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The Burgrave of Regensburg presiding over a trial, early 14th-century illustration in the Codex Manesse. Codex Manesse 318r Burggraf von Regensburg.jpg
The Burgrave of Regensburg presiding over a trial, early 14th-century illustration in the Codex Manesse.

Burgrave, also rendered as burggrave [1] [2] (from German : Burggraf, [1] Latin : burgravius, burggravius, burcgravius, burgicomes, also praefectus ), was since the medieval period in Europe (mainly Germany) the official title for the ruler of a castle, especially a royal or episcopal castle, and its territory called a Burgraviate or Burgravate (German Burggrafschaft also Burggrafthum, Latin praefectura). [1] [3] [4]


The burgrave was a "count" in rank (German Graf , Latin comes ) [2] equipped with judicial powers, [3] [4] under the direct authority of the emperor or king, or of a territorial imperial state—a prince-bishop or territorial lord. The responsibilities were administrative, military and jurisdictional.

A burgrave, who ruled over a substantially large territory, might also have possessed the regality of coinage, and could mint his own regional coins (see silver bracteates).


Etymologically, the word burgrave is the English and French form of the German noble title Burggraf (compounded from Burg: castle, fortress or equally fortified town and Graf : count [2] ) from Middle High German burcgrâve. [5] [6] The feminine form is burgravine, in German Burggräfin (from Middle High German burcgrâvin). [3] [5] [7]

From the early High Middle Ages, the German Burggraf (burgrave) was the military governor or commander of a castle, [4] similar to that of the Anglo-Norman French "castellain" and Middle English "castellan" (from Latin : castellanus). [8] [9]

In the mid-12th century, King Conrad III of Germany created a new quality for the title of burgrave during the German eastward colonization. They became protectors and administrators of extensive royal territories near major imperial castles, such as Meissen, Altenburg and Leisnig, and received "judicial lordship" (German: Gerichtsherrschaft [6] ). They also acted as colonizers and created their own dominions.

Under the reign of King Rudolf I of Germany, their dignity was considerably advanced. [2] Before his time, burgraves were ranked only as counts ( Graf ), below the princes ( Fürst ), but during his reign, they began to receive the same esteem as princes. [2]

Holy Roman Empire territories

In the Kingdom of Germany, owing to the distinct conditions of the Holy Roman Empire, the title, borne by feudal nobles having the status of Reichsfürst (princes of the Empire), obtained a quasi-royal significance. [10]

Like other officials of the feudal state, some burgraves became hereditary rulers. There were four hereditary burgraviates ranking as principalities within the Holy Roman Empire, plus the burgraviate of Meissen:


In the Crown of the Kingdom of Bohemia, the title of burgrave was given by the King of Bohemia to the chief officer, or the regal official whose command is equivalent to a viceroy's. [2] From the 14th century, the burgrave of Prague—the highest-ranking of all burgraves, seated at Prague castle, gradually became the state's highest-ranking official, who also acted as the king's deputy; [17] the office became known as the high or supreme burgrave of the Kingdom of Bohemia (Czech: Nejvyšší purkrabí  [ cz ]); the appointment was usually for life. After the reforms of Maria Theresa (reign 1740–1780) and her son Joseph II (reign 1780–1790), the title of highest burgrave gradually lost its de facto power. The title of highest burgrave was still granted, however, and its holder remained the first officer of the kingdom. It was abolished in 1848.


In the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland, the burgrave (Polish: burgrabia , earlier also murgrabia) was also of senatorial rank (i.e. held a seat in the upper chamber of the Senate of Poland). Ranking first among them was the "Burgrave of Kraków" (Polish: Burgrabia krakowski ) of the former capital of Poland and Wawel Castle, who was appointed directly by the King of Poland. The royal office was originally created during the reign of Casimir III the Great. At that time, Kraków's burgrave was also chief judge of the supreme court of Magdeburg law (Polish: Sąd wyższy prawa niemieckiego ) erected in Kraków in lieu of Magdeburg. [18] The burgrave of Kraków also collected an income from the royal Wieliczka Salt Mine, run by the Royal Salt Mines company Żupy krakowskie since the 13th century.


In the Kingdom of Prussia, the burgrave was one of the four chief officers of a province, delegated by the King of Prussia. [2]


In Sweden, the burgrave (Swedish : burggreve, earlier spelling burggrefve) was the highest official in the cities of Gothenburg and Malmö during periods in the 17th and early 18th centuries. The title was first introduced by the king Gustavus Adolphus in the 1621 charter for Gothenburg, though it was not actually used until 1625. The burgrave of Gothenburg was to protect the "highness, reputation and regalia" of the monarch and was appointed by him or her from a group of six candidates proposed by the city board. In Gothenburg, the title ceased to be used in 1683 but was briefly reintroduced by Charles XII between 1716 and 1719. Now appointed among three candidates, the burgrave was the executive of the city, keeping the city keys and supervising the board. Following the Gothenburg model, the title was introduced in Malmö by Charles X Gustav after the city was ceded to Sweden in 1658, but was abolished 19 years later in 1677. [19]

England and France

In Anglo-French parlance, a burgrave was considered analogous to a viscount. [1] [20]

See also

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