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A count (male) or countess (female) is an aristocratic nobleman in European countries. The word count came into English from the French comte, itself from Latin comes—in its accusative comitem—meaning "companion", and later "companion of the emperor, delegate of the emperor". The adjective form of the word is "comital". The British equivalent is an earl (whose wife is also a "countess", for lack of an Anglo-Saxon term). Alternative names for the "Count" rank in the nobility structure are used in other countries, such as Hakushaku during the Japanese Imperial era.
In the late Roman Empire, the Latin title comes meaning (imperial) "companion" denoted the high rank of various courtiers and provincial officials, either military or administrative: before Anthemius was made emperor in the West in 467, he was military comes charged with strengthening defenses on the Danube frontier.
In the Western Roman Empire Count came to generically indicate a military commander, but was not a specific rank. In the Eastern Roman Empire, from about the seventh century, a count was a specific rank indicating the commander of two centuries (i.e. 200 men).
Military counts in the Late Empire and the Germanic successor kingdoms were often appointed by a dux and later by a king. From the start the count was in charge, not of a roving warband, but settled in a locality, a countship, his main rival for power being the bishop, whose diocese was often coterminous.
In many Germanic and Frankish kingdoms in the early Middle Ages, the count might also be a count palatine, whose authority derived directly from the royal household, the "palace" in its original sense of the seat of power and administration. This other kind of count had vague antecedents in Late Antiquity too: the father of Cassiodorus held positions of trust with Theodoric, as comes rerum privatarum, in charge of the imperial lands, then of comes sacrarum largitionum (concerned with the strictly monetary fiscal matters of the realm).
The position of comes was originally not hereditary. By holding large estates, many counts were able to make it a hereditary title—though not always. For instance, in Piast Poland, the position of komes was not hereditary, resembling the early Merovingian institution. The title had disappeared by the era of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and the office replaced with other institutions. Only after the Partitions of Poland did the title of "count" re-surface in the German-derived title hrabia.
The title of Count was also often conferred by the monarch as an honorific title for special services rendered, without an actual feudal estate (countship, county), just a title, with or without a domain name attached to it. In the UK, the equivalent Earl is often a courtesy title for the eldest son of a duke. In the United Kingdom stringent rules apply, often a future heir has a lower ranking courtesy title; in Italy, by contrast, all the sons of certain counts are counts (contini). In Sweden there is a distinction between counts (Swedish: greve) introduced before 1809 and after. All children in countship families introduced before 1809 are called count/countess. In families introduced after 1809 only the head of the family is called count, the rest had a status similar to barons and were called Mr. and Ms./Mrs. (before the use of titles was abolished).
Comital titles in different European languages
The following lists are originally based on a Glossary on Heraldica.org by Alexander Krischnig. The male form is followed by the female, and when available, by the territorial circonscription
Etymological derivations from the Latin comes
Language Male title Female title / Spouse Territory Albanian Kont Konteshë Armenian Կոմս (Koms) Կոմսուհի (Komsuhi) Bulgarian Кмет (Kmet), present meaning: mayor; medieval (9th-century) Комит (Komit): hereditary provincial ruler Кметица (Kmetitsa), woman mayor / Кметша (Kmetsha), mayor's wife Кметство (Kmetstvo); medieval Комитат (Komitat) Catalan Comte Comtessa Comtat English Count (applies to title granted by monarchies other than the British where Earl applies) Countess (even where Earl applies) Earldom for an Earl; Countship or county for a count, but the last is also, and indeed rather, in English-Speaking countries an administrative district French Comte Comtesse Comté Hungarian Vikomt Vikomtessz These forms are now archaic and/or literary; Gróf is used instead. Irish Cunta; Iarla Cuntaois, Baniarla Honorary title only; iarla does not derive from Latin comes but rather from English "earl". Italian Conte Contessa Contea, Contado, Comitato Greek Κόμης (Kómēs) Κόμησσα (Kómēssa) Κομητεία (Komēteía); in the Ionian Islands the respective Italianate terms Kóntes, Kontéssa were used instead Japanese Hakushaku 伯爵 Hakushaku fujin 伯爵婦人 Latin (feudal jargon, not classical) Comes Comitissa Comitatus Maltese Konti Kontessa Monegasque Conte Contessa Norwegian Komtesse, komtessa
