Last updated

crown used in heraldry, borne above the coat of arms to indicate a principality ruled. The Fursten
crown, sometimes placed together with a mantle, is not always found on a Furstenhaus
(princely house) coat of arms; these adornments were not part of formal armorial protocols, but simply heraldic grace. T12 Furst.svg
Fürsten crown used in heraldry, borne above the coat of arms to indicate a principality ruled. The Fürsten crown, sometimes placed together with a mantle, is not always found on a Fürstenhaus (princely house) coat of arms; these adornments were not part of formal armorial protocols, but simply heraldic grace.
Mediatised Fursten
headpiece used in heraldry. Princely Hat.svg
Mediatised Fürsten headpiece used in heraldry.

Fürst (German pronunciation: [ˈfʏʁst] ( Loudspeaker.svg listen ), female form Fürstin, plural Fürsten; from Old High German furisto, "the first", a translation of the Latin princeps ) is a German word for a ruler and is also a princely title. Fürsten were, since the Middle Ages, members of the highest nobility who ruled over states of the Holy Roman Empire and later its former territories, below the ruling Kaiser (emperor) or König (king). [2]

Old High German is the earliest stage of the German language, conventionally covering the period from around 750 to 1050. There is no standardised or supra-regional form of German at this period, and Old High German is an umbrella term for the group of continental West Germanic dialects which underwent the set of consonantal changes called the Second Sound Shift.

Latin Indo-European language of the Italic family

Latin is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. The Latin alphabet is derived from the Etruscan and Greek alphabets and ultimately from the Phoenician alphabet.

Princeps is a Latin word meaning "first in time or order; the first, foremost, chief, the most eminent, distinguished, or noble; the first man, first person". As a title, "princeps" originated in the Roman Republic wherein the leading member of the Senate was designated princeps senatus. It is primarily associated with the Roman emperors as an unofficial title first adopted by Augustus in 23 BC. Its use in this context continued until the reign of Diocletian at the end of the third century. He preferred the title of dominus, meaning "lord" or "master". As a result, the Roman Empire from Augustus to Diocletian is termed the "principate" (principatus) and from Diocletian onwards as the "dominate" (dominatus). Other historians define the reign of Augustus to Severus Alexander as the Principate, and the period afterwards as the "Autocracy".


A Prince of the Holy Roman Empire was the reigning sovereign ruler of an Imperial State that held imperial immediacy in the boundaries of the Holy Roman Empire. [2] The territory ruled is referred to in German as a Fürstentum (principality), [3] the family dynasty referred to as a Fürstenhaus (princely house), and the (non-reigning) descendants of a Fürst are titled and referred to in German as Prinz (prince) or Prinzessin (princess). [4]

Princes of the Holy Roman Empire

Prince of the Holy Roman Empire was a title attributed to a hereditary ruler, nobleman or prelate recognised as such by the Holy Roman Emperor.

A reign is the period of a person's or dynasty's occupation of the office of monarch of a nation, of a people or of a spiritual community. In most hereditary monarchies and some elective monarchies there have been no limits on the duration of a sovereign's reign or incumbency, nor is there a term of office. Thus, a reign usually lasts until the monarch dies, unless the monarchy itself is abolished or the monarch abdicates or is deposed.

Imperial immediacy was a privileged constitutional and political status rooted in German feudal law under which the Imperial estates of the Holy Roman Empire such as Imperial cities, prince-bishoprics and secular principalities, and individuals such as the Imperial knights, were declared free from the authority of any local lord and placed under the direct authority of the Emperor, and later of the institutions of the Empire such as the Diet, the Imperial Chamber of Justice and the Aulic Council.

The English language uses the term prince for both concepts. Latin-based languages (French, Italian, Romanian, Spanish, Portuguese) also employ a single term, whereas Dutch as well as the Scandinavian and Slavic languages (Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, Serbian, Croatian, etc.) use separate terms similar to those used in German (see knyaz for the latter).

Romance languages all the related languages derived from Vulgar Latin

The Romance languages are the modern languages that evolved from Vulgar Latin between the third and eighth centuries and that form a subgroup of the Italic languages within the Indo-European language family.

