Norwegian nobility

Norwegian nobility

Norwegian nobility are persons and families who in early times belonged to the supreme social, political, and military class and who later were members of the institutionalised nobility in the Kingdom of Norway. It has its historical roots in the group of chieftains and warriors which evolved before Norway was unified as a single kingdom. However, ennoblement in modern times of farmers and citizens as well as of foreign noblemen has supplied the nobility with members who did not originate from the ancient warrior class.

The ‘old nobility’, which in the 13th century was institutionalised during the formation of the Norwegian state, became a great political factor in the kingdom. Their land and their armed forces, and also their legal power as members of the Council of the Kingdom, made the Norwegian nobility remarkably independent from the king. When it was at its height, the council had the power to choose or to recognise pretenders to the throne. It even sometimes chose its own council leaders, for example Sigurd Jonsson (Stjerne) to Sudreim, as regents. This aristocratic power lasted until the Reformation in 1536, when the king abolished the council. This removed nearly all of the nobility's political foundation, and when the absolute monarchy was introduced in 1660, the old nobility was basically disappeared from governing institutions.

After 1537, the old nobility was gradually replaced by the ‘new nobility’. It consisted on the one hand of medieval Danish noble families moving to and settling in Norway, thus being new in the kingdom, and on the other hand of persons who had recently been ennobled. Dominant elements in the new nobility were the office nobility (Norwegian: embetsadel), that is, persons who because they held high civilian or military offices received noble status for themselves, their wives and children, and in some cases also for patrilineal descendants, and the letter nobility (Norwegian: brevadel), especially prominent in the 18th century, that is, people who for military or artistic achievements or for monetary donations received letters patent.

The Constitution of Norway of 1814, which had been established in the spirit of the principles of the French Revolution and greatly inspired by the Constitution of the United States, forbade the creation of new nobility, including countships, baronies, family estates and fee tails. The 1821 Nobility Law initiated a long-range abolition of all noble titles and privileges, a process in which the current bearers were allowed to keep their noble status and possible titles as well as some privileges for the rest of their lifetimes. Many Norwegians who had noble status in Norway also had it in Denmark, and thus remained officially noble. Even today, many patrilineal descendants of these families are included in the Yearbook of the Danish Nobility, which though is a private publication.

Even though officially granted privileges and officially recognised titles were abolished, many families maintained an aristocratic profile, for example by marriage with other persons of the nobility, and still bear their inherited name and coat of arms. After 1821 and until the Second World War, members of these families continued to play a significant rôle in the political and social life of the country. Today, this social class is a marginal factor in the community, culturally and socially as well as politically. A handful of families, like Løvenskiold, Treschow, and Wedel-Jarlsberg, still possess considerable wealth.


Ancient aristocracy

The old nobility originated from the warrior class of the Viking Age.
Skeletal remains of a woman who likely was a member of the ancient aristocracy. She was buried in the Oseberg Ship.

Aristocracy before and after the unification of Norway

The land that in the 1000s became the Kingdom of Norway was a typically Germanic tribal society. From leaders of tribal entities, as well as from soldiers and landholders supplying them, emerged a weapon-based political and military class. Though similar structures existed in the small kingdoms which later became united to form the single Norwegian kingdom, it was after the unification that the first national class of aristocrats appeared.

The national kings built their power on cooperation with the aristocracy in each of the former petty kingdoms. In return for recognition of and military support to the king, the aristocrats received vassalage titles like earl (Norwegian: jarl), given to former petty kings and chieftains, and lendmann, given to ordinary aristocrats. However, a strong clan mentality made these aristocrats' loyality to the king weaker than desired and thus represented a threat. That is why the king established a new title, årmann, which was given to persons of lower origin. These persons, who reported directly to the king, were considered having stronger loyalty as they did not have the same family alligation to the aristocratic clans. An årmann would act as an regional observer and send reports to the king. This dual set of aristocrats was intended to secure the new monarchial system.

In the upper classes of this aristocracy were, for example, the Bjarkøy Dynasty, which had been a chieftain dynasty in Northern Norway and continued to hold a prominent position for three hundred years after the final unification of Norway around 1050, and the Giske Dynasty.

Civil war era

The Lendman Party (Norwegian: Lendmannsflokken or Lendmannspartiet), which appeared after the 1150s, and its successor, the Baglers, formed in 1196, were movements consisting of the church and some mighty feudal lords, among others Earl Erling Skakke, who wished to introduce a one-king monarchy on the Continental European model. The Civil war era in Norway (1130–1240), in which various groups fought for their candidate to become king, ultimately led to the victory over the Baglers of the Birchlegs and the House of Sverre, which thereby took over the throne from the previous royal house.

Beginning with the ascent to the throne of King Sverre in 1184, he and his descendants ousted their enemies who belonged to groups like the Baglers (1196–1217) and the Ribbungs (1219–1227), thus eliminating and replacing considerable parts of the ancient aristocracy. However, some former enemies swore loyalty to king Sverre and therefore continued into the class which later became the old nobility.

Old nobility


The group of persons and families who constituted the old nobility may be traced back to the time of the formation of the Norwegian state in the 13th century. Not later than King Magnus VI's reign, the secular aristocracy or nobility can be said to be identical with the members of the king's hird (king's men or bodyguard).[1] Some of these families had origin in the ancient aristocracy. Others were recruited based on their ability to provide services to the king.

The hird was divided into three classes, of which the first had three ranks. The first class was hirdmann, with lendmann as the 1st rank, skutilsvein as the 2nd, rank and ordinary hirdmann as the 3rd rank. Below that came the classes gjest and kjertesvein.[1][2][3][4]

The lendmen, having the first rank in the group of hirdmen, had the right to hold 40 armed housecarls, to advise the king, and to receive an annual payment from the king. They normally also held the highest official positions in the state. The foundation for their rights was the military duty which their title imposed.

