Freiherr ([ˈfʀaɪ̯ˌhɛʁ]; male, abbreviated as Frhr.), Freifrau
([ˈfʀaɪ̯ˌfʀaʊ̯]; his wife, abbreviated as Frfr., literally
"free lord" or "free lady") and Freiin ([ˈfʀaɪ̯ɪn]; his
unmarried daughters and maiden aunts) are designations used as titles
of nobility in the German-speaking areas of the Holy Roman Empire, and
in its various successor states, including Austria, Prussia, Bavaria,
Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, etc. Traditionally it denotes the
third-lowest titled rank within the nobility, above
Edler (nobility without a specific title) and below
Herzog (duke). The title superseded the earlier medieval
It corresponds to baron in rank.
Freiherr in the feudal system
Freiherr vs. Baron
3.1 Prior to abolition of nobility
3.2 Since abolition of nobility
3.2.1 In Austria
3.2.2 In Germany
4 Parallel titles
4.1 Swedish and Danish–Norwegian title
4.2 Finnish title
6 See also
8 External links
Freiherr in the feudal system
Freiherr derives from the historical situation in which an
owner held free (allodial) title to his land, as opposed "unmittelbar"
("unintermediated"), or held without any intermediate feudal tenure;
or unlike the ordinary baron, who was originally a knight (Ritter) in
vassalage to a higher lord or sovereign, and unlike medieval German
ministerials, who were bound to provide administrative services for a
Freiherr sometimes exercised hereditary administrative and
judicial prerogatives over those resident in his barony instead of the
liege lord, who might be the duke (Herzog) or count (Graf).
Freiherr vs. Baron
The German-language title of
Freiherr is rendered in English as
"Baron", although the title was derived separately in the two
languages. Even in German, a
Freiherr is often styled and addressed
as "Baron" in social circumstances, although not the official title.
The original distinction from other barons was that a Freiherr's
landed property was allodial instead of a fief.
Barons who received their title from the Holy Roman
sometimes known as "Barons of the Holy Roman Empire"
(Reichsfreiherren), in order to distinguish them from other barons,
although the title as such was simply Freiherr. Since the dissolution
Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire in 1806, Reichsfreiherren do not at present
belong to the noble hierarchy of the realm. By a decision of the
Congress of Vienna
Congress of Vienna in 1815, their titles were nonetheless officially
recognised. From 1806 the now independent German monarchies, such as
Bavaria, Württemberg and
Lippe could create their own nobility,
including Freiherren (although the Elector of Brandenburg had, as king
of the originally exclusively extraterritorial
Prussia even before
that date, arrogated to himself the prerogative of ennoblement). Some
of the older baronial families began to use Reichsfreiherr in formal
contexts to distinguish themselves from the new classes of barons
created by monarchs of lesser stature than the Holy Roman Emperors,
and this usage is far from obsolete.
Prior to abolition of nobility
As with most titles and designations within the nobility in the
German-speaking areas of Europe, the rank was normally hereditary and
would generally be used together with the nobiliary particle of von or
zu (sometimes both: von und zu) before a family name.
The inheritance of titles of nobility in most German-speaking areas
was mostly not restricted by primogeniture as is the baronial title in
Britain. Hence, the titles applied equally to all male-line
descendants of the original grantee in perpetuity: All legitimate sons
Freiherr shared his title and rank, and could be referred to as
Freiherr. The wife of a
Freiherr is titled Freifrau (literally "free
lady"), and the daughter of a
Freiherr is called Freiin (short for
Freiherrin). Both titles are translated in English as "Baroness".
Prussia and some other countries in northern Europe, the title of
Freiherr was – as long as the monarchy existed – usually used
preceding a person's given name (e.g.
Freiherr Hans von Schwarz). In
Austria-Hungary and Bavaria, however, it would by contrast be inserted
between the given and the family name (e.g. Hans
Since abolition of nobility
After the First World War, the monarchies were abolished in most
German-speaking areas of Europe, and the nobility lost recognition as
a legal class in the newly created republics of
Germany and Austria.
The Republic of
Austria abolished hereditary noble titles for its
citizens by the Adelsaufhebungsgesetz of 3 April 1919 and the
corresponding decree of the state government. The public use of
such titles was and still is prohibited, and violations could be
Freiherr von Schwarz, as an Austrian citizen, therefore
lost his title of
Freiherr von and would simply be named as Hans
Schwarz in his Austrian passport.
In practice, however, former noble titles are still recognised in
Austria; some people consider it a matter of courtesy to use them. The
late Otto von Habsburg, in his childhood Crown
Austria-Hungary, according to Austrian law since 1919 bore the name
Otto Habsburg-Lothringen. Living in Pöcking near Munich after World
War II, he nevertheless managed to receive Federal German citizenship
Otto von Habsburg
Otto von Habsburg and was serving under that name as a member of
the European Parliament.
