Junkers (English pronunciation: ; German pronunciation: ) were the landed nobility of Prussia and eastern Germany. These families were mostly part of the German Uradel (very old feudal nobility) and carried on the colonization and Christianization of the northeastern European territories during the medieval Ostsiedlung. Today "Junker" is often used as a predicate for untitled German nobility. The abbreviation of Junker is Jkr. and is most often placed before the given name and academic titles, for example: Jkr. Heinrich von Hohenberg. The female equivalent Junkfrau (Jkfr.) is only being used sporadically. In the past the predicate was also used for Barons and Counts.

In the Netherlands the title is sometimes used, although it has taken the meaning of jonkheer, in contrast to the description given below.


"Junker" in German means "young lord", and is understood as country squire. It is probably derived from the German words Junger Herr, or Young Lord. As part of the nobility, many Junker families have particles such as "von" or "zu" before their family names. In the Middle Ages, a Junker was simply a lesser noble, often poor and politically insignificant. Martin Luther was given the pseudonym "Junker Jörg" while he lived in Wartburg Castle in 1521. A good number of poor Junkers took up careers as soldiers and mercenaries. Over the centuries, they rose from disreputable captains of mercenary cutthroats to influential commanders and landowners in the 19th century, especially in the Kingdom of Prussia.

Modern influences

Being the bulwark of Hohenzollern Prussia, the Junkers controlled the Prussian Army, leading in political influence and social status, and owning immense estates, especially in the north-eastern half of Germany (Brandenburg, Mecklenburg, Pomerania, East Prussia, Saxony, Silesia). Their political influence extended from the German Empire of 1871-1918 through the Weimar Republic of 1919–1933. It was said that Prussia ruled Germany, the Junkers ruled Prussia, and through it the Empire itself.

They dominated all the higher civil offices and officer corps of the army and navy. Supporting monarchism and military traditions, they were often reactionary and protectionist; they were often anti-liberal, siding with the conservative monarchist forces during the Revolution of 1848. Their political interests were served by the German Conservative Party in the Reichstag and the extraparliamentary Agrarian League. This political class held tremendous power over the industrial classes and the government. When Chancellor Caprivi reduced the protective duties on imports of grain, these landed magnates demanded and obtained his dismissal; and in 1902, they brought about a restoration of such duties on foodstuffs as would keep the prices of their own products at a high level.

The German statesman Otto von Bismarck was a noted Junker, as were President Paul von Hindenburg and Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt.

The Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, staged by Adolf Hitler and General Erich Ludendorff was foiled by commander Otto von Lossow of the local Reichswehr, and the Bavarian Prime Minister Gustav von Kahr. Kahr was later murdered in the Reichsmordwoche (the Blood Purge) of June 30, 1934. This series of events, as well as a few others, led Hitler to dislike Junkers in general. However, Hitler mostly ignored the Junkers as a whole during his time in power, taking no action against them and no action in their favour.

As World War II turned against Nazi Germany and Nazi atrocities were revealed, several Junkers in influential positions participated in Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg's assassination attempt of 20 July 1944. Fifty-eight were executed when the plot failed. During the war and subsequent expulsion of Germans from eastern Europe, the majority of the Junkers were also killed. Only about 15% made it to the Western zone of occupation.


After World War II, during the Bodenreform (land reform) in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), all private property exceeding a certain area (i.e. all the land that belonged to the Junkers) was seized and given to collectives of farmers (Landwirtschaftliche Produktionsgenossenschaft) or taken by the state under the slogan "Junkernland in Bauernhand!" ("Junker land into farmers hand").

After German reunification, some Junkers have tried to regain their former estates, while many old noble families have returned to their original lands by buying land from the state. However, the treaties that West Germany (FGR) and the GDR had signed with the United States, the United Kingdom, France and the Soviet Union in the 1950s contained the rule that any decision made by any of the four occupation forces during the time of occupation (1945–1955) must be kept up, lest the independent Germans label it as wrong ex post facto.

German agrarian development has been regional rather than national; that is to say, the ownership and use of land took a different trend in each of three main sections of the country. The southwest (including Bavaria, Baden, Württemberg, Hesse and Rhenish Prussia) became like France, a land of small holdings, and up to World War II it was the only part of the German Empire in which it was possible to discover peasant political influence of any importance. The northwest (including Westphalia, Lower Saxony, and parts of Hanover and Holstein) developed a system of medium-to-large holdings, yet with many peasant proprietorships. From the Elbe River eastward (the so-called East Elbia), however, practically all of the land was long ago gathered into great estates, and most of the people were landless, wage-earning agricultural laborers; the latter were the lands of the Junkers.

See also



  • Ogg, Frederick Austin Ogg, The Governments of Europe, MacMillan Company, 1922. pg 681.
  • MacDonogh, Giles, After the Reich, Basic Books, (2007) ISBN 0-465-00337-0.


  • On German agrarian history in the 19th century see Economic Development of Modern Europe, Frederic Austin Ogg, Chap. IX (bibliography, pp. 210-211).
  • Ordinary Prussians - Brandenburg Junkers and Villagers, 1500-1840, by William W. Hagen (Cambridge University Press) Hardback ISBN-13: 9780521815581 | ISBN-10: 0521815584, Also available in Paperback, Published January 2003
  • National Character and the Junkers, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (Routledge classics in sociology)

Paperback: 490 pages, Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (7 Mar 1991), Language English ,ISBN-10: 0415060567,ISBN-13: 978-0415060561.

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