Grand Burgher [male] or Grand Burgheress [female] (from German: Großbürger [male], Großbürgerin [female]) is a specific acquired or inherited title of medieval German origin and legally defined preeminent status granting exclusive constitutional privileges and legal rights (German: Großbürgerrecht). A member class within the patrician ruling elite, the Grand Burgher was a type of urban citizen and social order of highest rank, a formally defined upper social class of affluent individuals and elite burgher families in medieval German-speaking cities and towns under the Holy Roman Empire, who usually were of a wealthy business or significant mercantile background and estate. This hereditary title and influential constitutional status, gained and held by few individuals and families across Central Europe, formally existed well into the late 19th century and early part of the 20th century. In autonomous German-speaking cities and towns of Central Europe that held a municipal charter, town privileges (German town law) or were a free imperial city such as Hamburg, Augsburg and Bern that held imperial immediacy, where nobility was not admitted to real property or burghership, the Grand Burghers (Großbürger) or patricians ("Patrizier") constituted the ruling class.
Since the beginning of the 15th century the group of legally coequal "burghers" started to split into three different groups: grand-burghers, ordinary-burghers (German Kleinbürger or simply Bürger, made up largely of artisans, tradesman, small merchants, shopkeepers and others who were obliged according to constitution to acquire the ordinary-burghership) and non-burghers, the latter being merely "inhabitants" of a city or town without specific legal rights and largely consisted of the working class, foreign workers and others who were neither able nor permitted to acquire burghership. Burghership gave a person the right to exist in the city or town of burghership, to be an active member of its society, acquire real estate, pursue their specified economic activity or occupation and participate in municipal affaires amongst many other exclusive constitutional rights, privileges, exemptions and immunities, especially that of the "grand" burghership (German: Großbürgerschaft). Many German Grand-Burghers held rich historical and cultural roles created and expanded over the decades, including union with other families of the same eminent status and branches of nobility, Grand Burghers were often of such extraordinary wealth and significant economic importance that they far exceeded the wealth and influence of even the most highest-ranking members of nobility, the latter often sought inter-marriage with elite grand-burgher families to maintain their noble lifestyles. The names of the individuals and families is generally known in the city or town where they lived, and in many cases, their ancestors had contributed to regional history.
It seems that this German concept has been taken over by other countries and cities. In Hamburg grand and ordinary burghership were existing before 1600. In 1657 the council of New Netherland for example established criteria for the rights of burghers in New Amsterdam (present day New York City), distinguishing between "great" and "ordinary" burgher rights following the distinction made in this regard in Amsterdam 1652. 1664 the concept was assumed by Beverwijck (present day Albany).
Both types of burghership could be acquired at expense, in New Amsterdam during the mid-1600s the ordinary-burghership for 20 Dutch florin, the great-burghership for 50 fl. The burghership oath expense in Hamburg in year 1600 was 50 Reichstaler for the grand and 7 Reichstaler for the ordinary burghership, in 1833 the initial expense for acquiring grand burghership in Hamburg was 758 Mark 8 Schilling (Hamburg Mark); that of the ordinary burghership, 46 Mk 8 Sh. Different ways to become a Grand Burgher (German) or Great Burgher (Dutch) were to marry a grand/great burgher or subject to constitutional conditions the daughter of a grand/great burgher, born in the city or town. These rules varied from place to place.
In Hamburg for example only Grand Burghers were privileged to full unrestricted freedom of large-scale trade, were allowed to entertain a bank account, as well as be elected to the Senate of Hamburg. The acquired grand-burghership was in most instances hereditary, in both their male and female family descendants, and a hereditary title or rank often stated as the person's occupation in records.
Following the German Revolution of 1918–19, the German "Großbürger" along with German nobility as a legally defined class was abolished on August 11, 1919 with the promulgation of the Weimar Constitution, under which all Germans were made equal before the law, and the legal rights and privileges due to the Großbürger (Grand Burgher) and all ranks of nobility ceased. Any title held prior to the Weimar Constitution were permitted to continue merely as part of the family name or erased from future use.
See also 
- Patrician (ancient Rome)
- Patrician (post-Roman Europe)
- Aristocracy (class)
- Hanseaten (class)
- Burgess (title)
- Hereditary title
- Wörterbuch der schweizerdeutschen Sprache, Schweizerisches Idiotikon - Dictionary of the Swiss German Language, Verlag Huber Frauenfeld, Frauenfeld, Switzerland, 1881, Volume IV, Page 1584, in German.
- Free Trade and its Reception 1815-1960: Freedom and trade, Volume 1, Andrew Marisson, Routledge Explorations in Economic History, London and New York, 1998, p. 110—111.
- Willi Albers, Anton Zottmann, Organisation bis Sozialhilfe und Sozialhilfegesetz, Volume 6 of Handwörterbuch der Wirtschaftswissenschaften (HdWW), 1988, p. 681
- Mirjam Litten, Bürgerrecht und Bekenntnis: Städtische Optionen zwischen Konfessionalisierung und Säkularisierung in Münster, Hildesheim und Hamburg, 2003, S. 30
- Janny Venema, Beverwijck: a Dutch village on the American frontier, 1652-1664, 2003, p. 107
- Claudia Thorn, Handelsfrauen, Bürgerfrauen und Bürgerwitwen. Zur Bedeutung des Bürgerrechts für Frauen in Hamburg im 19. Jahrhundert bis zu seiner Aufhebung 1864, Hamburg, 1995, ISBN 978-3-640-06933-0
- Matthias Wegner: Hanseaten, Berlin 1999, S. 34: „In Hamburg wurde sehr genau zwischen dem großen und dem kleinen Bürgerrecht unterschieden, und nur wer dank seiner ökonomischen Verhältnisse imstande war, das große Bürgerrecht zu erwerben, verfügte über die uneingeschränkte Handels- und Gewerbefreiheit, durfte in den Senat, die Bürgerschaft und andere Ämter gewählt werden – und das waren nur wenige.“