The kjertesveins were young men of good family who served as pages at the court, while the gjests constituted a guard and police corps. In addition, there was a fourth group known as housecarls, but it remains uncertain whether in the old nobility they were considered a part of the hird or as serving the hird.

During the second half of the 13th century, the pan-European court culture began to gain influence in Norway. In 1277, the king introduced continental titles in the hird: the lendmen were now called barons and the skutilsveins were called ridder.[1] Both were then styled Herr (English: Lord). In 1308, King Håkon V abolished the lendman/baron institution, and it was probably also during his reign that the aristocracy seems to have been restructured into two classes: ridder (English: knight) and væpner (English: squire).[1]

The hirdman institution, that is, the system of local men representing the king, was stronger and lasted longer in the Norwegian tributary lands Shetland, Orkney, the Faeroe Islands, and Iceland, and also in Jemtland, originally an independent farmer republic which Norwegian kings used much time and efforts to gain control over.[5]

Black Death

The Black Death, which came to Norway around 1349, had serious consequences for the nobility. In addition to loss of their own members, the death of approximately two thirds of the Norwegian people killed by the plague led to reduced income from taxes and other sources and reduced available manpower.

Time of greatness

Austrått Fortress was the seat of two of Norway's mightiest noble families, Gyldenløve and Rømer.
The Rosenkrantz Tower in Bergen is named after Erik Ottesen Rosenkrantz, whose family belonged to the original nobility.
Until the absolute monarchy was introduced in 1660, the nobility paid homage to new kings at Akershus Fortress.

In the 14th century, the members of the abolished hird continued in various directions. The lower parts of the hird lost importance and disappeared. The upper parts, especially the lendmen, became the nucleus of the aristocracy of the High Middle Ages: the Knighthood. They were close to the king and as such received seats in the Council of the Kingdom as well as fiefs, and some even had family connections to the royal house. There was significant social distance between the Knighthood and ordinary aristocrats. Most of the latter sank in the 15th and the 16th centuries to the level of yeoman farmer, in their respective districts taking leading rôles as lensmann (a man holding the upper police authority), merchants, and traders. Unlike common farmers, this farming nobility often owned their ancestral farm and land.

The Council of the Kingdom (Norwegian: Riksrådet) was the kingdom's governing institution, consisting of members of the upper secular and clerical aristocracy, including the Archbishop. Originally, in the 13th century, having had an advisory function as a king's council, the council became in the 15th century remarkably independent from the king. At its height, it had the power to choose or to recognise pretenders to the throne. It even sometimes chose its own leaders as regents (Norwegian: drottsete or riksforstander), among others Sigurd Jonsson (Stjerne) to Sudreim and Jon Svaleson (Smør). This aristocratic power lasted until the Reformation in 1536, when the king illegally abolished the council.[6]

In Norway as well as in Denmark and Sweden, it was in this period that the idea and the principle of riksråd constitutionalism arose, that is, that the council was considered as the real foundation of sovereignty. Although the kings were the formal heads of state, the council was very powerful. Their power and active rulership, especially as regents, have caused historians characterise this state as de facto a republic of the nobility (Norwegian: adelsrepublikk).[6][7][7]

From fiefs to royal administration

The old nobility was mainly a fief-based aristocracy, holding power and jurisdiction within their area, beside in the Council of the Kingdom. This was also the power base which made them independent.

After the Reformation, two primary factors contributed to reduce the importance of fiefs in favour of a new and centralised apparatus of royal administration.

Military-technical development made the nobility's military function outdated. Also, paid soldiers became more important in battles, and King Christian II's instituted a national army of soldiers recruited directly from the farmer estate and controlled by the king.

In place of the old national organisation based on fiefs governed by the nobility, the country was to be controlled through a centralised administrative apparatus in Copenhagen. A direct connection was established between the central apparatus and the local administration, and the men who were appointed to such positions in Norway were mainly Danish noblemen and citizens. For strategic reasons, the Norwegian nobility was deliberately under-represented when new high officials were appointed. However, another reason for the dominance of non-Norwegian officials was that under the Dano-Norwegian king the educational sector was much more highly developed in the duchies of Sleswick and Holsatia than in Norway. Only nobles who sent their children to foreign universities, among others the family Benkestok, could hope to keep or obtain high offices.


The old nobility was extensively reduced during the last part of the Late Middle Ages. Among the reasons for this are the following:

  • Noble families did not produce sufficient male descendants, and therefore many became extinct.
  • Noblemen were as warriors etc. exposed to greater risks than the population in general, and therefore many died young without issue.
  • Unequal marriages, of which there came to be many in the lower nobility, led to the loss of noble status.
  • Noble status was not automatically inherited. If a nobleman could no longer provide expected services to the king, he or his descendants could lose their position.

It is often claimed that the old nobility ‘died out’ in the Late Middle Ages. This is mostly but not entirely correct. The term ‘extinction’ includes not only families dying out, but also disappearance from the written sources of formerly noble families which had lost their political power and importance. This has obscured the link between the such families before and in the 16th century and their farmer descendants who appear in sources beginning in the late 17th century. In other words, many noble families have in actuality survived without knowing it or being able to prove it.

This demographic development, together with family connections and inheritance of wealth and land, made the remaining nobility notably richer and more exclusive. At the same time, it became politically more vulnerable due to its marginal size. For example after the Reformation, the number of nobles was reduced from approximately 800 to approximately 400, i.e. under 0.2 percent of the population and approximately 1/7 of the size of the Danish nobility.[1] After 1536, only 15 percent of Norwegian land was in noble possession, and much of this belonged to Dano-Norwegian noble families, many of whom moved to or already lived in Denmark.[1]

Following the abolition of the Norwegian Council of the Kingdom in 1536, the nobility lost most of its political foundation. The Danish Council of the Kingdom took over the governing of Norway. However, the nobility continued to take part in the country's political life, especially in paying homage to new kings. When the absolute monarchy was introduced in 1660, the nobility no longer had formal legislative or executive power in the kingdom.[6]

New nobility

The legendary naval hero Kurt Sørensen was ennobled under the name Adeler. Many persons were ennobled for significant military or artistic achievements.


