Margrave (marchio) is the English and French form (recorded since 1551) of the German title Markgraf (from Mark "march" and Graf "count) and certain equivalent nobiliary ("princely") titles in other languages. The wife of a margrave is called a margravine or in German Markgräfin.


A Markgraf, or margrave, originally functioned as the military governor of a Carolingian mark, a medieval border province. A margrave had jurisdiction over a march (Mark), which also become known, after his title, as a margraviate or margravate, strictly speaking the correct word for his office. As outlying areas tended to have great importance to the central realms of kings and princes, and they often became larger than those nearer the interior, margraves often acquired considerably greater power than other counts of a realm. Being on the border, a Margrave by definition had to maintain armed forces and fortifications which would enable him to withstand an invasion - and these made his position stronger and more independent towards his own sovereign. Moreover, if successful in war, a Margrave might conquer considerable territory which he would tend to keep to himself, acquiring more power and wealth - and in some cases (see below) eventually building himself up as an independent King.

Most marks, and consequently their margraves, had their base on the Eastern border of the Carolingian and later Holy Roman Empire. The Breton Mark on the Atlantic and the border of peninsular Britanny, and the Spanish Mark on the Muslim frontier, including what is now Catalonia, are notable exceptions. The Spanish Mark was to have a considerable importance in the early stages of the Reconquista, with ambitious margraves originally based in the Pyrenees taking advantage of Muslim Al-Andalus' disarray in the 11th century to extend their territory southwards, eventually leading to the creation of Christian Kingdoms that would become Spain.

In the modern Holy Roman Empire, two original marches developed into the two most powerful states in Central Europe: the Mark Brandenburg (the nucleus of the later Kingdom of Prussia) and Austria (which became heir to various, mainly 'Hungarian' and 'Burgundian' principalities). Austria was originally called Marchia Orientalis in Latin, the "eastern borderland", as (originally roughly the present Lower -) Austria formed the eastern outpost of the Holy Roman Empire, on the border with the Magyars and the Slavs. During the 19th and 20th centuries the term was sometimes translated as Ostmark by some Germanophones, but medieval documents attest only the vernacular name Ostarrîchi. Another Mark in the south-east, Styria, still appears as Steiermark in German today.

In the late Middle Ages, as marches lost their military importance, margraviates developed into hereditary monarchies, comparable in all but name to duchies. A unique case was the Golden Bull of 1356 (issued by Charles IV, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia), recognizing the Margrave of Brandenburg as an elector of the Holy Roman Empire, membership of the highest college within the Imperial diet carrying the politically significant privilege of being the sole electors of the non-hereditary Emperor, which was previously de facto restricted to dukes and three prince-archbishops (Cologne, Mainz and Trier); other non-ducal lay members would be the King of Bohemia and the Palatine of the Rhenish Electoral Palatinate. The King of Bohemia himself ruled over the Margravate of Moravia or appointed a Margrave to that post. As the title of margrave lost its military connotation, it became more and more used as a mere 'peerage' rank, higher than Graf (count) and its associated compound titles such as Landgraf, Gefürsteter Graf and Reichsgraf, but lower than Herzog (duke). At the end of the monarchies in Germany, Italy and Austria, not a single margraviate remained, since they all had been raised to higher titles.

The etymological heir of the margrave, also introduced in countries that never had any margraviates, the marquess (see that article; their languages may use one or two words, e.g. French margrave and marquis), still ranks in the British peerage between duke and earl (equivalent to a continental count).

Margravial titles in various European languages

Languages with a specific title for the margrave (distinct from the later marquess, for which all have a word, if different given in parentheses) include (but often no actual marches existed there, so it only refers to foreign cases) :


  • Several states have had quite analogous institutions, sometimes also rendered in English as margrave. For example, on England's Celtic (Welsh and Scottish) borders, Marcher Lords were vassals of the King of England in order to help him defend and expand his realm. Such a lord's demesne was called a march. Compare the English county palatine. The Marcher Lords were a conspicuous exception to the general structure of English feudalism as set up by William the Conqueror, who made a considerable effort to avoid having too-powerful vassals with a big continuous territory and a strong local power base; the needs of fighting the Welsh and Scots made it necessary to have exactly this kind of vassals at the Marches, who did develop their own territorial ambitions (for example those of Chester).
  • The late-medieval commanders, fiefholders, of Viipuri/Viborg Castle in Finland (see Fief of Viborg), the bulwark of the then Swedish realm, at the border against Novgorod/Russia, did in practice function as margraves having feudal privileges and keeping all the crown's incomes from the fief to use for the defence of the realm's eastern border. Its fiefholders were (almost always) descended from, or married to, the noble family of Bååt from Småland in Sweden.
  • Marggrabowa is an example of a town whose name comes from a margrave. Located in the Masurian region of East Prussia, Marggrabowa was founded in 1560 by Duke Albert of Prussia, Margrave of Brandenburg. It has since been renamed to the Polish Olecko.
  • The German word "Mark" also has other meanings than the margrave's territorial border area, often with a territorial component, which occur far more numerously then margraviates; so its occurrence in composite place names does not imply whether it was part of a 'margraviate' as such, although 'margrave', or Markgraf, translates as the "count of the marc(s)hes", originally ruling an area on the border or outlying area of a larger feudal state. Uses of "Mark" in German names are commonly more local, as in the context of a Markgenossenschaft, which means a partially self-governing association of agricultural users of an area; the German name-component Mark can also be a truncated form of Markt 'market', as in the small town of Marksuhl in the Eisenach area of Thuringia, meaning 'market town on the river Suhl'. The non-margravial origin even applies to the County of Mark and the country of Denmark (meaning 'marc(s)h of the Danes', in the sense of border area, yet never under a Margrave but the Danish national kingdom, outside the Holy Roman Empire).
  • The word Mark does mean border as in a "line of de-marcation". Mos(s)troopers did fight upon the border.
  • Meuse, Maas, Mose... They were all names for the border river between the Holy Roman Empire and Germania. Musgrov(f)e, Musgrav(f)e, Mosgrov(f)e, mosgrav(f)e

See also


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