative officials, also known as "ministerials," in addition to the tribal leaders. Initially, an office of this type is not hereditary. The administrative officials are composed from among the knights and competent ascenders.

    However, since feudal society is based on a fixed idea of status, this office also develops into a hereditary office, which in many cases is passed on in the family. The officials of this society were not remunerated with money. This does not exist at that time in the form of today. Instead, they were given land with which to support themselves. One of the most important factors of medieval life emerges: the feudal system.

    Nobility in the High Middle Ages

    Unsere Titel - Noble Society

    Between the eleventh and twelfth centuries, more and more ministerials are named. This is related to the fact that the kings and dukes now have their property managed by these functionaries. A fine-grained system with different positions of power emerges. Some families with noble titles gain more and more influence during this period. They have their estates successfully administered and dispense sovereign justice in their territory. Other families with noble titles lose power, find themselves forced to subordinate themselves to another feudal lord or become administrative officials themselves.

    There are also movements on the part of the administrative officials: Some of the most successful ministerials also extend their power in perpetuity. They take permanent possession of land or receive so-called imperial fiefdoms, which is inherited within the family. In the course of this dynamic, a "high nobility" emerges, which enjoys considerable influence as a social elite. It is not until the 14th century that the process of gaining power associated with this is completed. It is then that a conflict with the central power arises.

    The high nobility with its title of nobility now tries to gain a certain degree of independence from the imperial and royal omnipotence. In Italy and Germany, these efforts were crowned with success. Here, state formation emerges largely on the basis of sovereign smaller territories. A patchwork of influential palatinates, duchies and margravates is the result. In France or England, the story develops differently. Here, centrally organized nation states are slowly forming. Families with noble titles also have great wealth here - but they do not exercise any power over state governance.

    Peak and fall of the nobility

    Höhepunkt und Fall des Mittelalters

    The heyday of European nobility begins in the High Middle Ages and ends in the late eighteenth century. The social function of families with noble titles changes continuously. One of the important developments is this: In the early Middle Ages, sovereigns drew primarily on ecclesiastical dignitaries and monks to support their governing activities.

    The reason for this is quite simple: these knew the language both written and spoken and were also proficient in Latin. From the fifteenth century onwards, more and more bourgeois were appointed, who understood the law and also knew Latin. These were to contain the power of the existing nobility, so that the sovereigns could rule well. However, it is not uncommon for them to receive letters of nobility for their work and thus enjoy the titles of nobility themselves.

    However, as a purely "epistolary nobility," families of this type do not yet have any significant influence. Only with the acquisition of land does the economic basis for this arise. For the old-established nobility, in turn, other historical developments play a role. In the fourteenth century, the army changes from a knightly army based on feudal vassals to a military consisting of professional mercenaries. Many families with long-established noble titles struggle with economic difficulties. While in the big cities the big merchant families become more powerful, on the other hand, some knight families with ancestral noble title decide to become robber barons. Partly this city nobility was nobilized. Powerful families received titles of nobility and acquired land.

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