Austrian nobility

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Aristocrats gathering around Emperor Franz Joseph at a ball in the Hofburg Imperial Palace, painting by Wilhelm Gause (1900).

The Austrian nobility (German: österreichischer Adel) is a status group in Austria. The nobility was officially abolished in 1919 after the fall of Austria-Hungary. The nobles are still part of Austrian society today,[citation needed] but they no longer retain any specific privileges. Austria's system of nobility was very similar to Germany's system (see German nobility), as both countries were previously part of the Holy Roman Empire (962-1806).

Any noble living in the Habsburg-ruled lands, and who owed their allegiance to the dynasty and therefore to the Emperor, was also considered part of the Austrian aristocracy. This applied to any member of the Bohemian, Hungarian, Polish, Croatian, and other nobilities in the Habsburg dominion. Attempting to differentiate between ethnicities can be quite confusing, especially for nobles during the time of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy (1867-1918) and Holy Roman Empire (962-1806), not during the time of the Austrian Empire (1804-1867). A noble from Galicia, for example, could call himself a Polish noble, but he also rightfully belonged to the Austrian nobility.

When speaking of "Austrian nobility", two categories can be made: 1) the historic nobility that lived in the territories of the Habsburg empire and who swore allegiance to the dynasty, which included everyone until 1918; 2) the present, post-1918 Austrian nobility, specifically those who today retain Austrian citizenship, whose family originally come from Austria proper, South Tyrol (Italy) and Burgenland, or who were ennobled at any point under Habsburg rule and identify themselves as belonging to that status group.[citation needed]


From 1453 onwards, the Archduke of Austria had the right to grant nobility to non-nobles, as did the Archbishop of Salzburg, as Salzburg remained an independent territory. Besides the Holy Roman Emperor (an office which was almost uninterruptedly held by the Archduke of Austria (House of Habsburg) from 1438 to 1806 anyway), only a few territorial rulers within the Empire had this right. In an era of Absolutism, the nobility residing in the cities slowly turned itself into the court-nobility (Hofadel). Service at the court became the primary goal of the nobility. This in turn initiated an interest in education and the interests of the court. Within the court, a close inner circle, called the 100 Familien (100 families), possessed enormous riches and lands.[citation needed] They also had great influence at the court and thus played an important role in politics and diplomacy.

After the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, the Habsburg rulers, who were Austrian Emperors from 1804 onwards, continued to elevate individuals to nobility until the end of the monarchy in 1918. Some of the noble families even obtained the right to be seated in the Herrenhaus in the Imperial Council (Reichsrat) of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Nobles from previously sovereign states such as those in northern Italy (Venice, Mantua, Milan) also had their noble rights confirmed and were allowed to keep their titles.


On the former status of nobility in Burgenland, which was part of the Kingdom of Hungary until 1921, see Hungarian nobility.

Jewish nobility[edit]

Ludwig von Mises, economist

A few very wealthy Jewish families were ennobled after the 1782 Edict of Tolerance. Because of the Edict, decreed by Emperor Joseph II, very wealthy Jewish bankers, and later entrepreneurs and industrialists, could also be ennobled for their services, but with no title or lower-ranking titles, such as Freiherr or Ritter. The few Jewish families elevated into the aristocracy were not required to forswear their faith, but most of them converted to Christianity in order to become more accepted.[citation needed] Although elevation into the nobility meant recognition for success and civic contributions, and entailed a rise in social status, it did not alter the fact that Jews were, for the most part, still only being "tolerated". Jews could not freely choose the place and duration of their stay and had to regularly ask for permission from the authorities. When the banker and protector of arts Raymund Karl Wetzler (or Wetzlar) von Plankenstern was created a Reichsfreiherr by Empress Maria Theresia, he converted to Catholicism while still young. His mansion in Vienna was a center of the fine arts and he was a close friend of Mozart, as his son Alexander was of Ludwig van Beethoven.

Despite these difficulties, by 1821 there were at least eleven ennobled Jewish families living in Vienna alone. Some of the very wealthy included the Rothschilds, Arnstein, Eskeles, Gomperz, Kuffner, Lieben, Auspitz, Schey von Koromla, Todesco, Wertheimstein, and von Wiernes families. The elevation into the nobility of wealthy Jews also started the process of assimilation of Jewish families into the Austrian upper class.

Abolition of nobility in 1919[edit]

The Adelsaufhebungsgesetz of 1919 (Law on the Abolition of Nobility) abolished nobility as well as all noble privileges, noble titles and names, but only in Austria. In other Monarchies of Europe the Austrian noble families can wear their noble titles or even particles such as von and zu in his or her name and they still have the status of nobility there. For example, the name of the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire became simply Karl Habsburg, not Karl von Habsburg, but in the Kingdom of Belgium his real name is Archduke Karl of Austria.