The part of Norwegian nobility that in Norway is called the ‘new nobility’ consisted of the old nobility of Denmark (the few families which had survived the Middle Ages), recently ennobled persons, and persons whose (claimed) noble status was recognised or, for foreigners, naturalised by the king. They came to Norway in order to administer the country and to fill civilian and military offices. The strategy of sending Danish noblemen to Norway was also a part of the king's tactics for strengthening his power and control in the kingdom, but also the lack of Norwegian noblemen with qualified education—Norway did not have a university—was a reason for that the king had to send foreigners.

Office nobility

A considerable element in the new nobility was the office nobility (Norwegian: embetsadel, sometimes called rangadel; equal to the French noblesse de dignité). A person holding a high-ranking office within one of the three highest classes of rank automatically received ennoblement for himself, his wife, and his children, and in some cases also for his patrilineal descendants.[8] However, basically all such ennoblements were annulled when King Christian VI, tired of his father's generosity in this regard, acceded to the throne in 1730, and only those who received special recognition after making an application retained their noble status.[1][9] Royal decrees of 1746 and 1808 introduced a more restrictive policy, under which noble status dependent on an office was limited to the person concerned, his wife, and his children, and was thus not inheritable.[10]

Letter nobility

It became especially in the 18th century customary to ennoble persons by letter patent for significant military or artistic achievements, and there were also persons who were ennobled in this way after making monetary donations.


  • Kurt Sørensen was ennobled as a young man for bravery in battle, under the name Adeler.
  • Ludvig Holberg, a famous writer, was ennobled as a baron for his merits, and by bequeathing his fortune to the Sorø Academy.
  • Joachim Geelmuyden, the son of a priest and the grandson of a tradesman, held many titles and offices in the Norwegian-Danish state and was ennobled under the name Gyldenkrantz.


1814 Constitution and 1821 Nobility Law

The Constitution of the Kingdom of Norway of 1814, which had been established in the spirit of the principles of the French Revolution and greatly influenced by the Constitution of the United States of America, forbade the creation of new nobility, including countships, baronies, family estates, and fee tails.

The 1821 Nobility Law (Norwegian: Adelsloven) initiated a long-range abolition of all noble titles and privileges, while the current nobility were allowed to keep their noble status/titles and in some cases also privileges for the rest of their lives. Under the Nobility Law, nobles who wished to present a claim to nobility before the Norwegian parliament were required to provide documentation confirming their noble status. Representatives of eighteen noble families submitted their claims to the parliament:[11]

Family Name Birth Death Father Children
Born before and living on 1 August 1821
Rank Ref.
1 Frederich Christopher, Count of Trampe 1779 1832 Adam Frederich, Count of Trampe to Løgismose Adam Frederich Johan (1798–1876) Riksgreve
2 Johan Caspar Herman, Count of Wedel-Jarlsberg Frederich Anton, Count of Wedel-Jarlsberg Lensgreve
Juliane Marie, Countess of Wedel-Jarlsberg Frederich Anton, Count of Wedel-Jarlsberg Lenskomtesse
Caroline Sophie Amalie, Countess of Wedel-Jarlsberg Frederich Anton, Count of Wedel-Jarlsberg Lenskomtesse
Helene Margrethe, Countess of Wedel-Jarlsberg 1791 1857 Frederich Anton, Count of Wedel-Jarlsberg Lenskomtesse
Sophie Frederiche Antoinette, Countess of Wedel-Jarlsberg 1807 1892 Frederich Anton, Count of Wedel-Jarlsberg Lenskomtesse
3 Christian Hendrich, Baron of Hoff-Rosencrone 1768 1837 Hans Edvard von Hoff Edvardine Reinholdine (1820–1901) Lensbaron
4 Carl Ferdinand Maria, Baron of Wedel-Jarlsberg 1781 1857 Frederich Anton, Count of Wedel-Jarlsberg Lensbaron?
Christian Frederich, Baron of Wedel-Jarlsberg 1788 1854 Frederich Anton, Count of Wedel-Jarlsberg Lensbaron?
Frederich Wilhelm, Baron of Wedel-Jarlsberg 1787 1863 Frederich Christian Wedel-Jarlsberg Hildur (1814–1901)
Finn Frederich Wilhelm (1815–1901)
Hermann Thorvald (1817–1867)
Frederik Joachim (1819–1880)
Louise Sara Ulriche (1820–1838)
Wilhelm Frederich, Baron of Wedel-Jarlsberg 1786 1885 Frederich Anton, Count of Wedel-Jarlsberg Anton Frederich (1813–1858)
Christian August (1813–1870)
Catharina Kirsten (1815–1894)
Petrea (1821–1839)
5 Eggert Christopher, Baron Løvenskiold to Ulefos and Holden 1788 1861 Michael Herman, Baron Løvenskiold Herman Severin (1815–1870)
Frederiche Juliane Wilhelmine (1817–1835)
6 Carl Løvenskiold
Frederich Franz Michael Løvenskiold 1790 1869 Severin Løvenskiold, the older Henriette Benedicte Christiane Dorothea (1819–1888)
Niels Løvenskiold
Severin Løvenskiold, the younger 1777 1856 Severin Løvenskiold, the older Adam Christopher (1804–1886)
Otto Joachim (1811–1882)
7 August Niels Anker Niels Anker
Elen Margrethe Anker Niels Anker
Erich Theodor Christian Bernhard Anker 1785 1858 Carsten Tank Anker Carsten Christian (1817–1898)
Hedevig Betzy Sigismunda Annette (1819–1879)
Morten Anker 1780 1838 Jess Anker Jess (1808–1864)
Bernt Olaus (1809–1881)
Christian (1811–1885)
John Collett (1816–1866)
Niels Christopher Anker 1799 1862 Jan Anker [14]
Peder Bernhard Anker 1787 1849 Jess Anker [15]
Peder Martin Anker 1801 1863 Niels Anker All children born after 1821. [16]
Sophie Adelaide Rosalie Anker Niels Anker
8 Hagbarth de Falsen 1791 1836 Enevold de Falsen Enevold (1814–1839)
Henriette Christiane (1815–1884)
John Collett (1817–1879)
Christian Baltazar (1819–1854)
9 Peter Otto Rosenørn Grüner 1783 1847
10 Hans Hagerup Gyldenpalm 1774 Eiler Hagerup Gyldenpalm
11 Andreas Niels Hauch
12 Johannes Nicolay de Kløcker Karen Amalie Johanne (1820–1854)
13 Niels Joachim Knagenhjelm 1796 1852 Christen Knagenhielm Anne Sophie Dorothea (1821–1907)
14 Bredo Hendrich von Munthe af Morgenstierne 1774 1835 Otto Christopher von Munthe af Morgenstierne Ottilia Christine Pauline (1804–1886)
Christian Fredrik Jacob (1806–1886)
Sophie Elisabeth (1808–1892)
Wilhelmine Johanne Helene (1810–1858)
Augusta Julie Georgine (1812–1885)
Wilhelm Ludvig Herman (1814–1888)
15 Peter Tordenskiold
16 Knud Adolph Gyldenstierne Roepstorph 1746 1824 Carl Ludvig Roepstorph
17 Oluf Borch de Schouboe Frederiche (1801–1890)
Anna Petra (1802–1854)
Henriette (1805–1875)
Sophie (1807–1865)
Julie (1809–1878)
Wilhelm Christian (1811–1892)
Ulriche Antoinette (1813–1901)
Ulrich Frederich Anton de Schouboe Julie Elise (1813–1911)
Olufa Frederiche (1815–1892)

