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).

The comital title Graf is common to various European territories where German was or is the official or vernacular tongue, e.g., Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Alsace, Holstein, and other Habsburg crown lands. Since August 1919, in Germany, Graf, like any other hereditary title, is treated as part of the legal surname rather than as an indication of nobility.[1] 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; while in Luxembourg and Liechtenstein (as in Belgium) 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.

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 grafliche title, often relating to a specific domain or jurisdiction of responsibility, e.g. Landgraf, Markgraf, Pfalzgraf (Count Palatine), Burgraf, Wildgraf, Waldgraf, Altgraf, Raugraf, etc. Although as a title Graf ranked, officially, below those of Herzog (duke) and Furst (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 gefurstete 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. Margraf and Landgraf.

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


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, V.xxxvi); this may be read to make the term a Germanic one, but by then using Latin terms was quite common.

List of 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.

German English Comment/ etymology
Markgraf Margrave (only continental) 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 Count of the Empire Reich i.e., (the Holy Roman) Empire + Graf. Imperial count, whose title was granted or recognised by the Emperor.
Gefürsteter Graf Princely Count German verb for "to make 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", i.e., 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

Reichsgraf, Gefürsteter Graf[]

A 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.[2] A count who was not a Reichsgraf was apt to possess only a "mediate" fief (Afterlehen) — he was subject to an immediate prince of the empire, such as a duke or 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 all.[2] Such titles were purely honorific. In English, 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 Fugger, Count von Browne. But 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.

A gefürsteter Graf (in English, princely count) is a Reichsgraf accorded princely rank, but not title, by the Emperor.

Notable Reichsgrafen included:

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

A complete list of Reichsgrafen as of 1792 can be found in the List of Reichstag participants (1792).


A Landgraf or Landgrave was a nobleman of comital rank in feudal Germany whose jurisdiction stretched over a sometimes quite considerable territory. The title survived from the times of the Holy Roman Empire. The status of a landgrave was often associated with sovereign rights and decision-making greater than those of a simple Graf (Count), but carried no legal prerogatives.

Landgraf occasionally continued in use as the subsidiary title of such nobility as the Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar, who functioned as the Landgrave of Thuringia in the first decade of the 20th century; but the title fell into disuse after World War I. 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 (later split in Hesse-Kassel and Hesse-Darmstadt), Landgrave of Leuchtenberg.

Gefürsteter Graf[]

A Graf who has been recognised as bearing the higher dignity or exercising the more extensive authority of a Furst, while nominally retaining a comital title.

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.

Later the title became ennobled and hereditary with its own domain.

Example: Burgrave of Nuremberg.

It occupies the same relative rank as titles rendered in purist German by Vizegraf, in Dutch as Burggraaf or in English as Viscount (Latin: Vicecomes), in origin also a deputy of a Count, as the burgrave dwelt usually in a castle or fortified town. Soon many became hereditary and almost-a-Count, ranking just below the 'full' Counts, but above a Freiherr (Baron).

It was also often used as a courtesy title by the heir to a Graf.

Rhinegrave, Wildgrave, Raugrave, Altgrave[]

Unlike the other comital titles, Rhinegrave, Wildgrave (Waldgrave), Raugrave, and Altgrave are not generic titles. Rather, each is linked to one specific, historic countship. By rank, these unusually named counts were equivalent to other Counts of the Empire of Uradel status, i.e. they possessed Imperial immediacy, ranked as Hochadel, and would be mediatised upon dissolution of the Empire in 1806.[3]

  • "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.[4][3]
  • 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 (i.e. mountainous) terrain.[5][3]
  • 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 family.[3]

in Sweden[]

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 and alphabetical sorting[]

German nobility, although not abolished, lost recognition as a legal class in Germany 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 to be translated, unlike before 1919. The titles do, however, retain prestige in some circles of society.

Other uses[]

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 also[]

Sources and references[]


  1. ^ Weimar Constitution Article 109, sentence 2
  2. ^ a b Velde, François (2008-02-13). "". 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

External links[]

This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at Graf. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.