(Count's wife or unmarried daughter. Wife usually greivinna/grevinne, see below)
Portuguese Conde Condessa Condado Romanian Conte Contesă Comitat Romansh Cont Contessa Spanish Conde Condesa Condado Turkish Kont Kontes Kontluk
Etymological parallels of the German Graf (some unclear)
Language Male title Female title / Spouse Territory Afrikaans Graaf Gravin Graafskap Belarusian Граф (Hraf) Графiня (Hrafinia) Графствa (Hrafstva) Bulgarian Граф (Graf) Графиня (Grafinya) Графство (Grafstvo) Croatian Grof Grofica Grofovija Czech Hrabě Hraběnka Hrabství Danish Greve Grevinde Grevskab Dutch Graaf Gravin Graafschap English Grave Gravine Graviate Estonian Krahv Krahvinna Krahvkond Finnish Kreivi Kreivitär Kreivikunta German Graf Gräfin Grafschaft Greek Γράβος Hungarian Gróf Grófnő, Grófné Grófság Icelandic Greifi Greifynja Latvian Grāfs Grāfiene Grāfiste Lithuanian Grafas Grafienė Grafystė Luxembourgish Graf Gräfin Macedonian Гроф (Grof) Грофица (Grofica) Norwegian Greve/greive Grevinne/greivinne Grevskap/greivskap Polish Hrabia Hrabina Hrabstwo Romanian Grof (also Conte, see above) Russian Граф (Graf) Графиня (Grafinya) Графство (Grafstvo) Serbian Гроф Грофица Грофовија Slovak Gróf Grófka Grófstvo Slovene Grof Grofica Grofija Swedish Greve Grevinna Grevskap Ukrainian Граф (Hraf) Графиня (Hrafynya) Графство (Hrafstvo)
Apart from all these, a few unusual titles have been of comital rank, not necessarily to remain there.
- Dauphin (english: Dolphin; spanish: Delfín; italian: Delfino Latin: Delphinus) was a multiple (though rare) comital title in southern France, used by the Dauphins of Vienne and Auvergne, before 1349 when it became the title of the heir to the French throne. The Dauphin was the lord of the province still known as the région Dauphiné
- Conde-Duque "Count-Duke" is a rare title used in Spain, notably by Gaspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares who had inherited the title of count of Olivares, but being created Duke of Sanlucar la Mayor by King Philip IV of Spain begged permission to preserve his inherited title in combination with the new honour—according to a practice almost unique in Spanish history; logically the incumbent ranks as Duke (higher than Count) just as he would when simply juxtapositioning both titles.
- Conde-Barão 'Count-Baron' is a rare title used in Portugal, notably by D. Luís Lobo da Silveira, 7th Baron of Alvito, who received the title of Count of Oriola in 1653 from King John IV of Portugal. His palace in Lisbon still exists, located in a square named after him (Largo do Conde-Barão).
- Archcount is a very rare title, etymologically analogous to archduke, apparently never recognized officially, used by or for:
- the count of Flanders (an original pairie of the French realm in present Belgium, very rich, once expected to be raised to the rank of kingdom); the informal, rather descriptive use on account of the countship's de facto importance is rather analogous to the unofficial epithet Grand Duc de l'Occident (before Grand duke became a formal title) for the even wealthier Duke of Burgundy
- at least one Count of Burgundy (i.e. Freigraf of Franche-Comté)
- In German kingdoms, the title Graf was combined with the word for the jurisdiction or domain the nobleman was holding as a fief and/or as a conferred or inherited jurisdiction, such as "Markgraf" (Margrave—see also Marquess), "Landgraf" ("landgrave"), "Freigraf" ("free count"), "Burggraf" ("Burgrave", where burg signifies castle; see also Viscount), Pfalzgraf (see (Count) Palatine), "Raugraf" (Raugrave, see "graf". Originally a unique title) and "Waldgraf" (waldgrave (comes nemoris), where wald signifies a large forest).
- The German Graf and Dutch graaf (Latin: Grafio) stems from the Byzantine-Greek grapheus meaning "he who calls a meeting [i.e. the court] together").
- These titles are not to be confused with various minor administrative titles containing the word -graf in various offices which are not linked to nobility of feudality, such as the Dutch titles Pluimgraaf (a court sinecure, so usually held by noble courtiers, may even be rendered hereditary) and Dijkgraaf (to the present, in the Low Countries, a managing official in the local or regional administration of water household trough dykes, ditches, controls etcetera; also in German Deichgraf, synonymous with Deichhauptmann, "dike captain").