This may sometimes be confusing, as descendants of nobles are sometimes referred to with noble names abroad. Also, members of noble families often hold multiple citizenships, as was the case for Otto von Habsburg (eldest son of the last Austrian emperor and father of Karl Habsburg), who was also a citizen of Germany. The Austrian law does not apply to artistic, performer or stage names, where von is sometimes used, as in the case of conductor Herbert von Karajan or the musician Hubert von Goisern. However, stage names are never recognized for official purposes.

Members of the lower nobility especially (such as civil servants) found this radical step of abolition degrading and humiliating, since working towards and finally earning a nobility title was a way for them and their families to rise within society. Members of the higher nobility were able to absorb the formal abolition more easily.[citation needed] They lost their titles and privileges, but kept their social manners, standing and riches. Federal President Michael Hainisch called the official abolition

The law abolishing nobility and titles was never repealed, even during the period of Austrofascism (1934–1938). Following the Anschluss to Nazi Germany (1938–1945), this law remained on the books, although it was not enforced, allowing Austrian nobles to use titles freely again.

Although noble titles and the particles von and zu are not legal any more, some persons are still unofficially referred to by their titles. For example, Karl Schwarzenberg will occasionally still be referred to as Fürst zu Schwarzenberg (Prince of Schwarzenberg) in the media; he holds Czech and Swiss citizenship, not Austrian.

Unlike the nobility in Bohemia (Czechoslovakia), Poland, Russia, or the former Prussian territories, the Austrian nobility never had its lands and riches confiscated in Austria. Social measures were introduced by the republican government in order to create more equality amongst the citizens and finance public projects, which put a strain on the traditional land-holding gentry and aristocracy, resulting in the forced sale of many palaces and lands due to the expense of their upkeep. However, there was no measure by the government specifically to target nobility and take away their possessions.

To many Austrians, the abolition of nobility, its privileges and titles was and still is an important element of a democratic and republican state, where individuals are treated equally and thus should earn any positions or honours solely through individual merit.[citation needed] Noble titles have been replaced with an almost obsessive usage of and fascination with academic titles and titles of office.

Still, the nobility today are sometimes nonetheless treated slightly differently from other citizens. Austrian nobility still plays a large part in movies made after World War II (for example Sissi and Sound of Music), and is still featured regularly in the media and literature. The social events of nobles are still covered extensively in tabloids. Besides, the law is often broken on occasions when members of the nobility are addressed at various events: At the annual birthday celebration of Emperor Franz Joseph in Bad Ischl, for example, members of the former Imperial House of Habsburg - more precisely the family of the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire - are addressed as "Imperial and Royal Highness".

Apart from the prohibition of their titles, most former nobles have fared remarkably well in modern Austria and still make up some of the richest families, such as the Esterházy, Mayr-Melnhof and Mautner-Markhof. Many members of the Austrian nobility today work in the traditional fields of diplomacy, politics, have business and financial interests, or are philanthropists or socialites.

It was estimated that there were about 20,000 Austrian nobles in 2005.[citation needed] That year, an association was founded, the Vereinigung der Edelleute in Österreich (Association of Austrian Nobles, or V.E.Ö.), which sees itself as the successor of the Vereinigung katholischer Edelleute in Österreich (Catholic Association of Austrian Nobles, or V.E.Ö.), founded in 1922 but banned under the Nazis in 1938. Until recently, all of the various attempts at revival were blocked by Austrian authorities.[citation needed]

Noble titles[edit]

Austria's nobility was divided into two categories, the higher nobility (hoher Adel), and the lower nobility (niederer Adel). To the higher nobility belonged the princes and counts, and to the lower nobility belonged the barons, knights and untitled noble families:

Non-ruling member of the imperial family[edit]

Non-ruling members of the imperial family were given the title of:

Agnates of the imperial family, who were excluded from the line of succession, were created dukes and duchesses or princes and princess and addressed as Highness (Hoheit) or Serene Highness (Durchlaucht).

Higher Nobility titles[edit]

(English titles with German equivalents)

^1 For a Countess not being married, the title Komtesse was used, borrowed from the French language Comtesse.

Lower Nobility titles[edit]

(English titles with German equivalents)

^2 In German, a distinction between baronesses exists, a Freifrau being a baroness by marriage and Freiin being a baroness by birth. The title of knight is equivalent to 'baronet' i.e. hereditary knight, and Edler means 'noble.'

