Karl Max, Fürst von Lichnowsky


(plural Fürsten) is a German title of nobility, usually translated into English as Prince.

The term refers to the head of a principality and is distinguished from the son of a monarch, which is referred to as Prinz. English uses the term Prince for both concepts.

Use of the title in German

The title Fürst (female form Fürstin, plural mask. Fürsten, plural fem. Fürstinnen) is used for the heads of princely houses of German origin. Unless he also holds a higher title, such as 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]". A notable exception is the Liechtenstein family, which uses the title "...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 lord, or the age of the princely dynasty (note the terms Uradel, Briefadel, altfürstliche, neufürstliche; and see German nobility).

The present-day rulers of the 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" (translated in German as König).

Other uses in German

Fürst is used more generally in German to refer to any ruler, such as a King, a Duke, or a Fürst in the narrow sense. Before the 12th century, counts were also included in this group, in accordance with its usage in the Germany, and in some contexts, the term Fürst can extend to any lord.

The child of a Fürst in the general sense is referred to as Prinz (female Prinzessin). In some families some or all members are styled Fürst/Fürstin (Wrede) or Herzog/Herzogin (Anhalt, Bavaria, Mecklenburg, Oldenburg, Saxony, and Württemberg)

Fürst is also a German, Hungarian and/or Jewish (Ashkenazi) surname.

Etymology of the term

The German word derives from the Latin word princeps, which linguistically translates into English as the first, hence the old Germanic roots of the word.

Derived titles

Several titles were derived from the term Fürst:

  • Reichsfürst (Prince of the Empire) is a ruling Prince whose territory is part of the Holy Roman Empire. He was entitled to a vote, either by having a voting seat or being part of a voting unit, in the Reichstag. A Reichsfürst could be, in order of descending rank, the King, a Grand Duke, a Duke, a Margrave, a Count, a Landgrave, a Count of the Empire, a nominal Prince (Fürst), a Burgrave, a Freiherr, a nominal 'Lord' (German: Herr''), an Imperial Knight, or a Prince of the Church.
  • Kirchenfürst (Prince of the Church) is an ecclesiastic who holds a secular territory and princely rank, such as Prince-abbots, Grand Masters of a military order, or Prince-Bishops.
  • Landesfürst (Prince of the Land) is a princely Head of state of a Land, i.e. not just a titular prince. A Land is a country (political geographical entity) with (feudal) statehood, whether sovereign or not; in a personal union, the Monarch has this capacity in each of the states, under a different title, and indeed often in chief of a different constitutional tradition, whether coordinated over time or not; thus the Habsburg Emperor of Austria had a different style as such in each Kronland ('crown land', i.e. feudal state, normally under one provincial government), the sum of which is then to be part of the full imperial style
  • Kurfürst (Prince-Elector) is a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire with a casting vote in the election of a Holy Roman Emperor. This made them next in rank only to the Emperor, regardless of the titles attached to their own principalities. Kur, earlier spelled Chur, is derived from kur/küren, "to choose".
  • Großfürst (Grand Prince) is the sovereign of a grand principality with a rank higher than other sovereign princes.
  • Fürstprimas (Prince-Primate) is rarely used title for an archbishop presiding in an assembly of mainly secular princes.

Origins and cognates of the title

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 (ironically, 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, where a ruler is usually called Vorst, but a prince of the blood is always styled Prins; and Icelandic where Fursti is a ruler, and a blood prince is Prins), 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.

Sources and references

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