Count (male), or Countess (female), is a historical title of nobility in certain European countries, varying in relative status, generally of middling rank in the hierarchy of nobility. The etymologically related English term, "county" denoted the land owned by a count. Equivalents of the rank of count exist or have existed in the nobility structures of some non-European countries, such as hakushaku during the Japanese Imperial era.
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 and Irish equivalent is an earl (whose wife is a "countess", for lack of an English term). In the late Roman Empire, the Latin title comes denoted the high rank of various courtiers and provincial officials, either military or administrative: before Anthemius became 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 indicate generically a military commander but was not a specific rank. In the Eastern Roman Empire, from about the seventh century, "count" was a specific rank indicating the commander of two centuriae (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 not in charge of a roving Warband, but settled in a locality, known as a county; his main rival for power was the bishop, whose diocese was sometimes coterminous with the county.
In many Germanic and Frankish kingdoms in the early Middle Ages, a 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 as comes sacrarum largitionum ("count of the sacred doles"), concerned with the finances of the realm.
The position of comes was originally not hereditary. By virtue of their large estates, many counts could pass the title to their heirs—but 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 had been replaced by others. Only after the Partitions of Poland did the title of "count" resurface in the title hrabia, derived from the German Graf.
Land attached to title
Originally, with the emergence of the title came the most powerful symbol of entitlement, that is the ownership of and jurisdiction over land, hence the term county. The term is derived from the Old French conté or cunté denoting a jurisdiction under the control of a count (earl) or a viscount. The modern French is comté, and its equivalents in other languages are contea, contado, comtat, condado, Grafschaft, graafschap, Gau, etc. (cf. conte, comte, conde, Graf).
The title of Count was also often conferred by the monarch as an honorific title for special services rendered, without a feudal estate (countship, county) being attached, so it was merely a title, with or without a domain name attached to it. In the United Kingdom, the equivalent "Earl" can also be used as a courtesy title for the eldest son of a duke or marquess. In the Italian states, by contrast, all the sons of certain counts were counts (contini). In Sweden there is a distinction between counts (Swedish: greve) created before and after 1809. All children in comital families elevated before 1809 were called count/countess. In families elevated after 1809, only the head of the family was called count, the rest have a status similar to barons and were called by the equivalent of "Mr/Ms/Mrs", before the recognition of titles of nobility 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 circumscription.
Etymological derivations from the Latin comes
|Language||Male title||Female title/Spouse||Territory/Notes|
|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)|
|English||Count||Countess (even where Earl applies)||Earldom for an Earl; Countship or county for a count. (County persists in English-speaking countries as a sub-national administrative division.)|
"Count" applies to titles granted by monarchies other than the British, for which Earl applies.
|Greek||Κόμης (Kómēs)||Κόμησσα (Kómēssa)||Κομητεία (Komēteía); in the Ionian Islands the corresponding Italianate terms κόντες kóntes, κοντέσσα kontéssa were used instead.|
|Hungarian||Vikomt||Vikomtessz||Actually meaning viscount. These forms are now archaic or literary; Gróf is used instead.|
|Irish||Cunta||Cuntaois||Honorary title only.|
(medieval and later; not classical)
Etymological parallels with the German Graf (some approximate)
|Language||Male title||Female title / Spouse||Territory|
|Belarusian||Граф (Hraf)||Графiня (Hrafinia)||Графствa (Hrafstva)|
|Bulgarian||Граф (Graf)||Графиня (Grafinya)||Графство (Grafstvo)|
|Danish||Greve||Grevinde (Count's wife)
Komtesse (Unmarried daughter of a count.)
|English||Grave (for example Landgrave, Margrave), reeve, sheriff||Gravin||Graviate|
|Georgian||გრაფი/თავადი (Grafi/Tavadi)||გრაფინია/კნეინა (Grafinya/Kneina)||საგრაფო/სათავადო (Sagrafo /Satavado)|
|Macedonian||Гроф (Grof)||Грофица (Grofica)||Грофовија (Grofovija)|
|Hrabstwo (translation of foreign term "county")|
|Romanian||Grof (also Conte, see above), Greav||Grofiță|
|Russian||Граф (Graf)||Графиня (Grafinya)||Графство (Grafstvo)|
|Serbian||Гроф (Grof)||Грофица (Grofica)||Грофовија (Grofovija)|
|Ukrainian||Граф (Hraf)||Графиня (Hrafynya)||Графство (Hrafstvo)|
Apart from all these, a few unusual titles have been of comital rank, not necessarily permanently.
