Count palatine

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A count palatine (Latin comes palatinus), also count of the palace or palsgrave (from German Pfalzgraf), was originally an official attached to a royal or imperial palace or household and later a nobleman of a rank above that of an ordinary count. The title originated in the late Roman Empire. In the Middle Ages especially and into modern times, it is associated with the Holy Roman Empire. [1]


The office, jurisdiction or territory of a count palatine was a county palatine or palatinate. In England, the forms earl palatine and palatine earldom are preferred. [1]

Importance of a count palatine in medieval Europe

Comes palatinus

This Latin title is the original, but also pre-feudal: it originated as a Roman Comes, which was a non-hereditary court title of high rank, the specific part palatinus being the adjective derived from palatium ('palace').

After the fall of Rome, a new feudal type of title, also known simply as palatinus, started developing. The Frankish kings of the Merovingian dynasty (reigned 480–750) employed a high official, the comes palatinus, who at first assisted the king in his judicial duties and at a later date discharged many of these himself. Other counts palatine were employed on military and administrative work. [2]

In the Visigothic Kingdom, the Officium Palatinum consisted of a number of men with the title of count that managed the various departments of the royal household. The Comes Cubiculariorum oversaw the chamberlains, the Comes Scanciorun directed the cup-bearers, the Comes Stabulorum directed the equerries in charge of the stables, etc. The Ostrogothic Kingdom also maintained palatine counts with titles such as Comes Patrimonium, who was in charge of the patrimonial or private real estate of the king, and others.

The system was maintained by the Carolingian sovereigns (reigned 750–1000). A Frankish capitulary of 882 and Hincmar, archbishop of Reims, writing about the same time, testify to the extent to which the judicial work of the Frankish Empire had passed into their hands, and one grant of power was followed by another. [2] (See the twelve legendary Paladins.)

Instead of remaining near the person of the king, some of the counts palatine were sent to various parts of his empire to act as judges and governors, the districts ruled by them being called palatinates. Being in a special sense the representatives of the sovereign, they were entrusted with more extended power than the ordinary counts. In this way came about the later and more general use of the word "palatine", its application as an adjective to persons entrusted with special powers—but also to the districts over which these powers were exercised. [2]

By the High Middle Ages, the title "count" had become increasingly common, to the point that both great magnates who ruled regions that were the size of duchies, and local castle-lords, might style themselves "count." As the great magnates began to centralize their power over their local castle-lords, they felt the need to assert the difference between themselves and these minor "counts." Therefore, several of these great magnates began styling themselves "Count palatine," signifying great counts ruling regions equivalent to duchies, such as the Counts Palatine of Champagne in the 13th century. See also Royal Administration of Merovingian and Carolingian Dynasties.

In early medieval Poland the Palatinus was next in rank to the King. As he is also the chief commander of the King's army the rank is merged with Wojewoda, with the latter replacing the title of Palatine. During the Fragmentation of Poland each Prince would have his own voivode. When some of these Principalities are reunited into the Kingdom of Poland the Palatines are infeudated with them as there is no local Prince anymore. Or rather on behalf of the King to whom all these princely titles returned. The Principalities are thus made Voivodships (sometimes translated as Palatinates). In the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth the Voivodes sit in the Senat. Throughout its history the dignity remained non-hereditary or semi-hereditary. Today voivodes are government officials.

As successor to the Byzantine emperor after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman sultan also claimed the right to bestow the office. Thus Giovanni Bellini was named Comes palatinus by Emperor Frederick III in 1469 and later again in 1481 by Sultan Mehmet II.

Grand Čelnik (велики челник). [3] The Grand Čelnik was the highest court title of the Serbian Despotate, and the title-holders held great provinces, property, and honours, and Radič (fl. 1413–1441) was one of the most powerful ones. [4] Hungary in the Middle Ages: nádorispán or nádor (see Palatine of Hungary)

The term Count palatine was not used in the United Kingdom. Just as Count always remained reserved for continental territories, even though the equivalence of earl became clear by rendering it in Latin also as Comes, earl palatine was the exclusively British title for the incumbent of a British county palatine.

Merovingian and Carolingian Counts palatine


See also Royal Administration of Merovingian and Carolingian Dynasties.