Lists of countships
Territory of today's France
Since Louis VII (1137–80), the highest precedence amongst the vassals (Prince-bishops and secular nobility) of the French crown was enjoyed by those whose benefice or temporal fief was a pairie, i.e. carried the exclusive rank of pair; within the first (i.e. clerical) and second (noble) estates, the first three of the original twelve anciennes pairies were ducal, the next three comital comté-pairies:
- Bishop-counts of Beauvais (in Picardy)
- Bishop-counts of Châlons (in Champagne)
- Bishop-counts of Noyon (in Picardy)
- Count of Toulouse, until united to the crown in 1271 by marriage
- Count of Flanders (Flandres in French), which is in the Low countries and was confiscated in 1299, though returned in 1303
- Count of Champagne, until united to the crown (in 1316 by marriage, conclusively in 1361)
Later other countships (and duchies, even baronies) have been raised to this French peerage, but mostly as apanages (for members of the royal house) or for foreigners; after the 16th century all new peerages were always duchies and the medieval countship-peerages had died out, or were held by royal princes
Other French countships of note included those of:
- Count of Angoulême, later Dukes
- Count of Anjou, later Dukes
- Count of Auvergne
- Count of Bar, later Dukes
- Count of Blois
- Count of Boulogne
- Count of Foix
- Count of Montpensier
- Count of Poitiers
- Count of Saint Germain
Parts of today's France long within other kingdoms of the Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire
See also above for parts of present France
- See also Graf for various comital and related titles; especially those actually reigning over a principality that can be rendered as countship: Gefürsteter Graf, Landgraf, Reichsgraf; compare Markgraf, Pfalzgraf
The title of Conte is very prolific on the peninsula, and modern counts occupy the position in rural society comparable to an English squire, members of rural gentry. In the eleventh century however, conti like the Count of Savoia or the Norman Count of Apulia, were virtually sovereign lords of broad territories. Even apparently "lower"-sounding titles, like Viscount, could describe powerful dynasts, such as the Visconti family who ruled a major city such as Milan. The essential title of a feudatory, introduced by the Normans, was signore, modelled on the French seigneur, used with the name of the fief. By the fourteenth century, conte and the Imperial title barone were virtually synonymous, but some titles of count, according to the particulars of the patent, might be inherited by the eldest son of a Count. Other younger brothers might be distinguished as "X dei conti di Y" ("X of the counts of Y"). However if there is no male to inherit the title and the count has a daughter, she can inherit the title: for example the Countess Luisa Gazelli di Rossana e di Sebastiano, mother of Queen Paola of Belgium. The Papacy and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies might appoint counts palatine with no particular territorial fief. Until 1812 in some regions, the purchaser of land designated "feudal" was ennobled by the noble seat that he held and became a conte. This practice ceased with the formal abolition of feudalism in the various principalities of early-19th century Italy, last of all in the Papal States.
Many Italian counts left their mark on Italian history as individuals, yet only a few contadi (countships; the word contadini for its inhabitants remains the Italian word for "peasant") were politically significant principalities, notably :
- Norman Count of Apulia
- Count of Savoy, later Duke (also partly in France and in Switzerland)
- Count of Asti
- Count of Montferrat (Monferrato)
- Count of Montefeltro
- Count of Tusculum
Roman (Papal) count
Count is one of the noble titles granted by the Pope as a temporal sovereign and the title's holder is often known as a papal count or less so as a Roman count, often confused with the hereditary Roman nobility since the restoration of the Papal States in 1815. The title of Count Palatine of the Lateran Palace, which can be for life or hereditary, has been awarded by popes and Holy Roman Emperors since the Middle Ages, infrequently before the 14th century, and the pope continued to grant the purely honorary title even after 1870, when the ranks of the Roman nobility were otherwise frozen. This title is no longer conferred. By the Lateran Accord of 1929, the Italian government recognized and confirmed the pope's power to grant nobilary titles, and the titles granted by the Pope were considered equivalent to Italian titles. American Francis A. MacNutt, a papal chamberlain at the Vatican and a papal knight was also a papal marquis, having his noble title conferred by Pius X. American financier George MacDonald of New York was created a papal marquis in the 1930s and Long Island philanthropist Genevieve Brady was created a papal duchess by Pope Pius XI in the 1930s. However, noble titles have not been generously granted since Pope Pius XII. Papal Count John McCormack and Papal Countess Rose Kennedy being among the last few to receive this honor. With Paul VI, who responded to the formal Christmas message of the patriciate by declaring that the papal nobility would no longer be a constituent body in the papal court, the custom essentially disappeared. Pope John Paul II did grant several noble titles to Polish compatriots at the beginning of his pontificate, but quietly and without their being published in the Acts of The Apostolic See. The popes continue to award knighthoods and medals of merit on a regular basis which do not confer noble status.