- Dauphin (English: Dolphin; Spanish: Delfín; Italian: Delfino; Portuguese: Delfim; 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. He had inherited the title of count of Olivares, but when created Duke of Sanlucar la Mayor by King Philip IV of Spain he 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 concatenating both titles.
- Conde-Barão 'Count-Baron' is a rare title used in Portugal, notably by Dom 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 or as a conferred or inherited jurisdiction, such as Markgraf (see also Marquess), Landgraf, Freigraf ("free count"), Burggraf, where Burg signifies castle; see also Viscount, Pfalzgraf (translated both as "Count Palatine" and, historically, as "Palsgrave"), Raugraf ("Raugrave", see "Graf", and Waldgraf (comes nemoris), where Wald signifies a large forest) (from Latin nemus = grove).
- The German Graf and Dutch graaf (Latin: grafio) stem from the Byzantine-Greek γραφεύς grapheus meaning "he who calls a meeting [i.e. the court] together").
- The Ottoman military title of Serdar was used in Montenegro and Serbia as a lesser noble title with the equivalent rank of a Count.
- These titles are not to be confused with various minor administrative titles containing the word -graf in various offices which are not linked to feudal nobility, 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 manager in the local or regional administration of watercourses through dykes, ditches, controls etc.; also in German Deichgraf, synonymous with Deichhauptmann, "dike captain").
Lists of countships
Territory of today's France
Kingdom of the Western Franks
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 Duke
- Count of Anjou, later Duke
- Count of Auvergne
- Count of Bar, later Duke
- 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
A Graf ruled over a territory known as a Grafschaft ('county'). See also various comital and related titles; especially those actually reigning over a principality: Gefürsteter Graf, Landgraf, Reichsgraf; compare Markgraf, Pfalzgraf
Northern Italian states
The title of Conte is very prolific on the peninsula. In the eleventh century, Conti like the Count of Savoy 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 House of Visconti which ruled a major city such as Milan. The essential title of a feudatory, introduced by the Normans, was signore, modeled on the French seigneur, used with the name of the fief. By the fourteenth century, conte and the Imperial title barone were virtually synonymous.
Some titles of a count, according to the particulars of the patent, might be inherited by the eldest son of a Count. 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, in some regions she could inherit the title. 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 inhabitants of a "county" 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
The principalities tended to start out as margraviate or (promoted to) duchy, and became nominal archduchies within the Habsburg dynasty; noteworthy are:
- Count of Tyrol
- Count of Cilli
- Count of Schaumburg
In the Low Countries
Apart from various small ones, significant were :
- in present Belgium :
- Count of Flanders (Vlaanderen in 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 Netherlands:
- Count of Geneva
- Count of Neuenburg
- Count of Toggenburg
- Count of Kyburg
- Count de Salis-Soglio (also in the UK, Canada and Australia)
- Count de Salis-Seewis
- Count of Panzutti
In other continental European countries
Count/Countess was one of the noble titles granted by the Pope as a temporal sovereign, and the title's holder was sometimes informally known as a papal count/papal countess or less so as a Roman count/Roman countess, but mostly as count/countess. The comital title, which could be for life or hereditary, was awarded in various forms by popes and Holy Roman Emperors since the Middle Ages, infrequently before the 14th century, and the pope continued to grant the comital and other noble titles even after 1870, it was largely discontinued in the mid 20th-century, on the accession of John XXIII.
Poland was notable throughout its history for not granting titles of nobility. This was on the premise that one could only be born into nobility, pace vary rare exceptions. Instead it conferred non-hereditary courtly or civic roles. The noble titles that were in use on its territory were invariably of foreign provenance and usually subject to the process of Indygenat, naturalisation.
