Nobility Titles and Ranks in Medieval Europe

Nobility:origin of  medieval nobility, nobility titles and ranks in Europe. Medieval French nobility, British nobility, German nobility.

Medieval nobility origin: knights or a mounted warriors who swore allegiance to their sovereign and promised to fight for him in exchange for an allocation of land (usually together with serfs).

Nobility - rank coronets - nobility crowns - Medieval nobility
Nobility - rank coronets - nobility crowns

Nobility titles

The European nobility, the highest ranking citizens of a country besides the royal family, consisted of anyone who had been summoned to Parliament. Usually they were the owners of a vasselage, land given to them for their allegiance and services to the ruling monarch. Although titles were given different names in different countries, the system of ranking the nobility is pretty much the same throughout Europe.

Nobility hierarchy – list of nobility titles and female equivalents.

British nobility titles

Emperor / Empress
An emperor (from the Latin “imperator”) is a monarch, usually the sovereign ruler of an empire or another type of imperial realm. In medieval times title was used in Holy Roman Empire. Currently, the Emperor of Japan is the only monarch who has the title of Emperor.

King / queen
A king is the second highest sovereign title, only looking up to an emperor. King is head of state called a kingdom or a realm.

Prince / princess
Prince, from French “Prince” (itself from the Latin root princeps), is a general term for a monarch, for a member of a monarchs’ or former monarch’s family, and is a hereditary title in some members of Europe’s highest nobility.

Duke / Duchess
Duke’s lands are called a duchy. Dukes are the closest and highest ranking peers of the king. Dukes were usually relatives of a sovereign family.

Marquess / Marchioness

Marquess was the ruler of a frontier area called a mark or march. Marquess was responsible for defence of border lands, he had more men at arms than other nobles.

Earl (Count) / Countess
Earl was often an honorary title given by a monarch for services rendered, it could also be given as a title with no feudal estate. Those counts who were granted land, were usually given a small area called a county or countship, although some counties rivaled some duchies for size. Count wasn’t a hereditary title however those counts with extensive estates were occasionally able to pass down their lands to their sons

Viscount / viscountess
viscount was the deputy of a count or a vice-count, however it later was considered a courtesy title reserved for the heir of a marquess or count. Early viscounts were the equivalent of sherrifs and were therefore appointed by the monarch, however, the title eventually became hereditary. Each viscount was responsible for an area that was either known as a viscounty, a viscountship or a viscountcy which was essentially their jurisdiction.

Baron / baroness
A baron was often a vassal who held a barony that was granted to him directly from the monarch, usually for their loyalty to the king. Originally anyone who was given land from the king for military service, from counts or earls all the way down were considered barons. A barony was created either by letters patent or by a writ of summons that invited someone to Parliament.

Baronet / baronetess
A title usually given to a commoner, a baronetcy is unique in that it is a hereditary honor but unlike other titles within the nobility a baronet is not entitled to a seat in Parliament. It is also not considered an order of knighthood but ranks above all knightly orders except the Order of the Garter and the Order of the Thistle. The title of baronet was created by James I of England as a means of raising funds. The female title of baronetess is a rare one as there have only ever been four.


Originally squire – an assistant of knight (shield bearer), eldest son of knight or sons of peers.

A man with an income derived from property, a legacy or some other source, and was thus independently wealthy and did not need to work. Someone who could not claim nobility or even the rank of esquire.

French nobility titles

Empereur / Impératrice
Roi / Reine
Prince / Princesse
Duc / Duchesse
Marquis / Marquise
Comte / Comtesse
Vicomte / Vicomtesse
Baron / Baronne
Chevalier (knight)

German nobility titles

Kaiser / Kaiserin
König / Königin
Prinz / Prinzessin
Herzog / Herzogin (duke / duchess)
Markgraf / Markgräfin
Graf / Gräfin (count / countess)
Vizegraf / Vizegräfin
Baron / Baronin
Edler / Edle
Ritter (knight)

Local, country specific nobility ranks and titles

Germany (Holy Roman Empire)

Kurfürst / Kurfürstin (Prince elector) – electors of Emperor in Holy Roman Empire.

7 original electors: Czech king (King of Bohemia), Duke of Saxony, Count Palatine of the Rhine, Margrave of Brandenburg, Archbishop of Mainz, Archbishop of Trier, Archbishop of Cologne. More elecotrs were added later like Duke of Bavaria in 1623.

Erzherzog / Erzherzogin – Archduke / archduchess – title restricted to Holy Roman Empire. It has only ever been continuously borne by princes of the House of Habsburg and later through the female line into the House of Habsburg-Lorraine.

Großherzog / Großherzogin – Grand Duke / Grand Duchess


Erzherzog / Erzherzogin – Archduke / archduchess – The first seventy-three people in the line of succession to the throne of the Imperial and Royal Family of Austria-Hungary are all Imperial and Royal (HI&RH) Archdukes.


Emperor – Tsar
King – Korol
Prince + Duke – Kniaz
Marquess – Boyar
Other Russian titles were similar to other European titles.

Nobility ranks (England)

In England, the order, in decreasing rank, is:

The Monarch, followed by other members of the Royal Family
The Archbishop of Canterbury
The Lord Chancellor
The Archbishop of York
The Prime Minister
The Lord President of the Privy Council
The Speaker of the House of Commons
The Lord Speaker of the House of Lords
The Lord Privy Seal
The Nobility in the following order:
Bishops of the Church of England
Knights of the Order of the Garter
Knight (or Dame) Grand Cross
Knight (or Dame) Commander of the British Empire.

Medieval Swords


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