The principalities tended to start out as margraviate and/or (promoted to) duchy, and became nominal archduchies within the Habsburg dynasty; noteworthy are:
- Count of Tyrol
- Count of Cilli
- Count of Schaumburg
Numerous small ones, particularly:
- Counts of Galicia and Poland
- Count Zaleski
In Galicia (Central Europe)
- Counts of Galicia
In the Low Countries
Apart from various small ones, significant were :
- in present Belgium :
- Count of Flanders (Vlaanderen in local Dutch), but only the small part east of the river Schelde remained within the empire; the far larger west, an original French comté-pairie became part of the French realm
- Count of Hainaut
- Count of Namur, later a margraviate
- Count of Leuven (Louvain) soon became the Duke of Brabant
- Count of Mechelen, though the "Heerlijkheid Mechelen" was given the title of "Graafschap" in 1490, the city was rarely referred to as a county and the title of Count has not been in practical use by or for anyone of the series of persons that became rightfully entitled to it; the flag and weapon of the municipality still has the corresponding heraldic crowned single-headed eagle of sabre on gold.
- in the present Dutch kingdom of the Netherlands:
In other continental European countries
As opposed to the plethora of hollow "gentry" counts, only a few countships ever were important in medieval Iberia; most territory was firmly within the Reconquista kingdoms before counts could become important. However, during the 19th century, the title, having lost its high rank (equivalent to that of Duke), proliferated.
Portugal itself started as a countship in 868, but became a kingdom in 1139 (see:County of Portugal). Throughout the History of Portugal, especially during the Constitutional Monarchy many other countships were created (see: List of Countships in Portugal).
In Spain, no countships of wider importance exist, except in the former Spanish march.
- Count of Barcelona – it became integrated in the kingdom of Aragon, which became one of the two main components of the Spanish realm
- Count of Aragon
- Count of Castile
- Count of Galicia
- Count of Lara
- Count Cassius, progenitor of the Banu Qasi
- Count of Urgel
- Count of Pontevedra
- The other counts in Catalonia were much smaller and got absorbed into Barcelona/Aragon: Cerdanya, Ampurias, Conflans, Pallars, Roussillon (in present France).
In the First Bulgarian Empire, a komit was a hereditary provincial ruler under the tsar documented since the reign of Presian (836-852) The Cometopouli dynasty was named after its founder, the komit of Sredets.
- Count of Edessa
- Count of Tripoli (1102–1288)
Like other major Western noble titles, Count is sometimes used to render certain titles in non-western languages with their own traditions, even though they are as a rule historically unrelated and thus hard to compare, which are considered "equivalent" in relative rank.
This is the case with:
- the Chinese Bó (伯), hereditary title of nobility ranking below Hóu (侯) and above Zĭ (子)
- the Japanese equivalent Hakushaku (伯爵), adapted during the Meiji restoration
- the Korean equivalent Baekjak or Poguk
- In India the equivalent is Chhatrapati (it should be either peshwa or sardar, chatrapati means king or king of king)
- in Vietnam, it is rendered Bá, one of the lower titles reserved for male members of the Imperial clan, above Tử (Viscount), Nam (Baron) and Vinh phong (lowest noble title), but lower than—in ascending order—Hầu (Marquis), Công (Prince), Quan-Cong (Duke) and Quốc-Công (Grand Duke), all under Vương (King).
- ^ "An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors". University of South Carolina. http://www.roman-emperors.org/anthemiu.htm. Retrieved 2008-04-10.
- ^ http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/jod/texts/cassbook/chap1.html
- ^ This section depends upon Philippe Levillain, ed. John W. O'Malley, tr. The Papacy: An Encyclopedia (2002) vol. ii s.v. "Nobility, Roman".
- ^ Geschiedenis van de provincie Antwerpen (Historisch Project Politiek Personeel Provincie Antwerpen) (Dutch), Province of Antwerp, Belgium
- ^ Mechelen de oude hoofdstad van de Nederlanden, F.O. Van Hammée (not verified, referenced on a blog)
- ^ Лъв Граматик, Гръцки извори за българската история, т. V, стр. 156; Жеков, Ж. България и Византия VII-IX в. - военна администрация, Университетско издателство "Св. Климент Охридски", София, 2007, ISBN 978-954-07-2465-0, стр. 254
- Labarre de Raillicourt: Les Comtes Romains
- Westermann, Großer Atlas zur Weltgeschichte (in German)
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