Counts Palatine of Champagne

King Lothar of France (954–986) gave Odo I, Count of Blois, one of his most loyal supporters in the struggle against the Robertians and the Counts of Vermandois, in 976 the title of Count palatine. The title was later inherited by his heirs, and when they died out, by the Counts of Champagne.

Holy Roman Empire

Pfalzgraf (Old High German phalanzgrāvo) is the German equivalent of the title, Graf being the German term for "count" or "earl", and Pfalz being the German reflex of Latin palatium. The German title has also been rendered palsgrave in English (recorded 1548).

Counts Palatine were the permanent representatives of the Frankish king, later of the Holy Roman Emperor, in a palatial domain of the crown. There were dozens of these royal Pfalzen throughout the early Empire, and the emperor would travel between them, as there was no imperial capital.

In the empire the word count palatine was also used to designate the officials who assisted the emperor in exercising the rights which were reserved for his personal consideration, [2] like granting arms. They were called Imperial counts palatine (in Latin comites palatini caesarii, or comites sacri palatii; in German, Hofpfalzgrafen. Both the Latin form (Comes) palatinus and the French (comte) palatin have been used as part of the full title of Dukes of Burgundy (a branch of the French royal dynasty) to render their rare German title Freigraf, which was the style of a (later lost) bordering principality, the allodial countship of Burgundy (Freigrafschaft Burgund in German) which came to be known as Franche-Comté.

During the 11th century, some imperial palatine counts became a valuable political counterweight against the mighty duchies. Surviving old palatine counties were turned into new institutional pillars through which the imperial authority could be exercised. By the reigns of Henry the Fowler and especially of Otto the Great, comites palatini were sent into all parts of the country to support the royal authority by checking the independent tendencies of the great tribal dukes. Apparent thereafter was the existence of a count palatine in Saxony, and of others in Lorraine, in Bavaria and in Swabia, their duties being to administer the royal estates in these duchies. [2]

Next to the Dukes of Lotharingia, Bavaria, Swabia and Saxony, who had become dangerously powerful feudal princes, loyal supporters of the German Emperor were installed as counts palatine.

The Lotharingian palatines out of the Ezzonian dynasty were important commanders of the imperial army and were often employed during internal and external conflicts (e.g. to suppress rebelling counts or dukes, to settle frontier disputes with the Hungarian and the French kingdom and to lead imperial campaigns).

Although a palatinate could be rooted for decades into one dynasty, the office of the palatine counts became hereditary only during the 12th century. During the 11th century the palatinates were still regarded as beneficia, non-hereditary fiefs. The count palatine in Bavaria, an office held by the family of Wittelsbach, became duke of this land, the lower comital title being then merged into the higher ducal one. [2] The Count Palatine of Lotharinga, changed its name to Count Palatine of the Rhine in 1085, alone remaining independent until 1777. The office having become hereditary, Pfalzgrafen were in existence until the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. [2] The palatinate of Saxony merged with the Electoral Duchy of Saxony. The Palatinate of the Rhine became an electorate, and both were Imperial Vicars.

Counts Palatine of Bavaria

Originally, the Counts Palatine held the County Palatine (around Regensburg), and were subordinate to the Dukes of Bavaria, rather than to the king. The position gave its holder a leading position in the legal system of the Duchy.

Counts Palatine of Burgundy

In 1169, Emperor Frederick I created the Free County of Burgundy (not to be confused with its western neighbour, the Duchy of Burgundy). The Counts of Burgundy had the title of Free Count (German: Freigraf), but are sometimes called Counts Palatine.

Counts Palatine of Lotharingia

From 985, the Ezzonids held the title:

The County Palatine of Lotharingia was suspended by the Emperor. Adelaide of Weimar-Orlamünde, Herman II's widow, remarried to Henry of Laach. Abt. 1087 he was assigned in the newly created office of Count Palatine of the Rhine.

Counts Palatine of Tübingen

Counts Palatine of the Rhine

In 1085, after the death of Herman II, the County Palatine of Lotharingia lost its military importance in Lorraine. The territorial authority of the Count Palatine was reduced to his territories along the Rhine. Consequently, he is called the Count Palatine of the Rhine after 1085.

The Golden Bull of 1356 made the Count Palatine of the Rhine an Elector. He was therefore known as the Elector Palatine.

