Danish nobility

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Cover of Danmarks Adels Aarbog (Yearbook of the Danish Nobility)

Danish nobility is a social class and a former estate in the Kingdom of Denmark. The nobility has official recognition in Denmark, a monarchy. Its legal privileges were abolished in the 19th century. Many of the families still own and reside in castles or country houses. Most nobles still belong to the elite, and they are as such present at royal events where they hold court posts, are guests, or are objects of media coverage, for example Kanal 4's TV-hostess Caroline Fleming née Baroness Iuel-Brockdorff.[citation needed] Some of them own and manage companies or have leading positions within business, banking, diplomacy and NGOs.

Danish nobility is informally divided into two categories: ancient nobility (Danish: uradel) and letter nobility (Danish: brevadel). A more recognised categorization distinguishes between high and lower nobility (Danish: højadel, lavadel). Today, approximately 200 noble houses bearing hereditary titles such as baron or count are extant. "Ancient nobility" refers to those noble houses that are known from the era before the Danish reformation, whereas created nobility are those houses that received their rank by a patent at the time of their elevation to the post-1671-nobility. Still, and despite their patents - which in reality were subjugations to a nascent absolutist state, most nobles who were "elevated" by the post 1670 patents were well known b e f o r e the Reformation: the BRAHE, RANTZAU, BROCKDORFF, REVENTLOW, PODEBUSK-PUTBUS, FRIIS, HOLCK, WEDEL JUUL, KNUTH, MOLTKE, ROSENKRANTZ, SCHACK etc. Families of the Lord High Councillors of Denmark, and houses endowed with a title (after the commencement of absolutism in Denmark) in 1671 are regarded as high nobility of Denmark.[citation needed] The title of duke being restricted to the royal family and their relatives is a contrast to German and French usage. In Germany most dukes had executive power within the Reichstag. Also, German counts could become Reichsgrafen, the lowest "rank" within the Reichsfürstenrat (Germany's "High Nobility"), quite different from the rights of Danish lensgreves in the absolutist post 1671 kingdom. Friedrich von Ahlefeldt (1623-1686) is wrongly called rigsgreve in Danish sources, because he had been distinguished (not elevated) by the Emperor with a comital title in 1665. By that time the Emperors had long since had to relinquish the right to appoint untitled members of the lower nobility to anything more elevated than a "Freiherr" (baron) or "Graf". Ahlefeldt aspired in vain to besome a German "Reichsgraf" and acquired a tiny but "immediate" territory in the bishopric of Metz - RIXINGEN - together with an Alsatian territory Mörsberg in the hope of having now lands that corresponded to the requirement of an estate of the HRE (Reichsstand). He did not succeed, both were too small and unimportant, dspite Rixingen being "immediate". His son Carl (1670-1722), the only son of the second marriage to countess Marie Elisabeth zu Leiningen-Dagsburg-Hartenburg, lensgreve of Langeland, not "count" of Rixingen, sold the property in 1703 shortly before going into bankruptcy in 1725, when he sold most everything he had inherited except Langeland.

Medieval nobility[edit]

A striking feature have been the close ties medieval Danish magnate families had with German (Thuringian, Lower-Saxon, etc.) counts: for example in the 13th century, there are several marriages between Danish magnate families and German counts in each generation.

  • Members of the families of the counts of Orlamünde, Regenstein, Gleichen and Everstein settled in Scandinavia and became, for example, High Councillors and, a few of them, Lord High Constables of Denmark.
  • Various branches of the Counts of Holstein contracted marriages with members or relatives of the Danish royal dynasty, and occasionally were numbered among the highest nobles in Denmark. During the reign of Christopher II of Denmark and the early reign of Valdemar IV of Denmark, counts of Holstein held almost all fiefs in Denmark. Specifically, the Holsteins tended to ally with the Abel branch of the royal dynasty, which held the duchy of Southern Jutland, adjacent to Holstein. Ultimately, in the late 14th century, the Rendsborg branch of the House of Holstein inherited the south-Jylland duchy (henceforward known as Duchy of Schleswig) as Danish vassals. Adolf VIII, Count of Holstein, was actually offered the Danish royal throne in 1448, and after his refusal, his nephew Christian I of Denmark received it.
  • The family of Putbusch (Podebusk in Danish, Putbus in German), originally relatives of the earliest princes of Rügen, were almost Danish in the 14th century, their most prominent member being Henning Podebusk, the powerful Lord High Justiciar of Denmark during the reigns of King Valdemar IV and the Queen Margaret of Scandinavia. After the 16th century, one branch (the Kjørup branch) of the Podebusks remained in Denmark and belonged to the country's high nobility.[citation needed]

Danish titles as of the 1671 laws[edit]

Dano-Norwegian coronets of rank. To each title one had the right to use a specific coronet.
Artist: Lauritz de Thurah

The following system, which was introduced in 1671 with the titles of feudal count (lensgreve) and feudal baron (lensbaron), is currently in force:

Title Title for wives Title for sons Title for daughters Dignity or fief English equivalent
hertug hertuginde hertugdømme duke
markis (only in Norway) markise markisat (only in Norway) marquess
greve grevinde greve or baron komtesse grevskab count
friherre
baron
frifrue
baronesse
friherre
baron
friherrinde
komtesse
friherreskab
baroni
baron

Note: Gentlemen with foreign titles (German counts or Freiherren for example) ranked below Danish lensgreverne and Danish lensfriherre. Thus from a Danish point of view, Friedrich von Ahlefeldt (see above), who had been distinguished in 1665 with a comital title by the emperor, was actually "elevated" when he became a Danish "lensgreve" after 1671. Of course his German title - which left him in the Lower Nobility in Germany - should not be termed "rigsgreve" as explained above, but perhaps "tyske greve".

Duke: a title reserved for the Royal family and relatives, not part of the "nobility"[edit]

Two families bear the Danish title of duke, not being counted as "nobility":

Dukes had earlier the German-inspired style of durchlauchtighed (German: Durchlaucht; English: Serene Highness), but Danish ducal titles are at present virtually non-existent. In historical contexts, for example, older predicates as (your) grace or højvelbårenhed are applied.

Marquis (only in Norway)[edit]

In 1709, Frederick IV of Denmark, in his capacity as King of Norway, granted the title Marquis of Lista to Hugo Octavius Accoramboni of Florence in Italy. Apparently the Marquis of Lista died without issue.

In 1710, the same king granted the title Marquis of Mandal to Francisco di Ratta and to the latter's nephews Giuseppe di Ratta and Luigi di Ratta of Bologna in Italy. In Norway, official recognition of this title was abolished under the 1821 Nobility Law. In Denmark it seems to have lasted until 1890.[1]

Norway remains the only country in Scandinavia where the title of marquis has been granted.

Comital and Baronial noble Danish families[edit]

There are two primary periodical reviews of Danish nobility:

  • Danmarks Adels Aarbog (DAA), published by Dansk Adels Forening since 1884. It publishes genealogies of extant Danish noble families, approximately 725. Additionally, ancestry charts published in its editions, have reported approximately 200 extinct houses.[2]
  • Dansk Adelskalender

See also[edit]

References[edit]