Below is an incomplete list of Austrian noble families, listed by rank of title.[2] Note that some members of a family were sometimes given higher titles by the emperor because of merit. Titles, styles, and rights could only be conferred by the monarch. In some cases, they could even be revoked because of fall from favour.

Imperial family[edit]

Erzherzog/Erzherzogin (Archduke/Archduchess)[edit]

Großherzog/Großherzogin (Grand Duke/Grand Duchess)[edit]

  • of Tuscany (House of Habsburg-Lothringen, Archdukes of Austria)

Herzog/Herzogin (Duke/Duchess)[edit]

  • of Babenberg extinct 1246
  • of Hohenberg (Wife and children of successor to the throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand)
  • of Modena & Este (House of Habsburg-Lothringen, Archdukes of Austria-Este)
  • of Reichstadt (see Napoleon II)
  • of Teschen (House of Habsburg-Lothringen, Archdukes of Austria)


Because of the abolition of the prepositions, many families were forced to reinvent their family names completely. This brought in many complications. The following list of the non-Habsburg nobles shows the pre-1919 family names or preposition in brackets, followed by the standard appearance today. Noble families could have the preposition "von", "zu" or a combination of it ("von und zu"). Non-German-speaking nobility, however, preferred to use "de", such as those in Bohemia, Hungary, and Galicia, as they felt that it was less Germanic-sounding. Since Austria-Hungary was a multiethnic empire, both versions could be officially used and were recognised by the government.

Conversely, family names using prepositions like "de" and "de la" could not replace the preposition with the Germanic "von". For example, the family "Sanchez de la Cerda" originally came from Spain, therefore the preposition remained as in the original. The same exception applies to other families such as "Schönburg-de Laserna" and "de la Fontaine und d'Harnoncourt-Unverzagt". The latter is an interesting combination of French- and German-language prepositions, which again is a reflection of the colourful multiethnic history of the Austrian Empire.

Often, family names with a predicate were written "von X-Y", even though the correct form is "X von Y".

Fürst/Fürstin (Prince/Princess)[edit]

The style of address is Durchlaucht (Serene Highness). Also used was Fürstliche Gnaden (Princely Grace). The Austrian princely title (Fürst) was the most prestigious title of the Austrian nobility, forming the higher nobility (hoher Adel) alongside the counts (Graf); this close inner circle, called the 100 Familien (100 families), possessed enormous riches and lands. They also had great influence at the court and thus played an important role in politics and diplomacy. Today, the fortunes of the Austrian princely families remain among the biggest fortunes of the country.

Graf/Gräfin (Count/Countess)[edit]

A young countess of the Schönborn family posing for an artistic photo.
Countess Marietta Silva-Tarouca with her daughters at the horse races in Prague.
The Countess Clam-Gallas (left, wearing an ermine coat) arriving at the Votivkirche in Vienna for the wedding of one of her seven daughters, (right couple) Countess Gabrielle Clam-Gallas to Adolf, Prince of Auersperg. The high aristocracy tended to intermarry, making weddings a spectacular social event for all.
During the baroque era, the nobility started to move into the cities and built themselves lavish residences called Palais. The Palais Kinsky in Vienna, belonging to the princely Kinsky family, is one of the most outstanding pieces.

The style of address is, in most cases, Erlaucht (Illustrious Highness). Also used was Gräfliche Gnaden (Comital Grace).

Freiherr/Freifrau/Freiin (Baron/Baroness)[edit]

There was no official style, but "Gnädiger Herr", "Gnädige Frau", or "Gnädiges Fräulein" were common forms of address. Although strictly speaking the title was "Freiherr", the usage of "Baron" in written and verbal communication was very common, even if incorrect. The title "Freiin" was also often replaced for "geborene (née) Baronin", which was strictly speaking also incorrect since a "Baronin" would have been wed already.

A photograph taken in 1900 of Alphonse von Rothschild (1878-1942), member of the famous Rothschild family

Ritter (Knight)[edit]

There was no official style, but "Gnädiger Herr" was a common form of address. The title was for males only; no female version exists. Female members of a family with the title Ritter however were often addressed as "Edle von", which was totally incorrect, unless the family already carried the "Edler" honour before being raised as into the "Ritter" class.


The rank of Edler carried no official style, but "Gnädiger Herr" or "Gnädige Frau" were common forms of address.


This title belonged to the patricians of the free city of Werl, in Germany, who had the hereditary (erb-) right to exploit the nearby salt mines (salz). Thus this title was not granted in Austria, but merely recognized there.

Untitled noble families or status unknown[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Where this section is blank, it is possible that the preposition is unknown or did not exist.