Counts Palatine of Saxony

In the 10th century the Emperor Otto I created the County Palatine of Saxony in the Saale-Unstrut area of southern Saxony. The honour was initially held by a Count of Hessengau, then from the early 11th century by the Counts of Goseck, later by the Counts of Sommerschenburg, and still later by the Landgraves of Thuringia:

After Henry Raspe's death, the County Palatine of Saxony and the Landgraviate of Thuringia were given to the House of Wettin, based on a promise made by Emperor Frederick II:

King Rudolph I of Germany gave the County Palatine of Saxony to the House of Welf:

Counts Palatine of Swabia

After 1146, the title went to the Counts Palatine of Tübingen.

Holy See

Papal counts palatine

A papal count palatine (Comes palatinus lateranus, properly Comes sacri Lateranensis palatii "Count of the Sacred Palace of Lateran" [5] ) began to be conferred by the pope in the 16th century. This title was merely honorary and by the 18th century had come to be conferred so widely as to be nearly without consequence.

The origin of the title lies in the 14th century. Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor conferred the title of Comes palatini Lateranensis on one Fenzio di Albertino di Prato, on 15 August 1357, at Prague. [6]

The Order of the Golden Spur began to be associated with the inheritable patent of nobility in the form of count palatinate during the Renaissance; Emperor Frederick III named Baldo Bartolini, professor of civil law at the University of Perugia, a count palatinate in 1469, entitled in turn to confer university degrees. [7]

Pope Leo X designated all of the secretaries of the papal curia Comites aulae Lateranensis ("Counts of the Lateran court") in 1514 and bestowed upon them the rights similar to an imperial count palatine.[ citation needed ] In some cases the title was conferred by specially empowered papal legates. If an imperial count palatine possessed both an imperial and the papal appointment, he bore the title of "Comes palatine imperiali Papali et auctoritate" (Count palatine by Imperial and Papal authority).

The Order of the Golden Spur, linked with the title of count palatinate, was widely conferred after the Sack of Rome, 1527, by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor; the text of surviving diplomas conferred hereditary nobility to the recipients. Among the recipients was Titian (1533), who had painted an equestrian portrait of Charles. [8] Close on the heels of the Emperor's death in 1558, its refounding in Papal hands is attributed to Pope Pius IV in 1559. [9] Benedict XIV (In Supremo Militantis Ecclesiæ, 1746) granted to the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre the right to use the title of Count of the Sacred Palace of Lateran[ citation needed ].

By the mid-18th century the Order of the Golden Spur was being so indiscriminately bestowed that Casanova remarked "The Order they call the Golden Spur was so disparaged that people irritated me greatly when they asked me the details of my cross;" [10]

The Order was granted to "those in the pontifical government, artists, and others, whom the pope should think deserving of reward. It is likewise given to strangers, no other condition being required, but that of professing the catholic religion." [11]

See also

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  1. 1 2 "palatine, adj.1 and n.1". OED Online. June 2019. Oxford University Press. (accessed July 31, 2019).
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Holland, Arthur William (1911). "Palatine". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica . 20 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 595–596.
  3. Babinger 1992, p. 147: " the "Grand Celnik" (a sort of Count palatine) "
  4. Trifunović 1979, p. 61: "Међу њима је највиши углед уживао велики челник (Xребељан, Радич Поступовић и др.). Неки од њих су временом стекли велике области, имања и почасти. Занимљив је и жив пример челника Радича"
  5. Rock, P.M.J. (1908) Pontifical Decorations In The Catholic Encyclopedia .
  6. Paul F. Grendler, The Universities of the Italian Renaissance (2004), p. 184, note 130; the title empowered Fenzio to confer the license of doctor of civil law.
  7. "Bartolini also received the Knighthood of the Golden Spur, a title that sometimes accompanied the office of count palatinate in the Renaissance" Grendler 2004:184 note 134.
  8. C Hope, "Titian as a Court Painter", Oxford Art Journal, 1979.
  9. Thomas Robson, The British Herald; or, Cabinet of armorial bearings of the nobility... (1830) s.v. "Golden Spur, in Rome" and plate 4 (fig. 21) and 5 (figs 3 and 7).
  10. "L'ordre qu'on appelle de l'Éperon d'Or était si décrié qu'on m'ennuyait beaucoup quand on demandait des nouvelles de ma croix." (Histoire de ma vie, 8;ix);.
  11. Robson 1830.