, a German
word, is a title of nobility
of lower peerage
rank in the former Holy Roman Empire
(in German Heiliges Römisches Reich
), or in its various German successor states, like Prussia, Bavaria, Württemberg, Hessen and others. In Austria-Hungary
and elsewhere, such as in the Baltic
and Nordic countries
, Freiherr was considered about equal to the title Baron
. Its literal translation is Free Lord
. The original distinction to other foreign barons was that a Freiherr's landed property was allodial
instead of a fief
A German Freiherr is called "Baron" in English: the function was practically the same, although the title was derived separately in the English and German languages. Even when addressed in German, a Freiherr is sometimes styled and addressed "Baron", although this is not the formal German title. In Germany there also existed the foreign rank of "Baron" , mostly used for Baltic barons, named by the Tsar of Russia
, but recognized in Germany.
The title Freiherr derives from the fact that the holder held free (allodial) title to his land, unlike ordinary barons, who were originally knights (Ritter), unlike peasants and serfs, and unlike medieval German ministerials as local lords. A Freiherr usually held hereditary administrative and judgeship rights (some jurisdictions) in his barony instead of the territorial lord, who might be the duke (Herzog) or count (Graf).
All sons of a Freiherr are Freiherren and can be referred to as Baron. The wife of a Freiherr is called Freifrau (literally "Free Lady"), and a daughter of a Freiherr is called Freiin (short for Freiherrin). It is considered correct in some circles to address a Freifrau or Freiin as "Baroness" (in German "Baronin"). Female former titles have been legally accepted as part of the last name after 1919 by a still valid decision of the German former High Court, the Reichsgericht.
After the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire (1806), Reichsfreiherr (Freiherr of the Empire) had no particular title or rank other than Freiherr. The titles of the empire should have come to an end, but by the decision of the Congress of Vienna (1815), imperial titles continued officially. Before the dissolution of the empire (1806), all German Freiherren were Freiherren of the Holy Roman Empire, in short Reichsfreiherren. However nobody before 1806 used the word Reichsfreiherr for a Freiherr. After 1806 the new German kingdoms like Bavaria or Württemberg could name Freiherren. However these Freiherren were not Freiherren of the Holy Roman Empire, a.k.a. the "Reich". They were e.g. Bavarian Freiherren. Therefore some of the older baronial families (e.g. Reichsfreiherr von und zu Guttenberg) began to style their title from Freiherr to Reichsfreiherr in order to distinguish themselves from the new generation of barons.
Noble authority was abolished in Germany in 1919 by the republican constitution of the Reich (Weimar Constitution and again in 1949 by the Bonn constitution Grundgesetz); the titles are now legally considered to be simply part of the family name (with the former title following the first name, e.g. Georg Freiherr von Platz), and they may or may not be used. They do, however, have prestige in some circles of society, in which it is considered to be correct to address a Freiherr as "Baron" (e.g. Wernher Freiherr von Braun: "Baron von Braun") and a Freifrau as "Baroness". A Freiin, a daughter of a Freiherr, is also addressed as "Baroness".
Noble authority was abolished in Austria in 1919, as well as its titles. If "Wernher Freiherr von Braun" had been Austrian, for example, he would have been called simply "Wernher Braun" on his Austrian passport. For reasons of tradition, however, former titles are still widely in use in Austria.
The cognate title friherre
in Scandinavian languages
is still used in Sweden
, "count", and above obetitlad adel
, "untitled nobility
", all seated in the Swedish Diet's Riddarhuset
'House of Knights') and was used to some extent in Denmark-Norway
The equivalent in Finland
(once under the Swedish crown) is vapaaherra
in the linguistically unrelated Finnish language
All heads of the Finnish noble
families were, since Middle Ages, entitled to a vote in any provincial Diet
of Finland when held, as in the Realm's Herrainpäivät
, later Aatelissääty
of the Riksdag of the Estates
. In the beginning, they were all without honorific titulary, and known just as Lords. In 1561, the Swedish king Eric XIV
granted the hereditary titles count and "vapaaherra" to some of these, but not all. The rest also preserved their hereditary seats and votes in the Aatelissääty
, and were still called lords. This organization was confirmed in 1625 constitutional arrangements.
In the subsequent centuries, vast numbers of families were elevated to counts, vapaaherra
s, and untitled nobles when Finland was an autonomous Grand Duchy. Those noble families which were noble from time immemorial, so-called ancient nobility when neo-organization came in 1625, were called Original Nobility
. Heads of lowest, untitled, noble families continued to enjoy rather similar "lord of parliament" position as their counterparts in e.g. the Holy Roman Empire's Reichstag
and Britain's House of Lords
. Their family members carried no formalized, hereditary title and were not entitled to vote or seat in the House. Whereas family members of "vapaaherra" families were entitled to that same title, which in practical address became Paroni
All these nobles held their landed properties in allodial (free-standing) manner, rälssi (exemption of land taxes) being the origin of the entire Finnish nobility as a class. Theoretically, all created vapaaherra families were given a barony, but these were realities only in the 16th and 17th centuries (when vapaaherra lords were fiefed with real baronies, with some taxation rights and some judicial authority). Afterwards the "barony" was titular, usually in chief of some already-owned property, and sometimes that property was established as a fideicommiss. Thus, in Finland, vapaaherra was more like holder of a fief, whereas untitled lords, counts and barons, all were owners of allodial land (rälssimaa). Their tax-exemption of landed properties continued to 20th century, being, however, someways lessened already by some reforms of the 19th century. Nobility creations continued until 1917, the end of the grand ducal monarchy.
Quite like in Finland, with whom the position of Swedish nobility
shares most of its origins, each head of a noble house were, since Middle Ages, entitled to a vote in any provincial diet when held, as in the Realm's Herredag
, later Riddarhuset
of the Riksdag of the Estates
. In the beginning, they were all without honorific titulary, and known just as Lords. In 1561, King Eric XIV granted some of them the titles count and "friherre", but not everyone. The rest preserved their hereditary seats and votes in the First Estate, and were still called lords. This organization was confirmed in 1625 constitutional arrangements.
Vast numbers of families were elevated to counts, to friherres, and to untitled nobles until the beginning of the 20th century. Those noble families which were noble from time immemorial, so-called ancient nobility when neo-organization came in 1625, were called Uradlig
, original nobility. Heads of lower noble families continued to enjoy rather similar "lord of parliament" position as their counterparts in, for instance, Germany and Britain, holding thus each the "peerage" of their family. Their family members carried no title and were not entitled to vote or sit in the House. Whereas family members of "friherre" families were entitled to that same title, which in practical address was Baron, -essa. All these nobles held their landed properties in allodial
manner, that frälse
, exemption of land taxes, being the origin of the entire Swedish nobility as a class. Theoretically, all created friherre families were given a barony, but these were realities only in 16th and 17th centuries (when friherre lords were fiefed with real baronies, with some taxation rights and some judicial authority), and afterwards the "barony" was just a name usually based on some already owned property. Thus, in Sweden, friherre was more like holder of a fief, whereas untitled lord was owner of allodial land, as were friherre families too.
Sources and external links