In 2003, the Constitutional Court (Verfassungsgerichtshof) ruled that
an Austrian woman having been adopted by a German carrying an
aristocratic title as part of his name is not allowed to carry this
title in her name. The Federal Administrative Court
(Verwaltungsgerichtshof) in a similar case asked the European Court of
Justice whether this Austrian regulation would violate the right of
the European Union; the
European Court of Justice
European Court of Justice did not object to
the Austrian decision not to accept the words Fürstin von as part of
an Austrian woman's name.
The German republic, under Article 109 of the
Weimar Constitution of
1919, legally transformed all hereditary noble titles into dependent
parts of the legal surname. The former title thus became a part of the
family name, and moved in front of the family name.
Freiherr Hans von
Schwarz, as a German citizen, therefore became Hans
Schwarz. As dependent parts of the surnames ("nichtselbständige
Namensbestandteile") they are ignored in alphabetical sorting of
names, as is a possible nobiliary particle, such as von, and might or
might not be used by those bearing them. Female forms of titles have
been legally accepted as a variation in the surname after 1919 by a
still valid decision of the former German High Court (Reichsgericht).
The distinguishing main surname is the name, following the Freiherr,
Freifrau or Freiin and, where applicable, the nobiliary particle –
in the preceding example, the main surname is Schwarz and so
alphabetically is listed under "S".
Similar titles have been seen in parts of Europe that have
historically been dominated by
Germany (in the cultural sense): the
Baltic States, Austria–Hungary, Sweden, Finland and to some extent
Swedish and Danish–Norwegian title
From the Middle Ages onward, each head of a Swedish noble house was
entitled to vote in any provincial council when held, as in the
Realm's Herredag, later Riddarhuset. In 1561,
Eric XIV began to
grant some noblemen the titles of count or baron (friherre). The
family members of a friherre were entitled to the same title, which in
Baron or Baronessa colloquially: thus a person who
formally is a friherre now might use the title of "Baron" before his
name, and he might also be spoken of as "a baron".
However, after the change of constitution in 1809, newly created
baronships in principle conferred the dignity only in
primogeniture. In the now valid Swedish Instrument of Government
(1974), the possibility to create nobility is completely eliminated;
and since the beginning of the twenty-first century, noble dignities
have passed from the official sphere to the private.
Denmark and Norway, the title of Friherre was of equal rank to that
of Baron, which has gradually replaced it. It was
instituted on 25 May 1671 with Christian V's Friherre privileges.
Today only a few Danish noble families use the title of Friherre and
most of those are based in Sweden, where that version of the title is
still more commonly used; a Danish Friherre generally is addressed as
"Baron". The wife of a Danish or Norwegian Friherre is titled
Friherreinde, and the daughters are formally addressed as
In 1561, the Swedish king
Eric XIV conferred the hereditary titles of
count and vapaaherra ("baron") on some persons, not all of them
nobles. This prerogative was confirmed in the constitutional
arrangements of 1625. All family members of vapaaherra (baronial)
families were entitled to that same title, which in practice, came to
mean that they were addressed as Paroni or Paronitar. The Finnish
nobility shares most of its origins with Swedish nobility. In the
beginning, they were all without honorific titulature, and known just
as "lords". In subsequent centuries, while Finland remained an
autonomous grand duchy, many families were raised in rank as counts,
vapaaherras, or as untitled nobles. Theoretically, all created
vapaaherra families were given a barony (with some rights of taxation
and jurisprudence), but such fiefs were only granted in the 16th and
17th centuries. Thereafter the "barony" was titular, usually in chief
of some already-owned property, and sometimes that property was
established as a fideicommiss. Their property tax exemption continued
into the 20th century, being, however, diminished substantially by
reforms of the 19th century.
^ a b "
Freiherr -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia", Britannica Online
Encyclopedia, 2008, webpage: EB-Freiherr
^ A number of English-language historians specializing in
translate Freiherr. Agatha Ramm in
Germany 1798–1919 (1967) states
that she is preserving
Baron carries a different
association in English.
^ For example: Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz
Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg
^ Nobiliary particles used by German nobility
^ "Law in the original version of 1919".
^ "Decree of 18 April 1919 in the original version".
^ "CURIA - Suchformular". curia.europa.eu.
^ a b "Friherre". ARTbase.dk.
^ The formula used is that a person "upphöjdes i friherrlig
värdighet jämlikt 37 § 1809 års regeringsform, innebärande
att endast huvudmannen innehar friherrlig värdighet"; literal
translation: "was raised to the dignity of baron in accordance with
§37 in the Instrument of Government (1809), implying that only the
head of the family possesses the dignity of baron". The formulation is
found, for example, with reference to the family Bildt in the 2013
edition of the Sveriges ridderskaps och adels kalender: that family
was ennobled much earlier than 1809, so all its (agnatic) members
belong to the untitled nobility, with the exception of a single baron;
the great-grandfather of
Carl Bildt was created a baron in 1864, but,
because this was after 1809,
Carl Bildt is just an untitled nobleman
while his cousin Lars Bildt is a baron.
^ "Friherre". Gyldendal.
"Freiherr". Britannica Online Encyclopedia. 2008.