Some time ago, I posted something resembling the following on Fantasy Flight‘s Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay forum. Given the new edition, it’s probably long disappeared into the ether, so—on the off chance that somebody out there might find it useful—I present it here.

The nobility in Warhammer doesn’t precisely reflect that of the historical Holy Roman Empire (or HRE), but it’s a reasonably close match. At the top, of course, we have the Emperor (or Kaiser).

The German language has two separate terms for sovereign princes (Kürfurst) and princes-of-the-blood (Prinz). The former would probably be the most appropriate title for Warhammer‘s Electors, and the latter for members of the Imperial family.

Though popular with its neighbours, the title of Grand Duke was rarely used within the HRE. The notable exception is the title that Pope Pius V bestowed on the Medici family in Tuscany, at the time subject to the HRE; most Grand Duchies, however, date from Napoleon’s conquest of central Europe. Outside the HRE, there were Grand Dukes in Sweden, Poland, Lithuania and Russia, although these might be more properly referred to as Grand Princes; the title of Grand Prince is also historically associated with Transylvania.

Although there were Archdukes in the HRE, the title was exclusively associated with the Habsburgs.

Where German nobility comes into its own, though is in its system of Grafen or Counts. Initially, as in other lands, titles bore little relationship to each other; only later was an order of precedence (roughly reproduced below) imposed. Note that many of the titles also came with duties attached:

  • Markgraf (“border count”): often had military duties attached, stemming from the margraviate’s location at the edge of the empire. Being at the edges of the empire also meant opportunities to extend his domain.
  • Landgraf (“provincial count”): governs a large area, and is subject directly to the Emperor, rather than an intermediate lord.
  • Reichsgraf (“imperial count”): a Graf who, like a Landgraf, is subject directly to the Emperor.
  • Pfalzgraf (“count palatine”): manages an imperial palace and the lands that support it. Often, the Emperor would travel around the empire, rather than hold court at a single, central location.
  • Altgraf (“senior count”): a Graf of (slightly) senior rank; very rare, and historically only used by one family to differentiate their senior branch.
  • Graf (“count”).
  • Burggraf (“castle count”): governs a castle or a fortified town.
  • Vizegraf (“viscount”): a subordinate Graf, or the heir to a Graf. (The latter might also be styled Burggraf or Erbgraf; “erb-” being a prefix for hereditary or heir to [a title].)

A number of other Graf-type titles existed. A Sendgraf was an imperial envoy, whilst a Hofpfalzgraf assisted the Emperor in carrying out his duties of state; they were mostly offices, rather than titles. Wildgraf, Raugraf and Rheingraf were titles only used in connection to particular fiefs (strangely enough, by junior branches of the same family who held the lone altgraviate). A Freigraf held his lands and title free from feudal overlordship.

Beneath the Grafen were the barons and Freiherren. Originally separate titles, Freiherren (like Freigrafen, above) held their lands and title free from feudal obligation, rather than receiving them from an overlord, and then later swearing loyalty to the crown. Over time, however, the distinction vanished, Freiherr becoming the more common title. Reichsfreiherren (“imperial barons”) were subject directly to the Emperor (see “Reichsgraf,” above), and ranked slightly above other barons.

There were several ranks beneath barons; although considered nobility in the HRE, their English equivalent might more properly be considered hereditary gentry. Again, in descending order:

  • Ritter (“knight”): a closer English equivalent would be baronet.
  • Edler (“noble”): rough equivalent of the English “lord,” where the person addressed is of the nobility but lacks a greater title.
  • Junker (“junior lord”): rough equivalent of the English country gent.
  • Erbherr (“hereditary lord”): rough equivalent of the French seigneur or the English esquire.

Note that these titles were all generally hereditary.

Although Edler was considered the lowest actual rank of the nobility, Junkers were also permitted to use a nobiliary particle (such as “von,” “zu,” etc.). Junkers, however, usually only had the particle prepended to their surname; Ritters and Edlers were styled “Ritter von [surname]” and “Edler von [surname],” respectively.