The 18th family, Bergh, withdrew their claim, and the claims of Captain Brømbsen and F. J. Cold were dismissed as unproven.

The last Norwegian count with official recognition was Peder Anker Wedel-Jarlsberg, who died in 1893. His younger brother Harald, Baron of Wedel-Jarlsberg, died in 1897. The cousins Ulriche Antoinette de Schouboe (1813–1901) and Julie Elise de Schouboe (1813–1911) died early in the 1900s as some of Norway's last nobles with official recognition.

Many of the Norwegians who had noble status in Norway had noble status also in Denmark and thus remained noble. This and the fact that many Norwegian nobles did not live in the country contributed to reduce resistance to the Nobility Law.

Norwegian nobility after 1821

In a delegation to the United States during the First World War were two aristocrats, Wilhelm von Munthe af Morgenstierne and Fridtjof Wedel-Jarlsberg Nansen.

Although the institution of nobility gradually was dissolved, members of noble families continued to play a significant rôle in the political and social life of the country, mainly until the Second World War. For example Stewards and Prime Ministers such as Count Herman Wedel-Jarlsberg (Steward, 1836–1840), Severin Løvenskiold (Steward, 1841–1856, Prime Minister, 1828–1841), Peder Anker (Prime Minister, 1814–1822), Frederik Due (Prime Minister, 1841–1858), Georg Sibbern (Prime Minister, 1858–1871) and Carl Otto Løvenskiold (Prime Minister, 1884) had aristocratic backgrounds.

Aristocrats were active also in the dissolution of the Swedish-Norwegian union in 1905. Most prominent were diplomat Baron Fritz Wedel Jarlsberg and the world-famous polar explorer Fridtjof Wedel-Jarlsberg Nansen. Nansen, who otherwise became Norway's first ambassador in London (1906–08), was for dissolving the union and, among other acts, travelled to the United Kingdom, where he successfully lobbied for support for Norway's independence movement. Also in the ensuing referendum concerning the formation of a republic versus continuation of monarchy in Norway, the popular hero Nansen's support of monarchy active participation in the pro-monarchy campaign is said to have had an important effect on popular opinion. After the dissolution of the union, the leading person in the creation of the new state's Ministry of Foreign Affairs was Thor von Ditten, a Norwegian of foreign nobility.

Norwegian nobility today

Today, the nobility is a marginal factor in the community, culturally and socially as well as in politics. Members of noble families are only individually prominent, like Anniken Huitfeldt.

Even though privileges were abolished and official recognition of titles was removed, some families still consider themselves noble and still bear their inherited name and coat of arms. This is a mostly private matter and has no effect or support in law.

General information

Old nobility

The nobility originally called themselves e.g. ‘free men’ likewise as commoners were called ‘unfree’. The knights were gathered in a particular class known as the Knighthood (Norwegian: ridderskap). The nobility did not adopt and use the term ‘nobility’ (Norwegian: adel) until the 16th century. However, the entity was the same before and after the introduction of this term.

New nobility

In 1671, two estates were created in addition to the nobility: the estate of barons (Norwegian: friherrestand) and the estate of counts (Norwegian: grevestand). A noble was per definition untitled, and barons and counts did not belong to the nobility per se, but to their respective classes.[17] However, it is customary to include all three estates in the general term ‘nobility’, and it is not incorrect to say that a baron or a count is ‘noble’ as an oppositional term to ‘commoner’ or ‘non-noble’.

Noble titles

Iceland was settled by members of the chieftain class of Norway; Ingólfr Arnarson is here depicted taking possession of the site of Reykjavík
Duke Skule Bårdsson, claimant to the throne of Norway in 1239. The drawing based on a historical relief.
A sculpture believed to be of Håkon Magnusson, Duke of Oslo, Oppland, Ryfylke, the Faroe Islands, and Shetland.

Titles of the ancient aristocracy

Title English Information
jarl earl A chieftain, especially as a ruler under a king.
herse A local chieftain.
sysselmann An administrator of a syssel. Introduced in the late 12th century; displaced 'lendmann' and 'årmann'.
lendmann A regional administrator under the King. He was usually a member of the aristocracy.
årmann A local administrator under the King. He was usually of lower origin.
huskarl housecarl Élite infantry.
hauld hold Farmer whose family had possessed a farm for six generations or more. The highest rank of free men.

