In Germany, all legitimate children of a nobleman became nobles themselves, and most titles passed onto all the children with few exceptions. All the children of sovereigns did not, of course, become kings or electors, but did become princes or princesses, dukes or duchesses, etc.
The German nobility as a legally defined class was abolished on August 11 1919 with the Weimar constitution, when all Germans were made equal before the law, and any legal rights or privileges due to nobility ceased to exist.
The German nobility continues to play an important role in the various European nations that have not abolished the nobility. Most of the European royal families are descendants of the German nobility.
Most, but not all, surnames of the German nobility were preceded by or at least contained the preposition von, meaning of, and sometimes by zu, which usually is translated as of when used alone or as in, at, or to. The two were occasionally combined into von und zu, meaning of and in approximately. Other forms exist as well: von der (of the), vom (of the), zur (of the, in the, etc) and zum (of the, in the).
Like nobles elsewhere, German nobles were acutely aware and proud of their superior social position, and often had disdain for commoners. As shown in Theodor Fontane's novel Effi Briest, they referred to one another as Geborene, or "ones who have been born", while commoners were called Geworfene, corresponding roughly to "whelped", "calved", or "foaled" in English, and properly referring only to non-human birth.
German noble families almost always bore Coat of arms.
These titles were at one time used by various rulers. The titles Archduke, Duke, Prince, Margrave (and all other -graves), Count, Count Palatine and Lord were also used by non-sovereign members some of these families or by noble non-reigning families.
|Title (English)||Title (German)||Territory (English)||Territory (German)|
|Emperor/Empress||Kaiser(in)||Empire, Emperordom||Kaiserreich, Kaisertum|
|Grand Duke/Grand Duchess||Großherzog(in)||Grand Duchy||Großherzogtum|
|Count(ess) of the Empire||Reichsgraf/Reichsgräfin||County||Grafschaft|
|Count(ess) Palatine||Pfalzgraf/Pfalzgräfin||County Palatine||Pfalzgrafschaft|
|Title (English)||Title (German)|
|Grand Duke/Grand Duchess||Großherzog(in)|
|Count(ess) of the Empire||Reichsgraf/Reichsgräfin|
|Lord||Herr / Edler Herr|
|Knight (grouped with untitled nobles)||Ritter|
|Noble (grouped with untitled nobles)||Edler/Edle|
|Young Lord (grouped with untitled nobles)||Junker|
The heirs to some nobles or sovereigns had special titles of their own prefixed by Erb-, meaning Hereditary. For instance, the heir to a Grand Duke is titled Erbgroßherzog, meaning Hereditary Grand Duke. A sovereign duke's heir might be titled Erbherzog or Erbprinz (Hereditary Duke, Hereditary Prince) and a prince's heir might be titled Erbprinz or Erbgraf (Hereditary Prince, Hereditary Count), also Erbherr.