Dutch language West Germanic language

Dutch(Nederlands ) is a West Germanic language spoken by around 23 million people as a first language and 5 million people as a second language, constituting the majority of people in the Netherlands and Belgium. It is the third most widely spoken Germanic language, after its close relatives English and German.

North Germanic languages Branch of Germanic languages spoken predominantly in the Nordic countries

The North Germanic languages make up one of the three branches of the Germanic languages, a sub-family of the Indo-European languages, along with the West Germanic languages and the extinct East Germanic languages. The language group is sometimes referred to as the "Nordic languages", a direct translation of the most common term used among Danish, Faroese, Icelandic, Norwegian, and Swedish scholars and laypeople.

Since the Middle Ages, the German designation and title of Fürst refers to:

Middle Ages Period of European history from the 5th through the 15th centuries

In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages lasted from the 5th to the 15th century. It began with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and merged into the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery. The Middle Ages is the middle period of the three traditional divisions of Western history: classical antiquity, the medieval period, and the modern period. The medieval period is itself subdivided into the Early, High, and Late Middle Ages.

Holy Roman Empire varying complex of lands that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe

The Holy Roman Empire was a multi-ethnic complex of territories in Western and Central Europe that developed during the Early Middle Ages and continued until its dissolution in 1806 during the Napoleonic Wars. The largest territory of the empire after 962 was the Kingdom of Germany, though it also came to include the neighboring Kingdom of Bohemia, the Kingdom of Burgundy, the Kingdom of Italy, and numerous other territories.

<i>Kaiser</i> title of authority

Kaiser is the German word for "emperor". Like the Bulgarian, Serbian and Russian word Tsar, it is directly derived from the Roman emperors' title of Caesar, which in turn is derived from the personal name of a branch of the gens (clan) Julia, to which Gaius Julius Caesar, the forebear of the first imperial family, belonged. Although the British monarchs styled "Emperor of India" were also called Kaisar-i-Hind in Hindi and Urdu, this word, although ultimately sharing the same Latin origin, is derived from the Greek: Καῖσαρ (kaisar), not the German Kaiser.

An emperor is a monarch, and usually the sovereign ruler of an empire or another type of imperial realm. Empress, the female equivalent, may indicate an emperor's wife, mother, or a woman who rules in her own right. Emperors are generally recognized to be of a higher honour and rank than kings. In Europe, the title of Emperor has been used since the Middle Ages, considered in those times equal or almost equal in dignity to that of Pope due to the latter's position as visible head of the Church and spiritual leader of the Catholic part of Western Europe. The Emperor of Japan is the only currently reigning monarch whose title is translated into English as Emperor.

Use of the title in German

Furst von Putbus
, arms with a mantle and Fursten
crown. Wappen Fuerst Putbus.jpg
Fürst von Putbus , arms with a mantle and Fürsten crown.
Furst von Liechtenstein
, arms with a mediatised Fursten
headpiece. Staatswappen-Liechtensteins.svg
Fürst von Liechtenstein , arms with a mediatised Fürsten headpiece.
Furst von Schwarzburg
, arms with a Fursten
crown. Schwarzburg-Solms-Wildenfels Coat of arms 1.png
Fürst von Schwarzburg , arms with a Fürsten crown.

The title Fürst (female form Fürstin, female plural Fürstinnen) is used for the heads of princely houses of German origin (in German a Fürstenhaus). From the Late Middle Ages, it referred to any vassal of the Holy Roman Emperor ruling over an immediate estate. Unless he also holds a higher title, such as grand duke or king, he will be known either by the formula "Fürst von + [geographic origin of the dynasty]", or by the formula "Fürst zu + [name of the ruled territory]". These forms can be combined, as in "...von und zu Liechtenstein".

The rank of the title-holder is not determined by the title itself, but by his degree of sovereignty, the rank of his suzerain, or the age of the princely family (note the terms Uradel, Briefadel, altfürstliche, neufürstliche; and see German nobility). The Fürst (Prince) ranked below the Herzog (Duke) in the Holy Roman Empire's hierarchy, but princes did not necessarily rank below dukes in non-German parts of Europe. Likewise, the style usually associated with the title of Fürst in post-medieval Europe, Durchlaucht (translated as "Serene Highness"), was considered inferior to Hoheit ("Highness") in Germany, though not in France.