Note: This list may not express accurate rank between the titles.

Titles of the old nobility (1st system)

Title Rank English Information
hertug duke Introduced in 1237. Not in use after 1299, when Duke Håkon Magnusson became king.
jarl earl The last jarl in mainland Norway was appointed in 1295 and died in 1309.
hirdmann 1st: lendmann 'Lendmann' was in 1277 replaced with 'baron', which was abolished in 1308.
2nd: skutilsvein 'Skutilsvein' was in 1277 replaced with 'ridder'.
3rd: hirdmann Later abolished.
gjest Later abolished.
kjertesvein Later abolished.

Titles of the old nobility (2nd system)

Title English Information
ridder knight A knight was styled Herr (Lord), and his wife Fru (Lady).
væpner squire

Titles of the new nobility

Title Title for wives Title for sons Title for daughters Fief Explanation of title
hertug hertuginne hertugdømme duke
markis markise mariksat marquess
riksgreve riksgrevinne greve or baron komtesse riksgrevskap count of the kingdom/national count
lensgreve lensgrevinne greve or baron komtesse lensgrevskap count with a fief
greve grevinne greve or baron komtesse grevskap count
baron of the kingdom/national baron
baron with a fief

The correct combination of names and title when using Norwegian, is first name + title + last name, e.g. Peder Anker grev Wedel-Jarlsberg.

The titles greve and friherre are abbreviated to respectively grev and friherr when used in names or addressing the person concerned, e.g. Peder Anker grev Wedel-Jarlsberg or friherr Holberg.[18]

E.g. a lensgreve uses the title greve, i.e. never Peder Anker lensgrev Wedel-Jarlsberg.

In some families having the title of count, among others Wedel-Jarlsberg, younger sons bear the title of baron, and not count. This is often specified in the respective family's letter patent.

The following title exists in the Norwegian language without necessarily having existed in the nobility:

  • vicomte (also: visegreve, borggreve, etc.)


The seat of the Counts of Wedel-Jarlsberg.
Barony Rosendal, seat of the Rosenkrantz family.

Norway has in modern times had two countships (Norwegian: grevskap) and one barony (Norwegian: friherreskap or baroni). In addition there were two marquisates, given to two Italians not living in Norway.[19][20]

Name Receiver Date of creation Date of abolition English Information
Grevskapet Larvik Ulrik Frederik Gyldenløve 1671 Countship of Larvik
Grevskapet Jarlsberg Peder Schumacher 1673 1893 Countship of Jarlsberg Originally Grevskapet Griffenfeldt.
Baroniet Rosendal Ludwig Holgersen Rosenkrantz 1678 Barony of Rosendal
Markisatet Lista Hugo Octavius Accoramboni 22 April 1709 Marquisate of Lista
Markisatet Mandal Franciscus di Ratta 24 November 1710 Marquisate of Mandal

Noble privileges


The noble privileges consisted of freedoms, rights, and prerogatives.

Around 1277, lendmen and skutilsveins received tax freedom for themselves and two members of their household, and ordinary members of the hird received the same, but for one member of their household.

In 1548, the nobility's attempts to weaken farmers' allodial land right (Norwegian: odelsrett) were rejected by the King and the Danish Council of the Kingdom.[1]

The noble privileges of 1582 decreed that a noblewoman who married a non-noble man should lose all her hereditary land to her nearest co-inheritor. The rule was designed with the intention of keeping noble land in noble hand, and thus strengthening the nobility's power base. Another clause of the same law states that a nobleman who married a non-noble woman should forfeit noble status for their children.[1]

The noble privileges of 1646 introduced the neck and hand right and the charge and fine right.[21]

Tax freedom

Noblemen enjoyed personal tax freedom, although this was later abolished. Tax freedom for their 'seat farms' remained.

Noblemen had other economic privileges, among others freedom from duty on imported and exported goods, such as beer and wine.

Seat farm

Seat farms (Norwegian: setegård, setegard) were until 1660 an exclusive privilege of the nobility. A seat farm was a nobleman's home or main farm; the place where he had his 'seat', a form of feudal demesne. Seat farms had, especially, freedom from tax and tithes.[22]

While previously any farm on which a nobleman decided to reside would thereby acquire the status of seat farm, the right to become a seat farm was remarkably limited in 1639, when the law was changed to require a farm to have been a seat farm for a minimum of 40 years in order for it to be officially recognised. After 1800, the tax freedom was modified, and under the 1821 Law of Nobility, the tax freedom was ended at the then owner's death.

  • Approximate number of seat farms in 1639: 100[22]
  • Approximate number of seat farms in 1821: 25[22]

Weekday farmers

Weekday farmers (Norwegian: ukedagsbønder, vekedagsbønder) were persons who, as tenants of the noble, had a duty to work on the seat farm on weekdays. The system came from Denmark before 1600. It became most widespread in Eastern Norway, where the concentration of seat farms was highest, but existed also in other parts of the kingdom. From 1685 on, the duty work was limited to farmers who lived within two miles of the seat farm.[22]

Feud right

The feud right (Norwegian: feiderett) was the right to officially proclaim a feud between two or more persons. A murder committed after the proclamation of a feud was considered an 'honest murder', and unlike ordinary murders, which normally received capital punishment, could be expiated with fines. The feud right is mentioned in almost all electoral charters (Norwegian: valghåndfestning) from 1513 to 1648.[23]

Conveyance right

The King and noblemen, as well as high officials, had the right to receive conveyance from farmers. The right was never a formal right, but rather a consequence of the ‘conveyance duty’ which was imposed on farmers. Conveyance duty (Norwegian: skyssplikt) is known since the 12th century and functioned as indirect taxation. In 1816, the duty was changed from being a free service to receiving payment per trip. However, the partial tax freedom which conveyance farmers had was abolished at the same time.