  1. ^ ...ein kindisches Beginnen, schon deshalb, weil man gar nicht diejenigen traf, die man hatte treffen wollen. Ich sprach einmal mit der ebenso feinen wie klugen Fürstin Fanny Starhemberg über diesen Punkt. 'Uns', sagte sie, 'macht die Aufhebung des Adels nichts, wir bleiben mit oder ohne den Titel immer die Starhembergs. original (German) text, on the German wikipedia
  2. ^ Source: Der Gotha
  3. ^ Almanach de Gotha. Retrieved August 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c Almanach českých šlechtických rodů 2001, Praha 2001
  5. ^ a b c Almanach českých šlechtických rodů 2005, Praha 2005
  6. ^ Marek, Miroslav (2007-06-29). "von Eggenberg". Retrieved August 2012. [self-published source][better source needed]
  7. ^ Schloss Eggenberg. By Barbara Kaiser. Graz: Christian Brandstätter Verlag, 2006. p. 204. ISBN 3-902510-80-3 (English Edition) or ISBN 3-902510-96-X (German Edition)
  8. ^ Die Fürsten und Freiherren zu Eggenberg und ihre Vorfahren. By Walther Ernest Heydendorff. Graz: Verlag Styria, 1965. pp. 187-8.
  9. ^ Hans Ulrich Fürst von Eggenberg: Freund und Erster Minister Kaiser Ferdinand II.. By Hans von Zwiedineck-Südenhorst. Vienna: Wilhelm Braumüller K. K. Hof- und Universitätsbuchhändler, 1880. p. 123.
  10. ^ Ein Staat in Alt-Österreich: Besitzungen der Eggenberger. By Franz Kammerhofer. Graz: Franz Kammerhofer, 1998. p. 172. ISBN 3-9500808-1-3
  11. ^ Marek, Miroslav (2007-06-06). "Esterházy 1". Retrieved August 2012. [self-published source][better source needed]
  12. ^ Marek, Miroslav. "Festetics de Tolna 3". Retrieved August 2012. [self-published source][better source needed]
  13. ^ Marek, Miroslav. "Fьrstenberg 3". Retrieved August 2012. [self-published source][better source needed]
  14. ^ Marek, Miroslav (2004-09-21). "Grassalkovich de Gyarak". Retrieved August 2012. [self-published source][better source needed]
  15. ^ Marek, Miroslav. "Hohenlohe 7". Retrieved August 2012. [self-published source][better source needed]
  16. ^ Marek, Miroslav (2008-06-27). "Khevenhüller 1". Retrieved August 2012. [self-published source][better source needed]
  17. ^ Marek, Miroslav (2009-06-20). "Kinsky 1". Retrieved August 2012. [self-published source][better source needed]
  18. ^ Marek, Miroslav (2008-08-15). "Lobkowicz 10". Retrieved August 2012. [self-published source][better source needed]
  19. ^ Marek, Miroslav (2008-04-11). "Liechtenstein 2". Retrieved August 2012. [self-published source][better source needed]
  20. ^ Marek, Miroslav. "Metternich 3". Retrieved August 2012. [self-published source][better source needed]
  21. ^ Marek, Miroslav (2007-10-25). "Oettingen 2". Retrieved August 2012. [self-published source][better source needed]
  22. ^ Marek, Miroslav. "Princes of the Holy Roman Empire". Retrieved August 2012. [self-published source][better source needed]
  23. ^ Marek, Miroslav. "Rohan 5". Retrieved August 2012. [self-published source][better source needed]
  24. ^ Marek, Miroslav. "Sponheim 18". Retrieved August 2012. [self-published source][better source needed]
  25. ^ Marek, Miroslav (2004-08-04). "Schцnburg 4". Retrieved August 2012. [self-published source][better source needed]
  26. ^ Marek, Miroslav (2007-03-30). "Starhemberg 3". Retrieved August 2012. [self-published source][better source needed]
  27. ^ Marek, Miroslav. "Schwarzenberg 3". Retrieved August 2012. [self-published source][better source needed]
  28. ^ Marek, Miroslav. "Thun 7". Retrieved August 2012. [self-published source][better source needed]
  29. ^ Marek, Miroslav. "Trauttmansdorff 2". Retrieved August 2012. [self-published source][better source needed]
  30. ^ Marek, Miroslav. "waldburg/waldburg4.html". Genealogy.EU. Retrieved August 2012. [self-published source][better source needed]
  31. ^ Royal Licences for the Use of Foreign Titles
  32. ^ The Nobilities of Europe - Google Books


External links[edit]