The present-day rulers of the sovereign principality of Liechtenstein bear the title of Fürst, and the title is also used in German when referring to the ruling princes of Monaco. The hereditary rulers of the one-time principalities of Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, and Albania were also all referred to in German as Fürsten before they eventually assumed the title of "king" (König).

Other uses in German

Fürst is used more generally in German to refer to any ruler, such as a king, a reigning duke, or a prince in the broad sense (compare Niccolò Machiavelli's Il Principe ). Before the 12th century, counts were also included in this group, in accordance with its usage in the Holy Roman Empire, and in some historical or ceremonial contexts, the term Fürst can extend to any lord.

The descendants of a Fürst, when that title has not been restricted by patent or custom to male primogeniture, is distinguished in title from the head of the family by use of the prefix Prinz (prince, from Latin : princeps; female: Prinzessin).

A nobleman whose family is non-dynastic, i.e. has never reigned or been mediatised, may also be made a Fürst by a sovereign, in which case the grantee and his heirs are deemed titular or nominal princes, enjoying only honorary princely title without commensurate rank. In families thus elevated to princely title (usually as a reward for military or political services) in or after the 18th century, the cadets often hold only the title of Graf (Count), such as in the families of the princes of Bismarck , Eulenberg and Hardenberg . However, in a few cases, the title of Fürst was shared equally by all male-line descendants of the original grantee (for example, the families of Hohenberg , Urach and Wrede ).

Derived titles

Several titles were derived from the term Fürst:

Origins and cognates

The word Fürst designates the head (the "first") of a ruling house, or the head of a branch of such a house. The "first" originates from ancient Germanic times, when the "first" was the leader in battle.

Various cognates of the word Fürst exist in other European languages (see extensive list under Prince), sometimes only used for a princely ruler. A derivative of the Latin princeps (a Republican title in Roman law, which never formally recognized a monarchic style for the executive head of state but nominally maintained the Consuls as collegial Chief magistrates) is used for a genealogical prince in some languages (e.g., Dutch and West Frisian, where a ruler is usually called vorst, West Frisian: foarst), but a prince of the blood is always styled prins; and Icelandic where fursti is a ruler, and a prince of the blood royal is prins (in these languages no capital letters are used in writing titles, unless, of course, they occur as the first word of a sentence), while in other languages only a princeps-derived word is used for both irrespectively (e.g., English uses prince for both). In any case the original (German or other) term may also be used.

Related Research Articles

Prince-elector members of the electoral college of the Holy Roman Empire

The Prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire, or Electors for short, were the members of the lectoral college that elected the Holy Roman Emperor.

Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen historical principality in Germany

Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was a principality in southwestern Germany. Its rulers belonged to the senior Swabian branch of the House of Hohenzollern. The Swabian Hohenzollerns were elevated to princes in 1623. The small sovereign state with the capital city of Sigmaringen was annexed to the Kingdom of Prussia in 1850 following the abdication of its sovereign in the wake of the revolutions of 1848, then became part of the newly created Province of Hohenzollern.

Prince-bishop bishop who is a territorial Prince of the Church

A prince-bishop is a bishop who is also the civil ruler of some secular principality and sovereignty. Thus the principality or prince-bishopric ruled politically by a prince-bishop could wholly or largely overlap with his diocesan jurisdiction, since some parts of his diocese, even the city of his residence, could be exempt from his civil rule, obtaining the status of free imperial city. If the episcopal see is an archbishopric, the correct term is prince-archbishop; the equivalent in the regular (monastic) clergy is prince-abbot. A prince-bishop is usually considered an elected monarch.

Grand duke is a European hereditary title for either certain monarchs or members of certain monarchs' families. It is traditionally ranked in order of precedence below the title of emperor or king and above that of sovereign prince or sovereign duke. It is used in some current and former independent monarchies in Europe, particularly:

A grand duchy is a country or territory whose official head of state or ruler is a monarch bearing the title of grand duke or grand duchess.


Burgrave also rendered as Burggrave, was since the medieval period in Europe the official title for the ruler of a castle, especially a royal or episcopal castle, and its territory called a Burgraviate or Burgravate. The burgrave was a "count" in rank equipped with judicial powers, 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, may also have possessed the regality of coinage, and could mint their own regional coins.