Neck and hand right

On 18 July 1646 the nobility achieved the possibility of having ‘neck and hand right’ (Norwegian: hals- og håndsrett), that is, the authority to arrest and to prosecute persons and to execute judgments. This right was limited to the farms or the fiefs over which noblemen had jurisdiction.[21]

Charge and fine right

Related to the neck and hand right was the ‘charge and fine right’ (Norwegian: sikt- og sakefallsrett), i.e. the authority to raise a charge against and to fine persons. This right, too, was limited to each nobleman's area of jurisdiction.[24]

Birk right

The birk right (Norwegian: birkerett) was the authority to appoint judges at the birk court, etcetera; birks were an ancient form of local jurisdiction adopted in Norway on the Danish model. Nine birks were created in 1649, but abolished already in 1651. The first real birks came in 1671 with the creation of the Countship of Larvik, in 1673 with the creation of the Countship of Griffenfeldt, and in 1678 with the creation of the Barony of Rosendal. In addition the birk right was granted to the Halsnøy Monastery in 1661, the Lysekloster Estate in 1661, and the Svanøy Estate in 1685. The two countship birks and the barony birk lasted until noble privileges were abolished in 1821.[25]

Jus patronatus

The jus patronatus (patronage right) consisted of jus presentandi, the right to propose clergy for a specific church, and later became jus vocandi, the right to appoint such clergy. Furthermore, the patron had the right to part of the church taxes and other income of the church. Jus patronatus did not have any relevance in Norway until after the 1640s, when a few noblemen began to receive it. This privilege was never widespread in the kingdom.[26]

Noble symbolism

Coronets of ranks were a part of the symbols of the new nobility.

Coat of arms

The use of coats of arms was originally a custom developed and maintained by the nobility, but it was not exclusive to this estate. Norwegian farmers and burghers, as well as the non-noble parts of the clergy, had since early times borne arms.

While the arms of the old nobility were of ancient origin and inherited through generations within each family, and therefore were not a privilege from the King, the arms of the new nobility were often granted by the King upon ennoblement. In some cases, the ennobled person's former coat of arms or his wishes could be regarded in the process of composing new arms and achievements.

While everyone could use an open helmet above the shield, coronets and supporters were reserved for the nobility. Supporters were normally granted only to counts.


Noble coronets (Norwegian: adelskrone), whether physical coronets or appearing in heraldic artwork, were reserved for the nobility. There were specific coronets for counts, barons and untitled nobility. In addition, the Golden Lions (Norwegian: de Gylden Løver etc.), illegitimate royal descendants, had an exclusive coronet.

The use of physical coronets has been rare in Norway, used mainly at homages in Oslo.


Almost unique internationally and different from the continental nobility, where families have named themselves after the piece of land that they possess, Nordic nobles have from the 1500s in general adopted family names of an abstract and artistical character, often based on their respective coats of arms. For example the noble family whose arms were a golden star, took the name Gyldenstjerne (English: Golden Star). As this custom of the old nobility established itself as permanent, also the new nobility, that is persons and families ennobled after the Middle Ages, often received similar names when ennobled.

Other examples are Anker (English: Anchor), Elgenstierna (English: Elk/Moose Star) in Sweden, Gyllenpistol (English: Golden Gun) in Sweden, Hästesko (English: Horseshoe) in Sweden, Huitfeldt (English: White Field), Løvenørn (English: Lion Eagle), Natt och Dag (English: Night and Day) in Sweden, Rosenvinge (English: Rose Wing), Svanenhielm (English: Swan Helm), Svinhufvud (English: Swine Head) in Sweden, and Tordenskiold (English: Thunder Shield).

Norwegian nobility's relation to the people

Meløya was the seat of the major noble family of Benkestok. After the family lost their noble status and became patrilineally extinct, Meløy Farm and the family estate were inherited by their descendants, among whom are ordinary farmers.

Cognatic descent

A large number of Norwegians can trace ancestral lines back to the old nobility. They must very often cross numerous cognatic links (Norwegian: kvinneledd) and go back to the 16th century in order to establish a connection to the nobility. Also, that particular family is often the only noble family which they have in their ancestry, which otherwise mainly consists of farmers and burghers, the other estates in the Norwegian feudal society. An important consideration is also that many experts dispute some popularly accepted family relations, which they consider undocumented or obviously wrong. For these reasons, a distant connection to a family of the old nobility is often considered as a curiosity. For example Queen Sonja of Norway, although born a commoner, has noblemen among her distant forefathers.

A considerably smaller number of Norwegians descend from the new nobility. In addition to less time having passed, this number is much smaller because this Danish-rooted nobility, as also the old nobility had done, lived relatively separate from the ordinary population, especially with respect to who they married, and often returned to Denmark when leaving their office in Norway.

Concerning descent from royalty through nobility, the nobility expert Tore Vigerust has stated, though as a conservative estimate, that roughly 10,000 Norwegians living today can document with certainty their descent from the old kings of Norway. Vigerust has identified the noble families Gyldenløve (of Austrått) and Rosensverd as families whose royal descent is verifiable.[27]

Other connections to nobility

Even though a family could lose their noble status, they would usually keep their fortune and remain rich and influential. There are examples of farmer descendants of such families who were farmers continuing to inherit ancient noble land many generations after the noble family in question had become patrilineally extinct. One example is the estate of the Benkestok family, which became patrilineally extinct in the late 16th century. The estate consisted of land in Eastern, Western and Northern Norway as well as on the Faeroes and Shetland. The estate is a well-known example of a big noble estate which was passed down through generations. While the first generations of inheritors received large portions of an estate, it would subsequently be divided into smaller and smaller parts so that later generations each might receive, for example, a relatively large farm.

Farmer nobility

Authentic farmer nobility

Farmer nobility (Norwegian: bondeadel) refers to farmers who were noble.

This term may also be used unofficially to describe farmers who had been noble or who had such ancestry through cognatic links and within a short genealogical timeframe. They were not a part of the Norwegian nobility.

Romantic nationalistic farmer nobility

After Norway achieved constitutional independence in 1814, in the period of romantic nationalism that followed, the urban 'cultural élite' as well as some farmers themselves began to consider 'the Norwegian farmer' as representative or symbolic figure of 'Norwegianness'. Norwegian farmers had always been relatively free compared to farmers in continental Europe, something to which the lack of a large and strong nobility had contributed. Farmers had in general sufficient amounts of food, and lived 'in peaceful and natural circumstances'. Furthermore, from the middle of the 18th century, and peaking in the 19th, many Norwegian farmers managed to buy their own farms. Factors like these contributed to some farmers' coming to regard themselves as a kind of farmer nobility. Such ideas are reflected, for example, in romantic nationalistic literature, but the term has never had any legal currency in Norway.

For example the teacher Andreas Austlid wrote in his book Salt fraa folkehøgskulen (1926) about his home parish:

An old parish of wealth, broad and satisfied and good – the most beautiful in the whole valley. A kind and calm farmer nobility - but self-supplied [with food], with much good and much low ancestry . . .[28]

List of noble families

A griffin symbolised the Bjarkøy clan. Originally an ancient chieftain dynasty in Northern Norway, they continued to hold a prominent position for three hundred years after the final unification of Norway around 1050.
The highest families of the old nobility were very powerful. Karl Knutsson of the Bonde family became King Charles I of Norway, and members of the Smør and Stjerne families were regents.
The old nobility also held oversea possessions, for example on the Faroe Islands, which were at the time a colony under the Norwegian Crown.
Gyldenkrantz was one of the many families who received letter of nobility from the kings of the 17th and the 18th centuries.
The Treschow family's coat of arms displayed on the gate to their manor of Fritzøehus.

Ancient aristocratic dynasties

  • Bjarkøy Dynasty
  • Giske Dynasty

Old nobility

  • Akeleye
  • Aspa
  • Bagge
  • Benkestok
  • Bildt
  • Bjelke
  • Bonde
  • Blix
  • Bolt
  • Bratt
  • Budde
  • Båt
  • Darre
  • Galtung
  • Gjedde
  • Hård
  • Kane
  • Krabbe
  • Kruckow
  • Kusse
  • Rømer
  • Skanke
  • Smør
  • Stjerne

Most men and women of the old nobility used only patronyms, as they had no established family name. Such families are normally referred to as, for example, Aslak Bårdssons ætt (Aslak Bårdsson's clan or family) or Bjarkøyætta (the Bjarkøy clan or family ).

Danish old nobility in Norway

  • Gyldenstierne
  • Huitfeldt
  • Juel (Iuel)
  • Kaas (including Munthe-Kaas)
  • Rosenkrantz

New nobility ennobled by letter

  • Adeler (1666)
  • Ahlefeldt-Laurvig-Bille
  • Ahlefeldt-Laurvig-Lehn
  • Albertin (1749)
  • Anker
  • Arentskiold (1714)
  • Astrup (1810)
  • Bang (1777)
  • Bartholin (1674)
  • Benzon (1679; 1717)
  • Berner (1780)
  • Bernstoff
  • Berregaard (1726)
  • Blixen-Finecke (1802)
  • Blixencrone (1712)
  • Blixenskiold (1749)
  • Bolten (1783)
  • Bornemann (1731)
  • Braem (1731)
  • Brinck-Seidelin (1752)
  • Brocksdorff
  • Brockenhuus
  • Castenskiold (1745)
  • Cederfeld de Simonsen (1759)
  • Charisius (1659)
  • Clauson-Kaas (1804)
  • Danneskiold-Laurvig (1693)
  • Danneskiold-Løvendal (1662)
  • Danneskiold-Samsøe (1695)
  • Dehn
  • Dumreicher (1757)
  • Eberlin (1782)
  • Ellbrecht (1778)
  • Fabritius de Tengnagel (1778)
  • Falkenskiold (1716)
  • Falsen (1758)
  • Fischer (1758)
  • Fischer-Benzon (1805)
  • Fisker (1797)
  • Flindt (1768)
  • Folsach (1760)
  • Fuiren (1677)
  • Fædder (1785)
  • Fønss (1804)
  • Galtung (1640s; descent claim.)
  • Gähler (1749)
  • Grevenkop-Castenskiold
  • Grodtschilling (1784)
  • Grüner (1693)
  • Güldencrone (1673)
  • Güntelberg (1660)
  • Gyldenfeldt (1761)
  • Gyldenløve (1611)
  • Gyldenkrantz (1783)
  • Gyldenpalm (1781)
  • Halling (1783)
  • Hansen
  • Harboe (1684)
  • Hauch (1750)
  • Hielmcrone
  • Hielmstierne (1747)
  • Hoffmann (1749; 1780)
  • Holck
  • Holck-Winterfeldt
  • Holmskiold (1781)
  • Hoppe (1772)
  • Hübsch (1691)
  • Huth (1776)
  • Høeg-Goldberg (1771)
  • Ingwersen (1759)
  • Iuel-Brockdorff
  • Jermiin (1750)
  • Jessen (1681; 1744; 1754)
  • Kiærskiold (1735)
  • Klaumann (1749)
  • Klevenfeldt (1747)
  • Knagenhjelm (1721)
  • Knuth
  • Kolderup-Rosenvinge (1811)
  • Krag-Juel-Vind-Frijs
  • Kragenskiold (1759)
  • Krieger (1797)
  • Køller-Banner (1772)
  • Kaalund (1766)
  • Lasson (1731)
  • Lehn (1731)
  • Lente-Adeler
  • Lerche (1660; 1676; 1679)
  • Leth (1708; 1757)
  • Leuenbach (1765)
  • Levetzow (1670)
  • Lichtenberg (1739)
  • Lillienkrantz
  • Lillienschiold (1676)
  • Linde (1704)
  • Lindencrone (1756)
  • Lohendal (1720)
  • Lohenskiold (1726)
  • Lütken (1780)
  • Løvendal (1682)
  • Løvencrone (1695)
  • Løvendal (1682)
  • Løvenhielm (1669)
  • Løvenskiold (1739)
  • Løvenstierne (1714)
  • Løvenørn (1711)
  • Løwenklau (1641)
  • von der Maase (1712)
  • Meyercrone (1674)
  • Michaelsen (1809)
  • Moldrup (1731)
  • Moltke
  • Mossencrone (1761)
  • Moth (1679; 1698)
  • Munthe af Morgenstierne (1755)
  • Münnich (1688)
  • Neergaard (1780)
  • Numsen (1688)
  • Nutzhorn (1759)
  • Nørckencrone (1754)
  • Petersdorff (1810)
  • Ployart (1777)
  • Pottendorpf (1695)
  • Revenfeldt (1695)
  • Roepstorff (1701)
  • Rosencrone
  • Rosenheim (1676)
  • Rosenpalm (1679)
  • Rosenvinge (1505)
  • Rosenørn (1679)
  • Ross (1782)
  • Rothe (1809)
  • Rusenstein (1671)
  • Schaffalitzky de Muckadell
  • Schimmelmann (1762; 1780)
  • Schiønning (1681)
  • Schmetteau (1776)
  • Schmidten (1783)
  • Schmieden (1758)
  • Scholten (1777)
  • Schouboe (1747)
  • Schreeb (1755)
  • von der Schulenburg (1741; 1776)
  • Schulin (1750)
  • Sommerhielm (1764)
  • Sperling (1776)
  • Spädt (1777)
  • Stampe (1759)
  • Stemann (1777; 1782)
  • Stibolt (1777)
  • Stiernholm (1747)
  • Stockfledt (1779)
  • Stöcken (1681)
  • Suhm (1683)
  • Sundt (1733)
  • Svanenhielm (1720)
  • Svanenskiold (1780)
  • Sylverstein (1671)
  • Theilmann (1751)
  • Thurah (1740)
  • Thygeson (1776)
  • Tordenskiold (1716; 1761)
  • Tordenstjerne (1505)
  • Treschow (1812)
  • Ulrichsdal (1726; 1782)
  • Undall (1777)
  • Vedel (1812)
  • Vieregg (1776)
  • Voss (1777)
  • Wasmer (1695)
  • Wedel-Heinen (1812)
  • Werenskiold (1717)
  • von Wessel (1720)
  • von Westervick (1674)
  • Wichfeldt (1777)
  • Wilster (1755)
  • Wibe (Vibe, de Vibe) (1634)
  • Wleugel (1782)
  • Wormskiold (1751)
  • Zeppelin (1785)
  • Zytphen-Adeler