Margrave was originally the medieval title for the military commander assigned to maintain the defence of one of the border provinces of the Holy Roman Empire or of a kingdom. That position became hereditary in certain feudal families in the Empire, and the title came to be borne by rulers of some Imperial principalities until the abolition of the Empire in 1806. Thereafter, those domains were absorbed in larger realms or the titleholders adopted titles indicative of full sovereignty.

Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg Duchy in Holy Roman Emprie 1235-1269; title of "Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg" used by rulers of all successor states

The Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg, or more properly the Duchy of Brunswick and Lüneburg, was a historical duchy that existed from the late Middle Ages to the Early Modern era within the Holy Roman Empire. The duchy was located in what is now northwestern Germany. Its name came from the two largest cities in the territory: Brunswick and Lüneburg.

<i lang="de" title="German language text">Graf</i> historical title of the German nobility

Graf (male) or Gräfin (female) is a historical title of the German nobility, usually translated as "count". Considered to be intermediate among noble ranks, the title is often treated as equivalent to the British title of "earl".

Imperial, royal and noble ranks Legal privilege given to some members in monarchial and princely societies

Traditional rank amongst European royalty, peers, and nobility is rooted in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Although they vary over time and among geographic regions, the following is a reasonably comprehensive list that provides information on both general ranks and specific differences.

Imperial Estate

An Imperial State or Imperial Estate was a part of the Holy Roman Empire with representation and the right to vote in the Imperial Diet. Rulers of these Estates were able to exercise significant rights and privileges and were "immediate", meaning that the only authority above them was the Holy Roman Emperor. They were thus able to rule their territories with a considerable degree of autonomy.

The Mediatized Houses were ruling princely and comital-ranked houses which were mediatized in the Holy Roman Empire during the period of 1803–15 as part of German mediatization, and were later recognised in 1825-29 by the German ruling houses as possessing considerable rights and rank. With few exceptions, these houses were those whose heads held a seat in the Imperial Diet when mediatized during the establishment of the Confederation of the Rhine in 1806–07, by France in 1810, or by the Congress of Vienna in 1814–15. The Mediatized Houses were organised into two ranks: the princely houses, entitled to the predicate Durchlaucht, which previously possessed a vote on the Bench of Princes (Furstenbank); and the comital houses which were accorded the address of Erlaucht, which previously possessed a vote in one of the four Benches of Counts (Gräfenbank}. Whilst some form of mediatization occurred in other countries, such as France, Italy and Russia, only designated houses within the former Holy Roman Empire legally comprised the Mediatized Houses.

Prince-Primate is a rare princely title held by individual (prince-)archbishops of specific sees in a presiding capacity in an august assembly of mainly secular princes, notably the following:

Principality of Anhalt

The Principality of Anhalt was a State of the Holy Roman Empire, located in Central Germany, in what is today part of the federal state of Saxony-Anhalt.

House of Leyen noble family

von der Leyen is an ancient German noble family of princely and historically sovereign rank. As a former ruling and mediatized family, it belongs to the Hochadel.

Imperial Count title of nobility in the Holy Roman Empire

Imperial Count was a title in the Holy Roman Empire. In the medieval era, it was used exclusively to designate the holder of an imperial county, that is, a fief held directly (immediately) from the emperor, rather than from a prince who was a vassal of the emperor or of another sovereign, such as a duke or prince-elector. These imperial counts sat on one of the four "benches" of Counts, whereat each exercised a fractional vote in the Imperial Diet until 1806.


  1. 1 2 Siebmacher, Johann; Weber, Hilmar Hermann (1890). Siebmacher's Grosses und allgemeines Wappenbuch: in einer neuen. Einleitungsband. Abt. A, B. [Siebmacher's Coat of Arms Volumn: in a new introductory version ... Section A, B, Otto Titan von Hefner] (in German). Nuremberg: Otto Titan von Hefner.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 "Definition of the German title Fürst". Duden (in German).
  3. "Definition of Fürstentum". Duden (in German).
  4. "Definition of the German title Prinz". Duden (in German).

Further reading