New nobility ennobled by office

  • Motzfeldt
  • Rosing
  • Scheel
  • Sibbern
  • Tonsberg
  • Undall

Naturalised foreign nobility

  • Ahlefeldt
  • Arenstroff
  • Aubert (French)
  • Beck
  • Berger
  • Bertouch
  • Briand de Crèvecœur
  • Buchwald
  • von Bülow
  • Gersdorff
  • von der Goltz
  • Güntelberg
  • Haxthausen
  • Hobe
  • Hoff
  • Kløcker
  • von Krogh (Lower Saxony)
  • Linstow
  • Lowzow (Mecklenburgian)
  • von der Lühe
  • Lützow (German)
  • le Normand de Bretteville (French)
  • Raben
  • le Sage de Fontenay (French)
  • Schack
  • Staffeldt (Pomeranian)
  • Trampe (Pomeranian)
  • Uyttendaele de Breton
  • Wadenstierna (Swedish)
  • von Wedel (Pomeranian)
  • Wedel-Jarlsberg (Pomeranian)

List of noble persons

Old nobility

Ancient Norwegian royalty and nobility overseas

  • Kings of Dublin, originally Norwegians and Danes.
  • Kings of Man and the Isles, originally Norwegians.
  • Earls of Orkney, who have living cognatical descendants in Scotland.
  • Clann Somhairle, formerly known as Lords of the Isles, believed to be of Norwegian origin.
  • Cotter family, an ancient Norwegian noble family still having property in Ireland. It fell into obscurity from 1300 to 1600, but has resurfaced still on their small estates.
  • Sturlungs, chieftains in medieval Iceland.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Adel, Norwegian Historical Encyclopædia
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b c "Riksrådet", Norwegian Historical Encyclopædia
  7. ^ a b "Håndfestning", Norwegian Historical Encyclopædia
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Adelskomitéens innstilling og Stortingets beslutning i saken angående anmeldelser og reklamasjoner av adelige rettigheter, juli 1824 (Norwegian)
  12. ^ Store norske leksikon: Anker
  13. ^ Store norske leksikon: Anker
  14. ^ Store norske leksikon: Anker
  15. ^ Store norske leksikon: Anker
  16. ^ Store norske leksikon: Anker
  17. ^ File:Den_danske_Vitruvius_1_tab026_-_Kroner.jpg
  18. ^ Likewise, but not relevant in this article, one may not address a commoner as ‘herre Smith’; it has to be abbreviated to ‘herr Smith’.
  19. ^ (Norwegian Historical Encyclopædia)
  20. ^ (Norwegian Historical Encyclopædia)
  21. ^ a b "Hals- og Håndsrett", Norwegian Historical Encyclopædia
  22. ^ a b c d "Setegård", Norwegian Historical Encyclopædia
  23. ^ (Norwegian Historical Encyclopædia)
  24. ^ (Norwegian Historical Encyclopædia)
  25. ^ (Norwegian Historical Encyclopædia)
  26. ^ (Norwegian Historical Encyclopædia)
  27. ^
  28. ^ Nynorsk: Ei gamall velstands bygd, breid og mett og god - den fagraste i heile dalen. Ein snild og godsleg - men sjølvbyrg bondeadel, med mykjen god og mykjen laak arv . . .


  • Trætteberg, Hallvard (1933): Norske By- og Adelsvåben

External links

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