Somewhat similar to the native privileged class of nobles found in Poland, Hungary also had a class of Conditional nobles.
On the Iberian peninsula
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.
- County of Barcelona, the initial core of the Principality of Catalonia, later one of the states of the Crown of Aragon, which became one of the two main components of the Spanish crown.
- Count of Aragon
- Count of Castile
- Count of Galicia
- Count of Lara
- Count Cassius, progenitor of the Banu Qasi
- County of Urgell, later integrated into the Principality of Catalonia.
- The other Catalan counties were much smaller and were absorbed early into the County of Barcelona (between parentheses the annexation year): County of Girona (897), County of Besalú, County of Osona, which included the nominal County of Manresa (1111), County of Berga and County of Conflent (1117) and County of Cerdanya (1118). From 1162 these counties, together with that of Barcelona, were merged into the Principality of Catalonia, a sovereign state that absorbed some other counties: County of Roussillon (1172), County of Pallars Jussà (1192), County of Empúries (1402), County of Urgell (1413) and County of Pallars Sobirà (1487), giving the Principality its definitive shape.
South Eastern Europe
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.
Montenegro and Serbia
In Denmark and historically in Denmark-Norway the title of count (greve) is the highest rank of nobility used in the modern period. Some Danish/Dano-Norwegian countships were associated with fiefs, and these counts were known as "feudal counts" (lensgreve). They rank above ordinary (titular) counts, and their position in the Danish aristocracy as the highest-ranking noblemen is broadly comparable to that of dukes in other European countries.. With the first free Constitution of Denmark of 1849 came a complete abolition of the privileges of the nobility. Since then the title of count has been granted only to members of the Danish royal family, either as a replacement for a princely title when marrying a commoner, or in recent times, instead of that title in connection with divorce. Thus the first wife of Prince Joachim of Denmark, the younger son of Margrethe II of Denmark, became Alexandra, Countess of Frederiksborg on their divorce - initially retaining her title of princess, but losing it on her remarriage.
In the Middle Ages the title of jarl (earl) was the highest title of nobility. The title was eventually replaced by the title of duke, but that title was abolished in Denmark and Norway as early as the Middle Ages. Titles were only reintroduced with the introduction of absolute monarchy in 1660, with count as the highest title.
In Sweden the rank of count is the highest rank conferred upon nobles in the modern era. Unlike the rest of Scandinavia, the title of duke is still used in Sweden, but only by members of the royal family.
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, but which are considered "equivalent" in 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 (백작) or Poguk
- 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), Quận-Công (Duke/Duke of a commandery) and Quốc-Công (Grand Duke/Duke of the Nation), all under Vương (King) and Hoàng Đế (Emperor).
- the Indian Sardar, adopted by the Maratha Empire, additionally, Jagirdar and Deshmukh are close equivalents
- the Arabic equivalent Sheikh
- In traditional Sulu equivalent to Datu Sadja
The title "Count" in fiction is commonly given to evil characters or vampires:
- Count Dracula
- Count Nefaria
- Count Vertigo
- The Count (Sesame Street)
- Count Duckula
- Count Olaf
- Count Chocula
- Count Paris
- Count of Monte Cristo
- Count Dooku
- Count Orlok
- Count Lucio
- Pine, L. G. Titles: How the King Became His Majesty. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1992. p. 73. OCLC 27827106.
- "An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors". University of South Carolina. Retrieved 2008-04-10.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2005-05-10. Retrieved 2005-06-21.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, C. W. Onions (Ed.), 1966, Oxford University Press
- Wahrig Deutsches Wörterbuch, 1972 edition, page 1564: < Ahd. gravo, gravio, wahrscheinl. < mlat. graphio, ...,königl. Beamter mit administrativen u. richterl. Befugnissen < grch. grapheus Schreiber, byzantin. Hoftitel; in English: OHG gravo, gravio, prob. from Middle Latin graphio, ..., royal official with administrative and judicial authority, from Gk. grapheus, "writer"/"clerk"/"scribe", Byzantine court title.
- "Geschiedenis". Ppant.be. Retrieved 2016-08-27.
- 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 978-954-07-2465-2, стр. 254
- Ferdinand Christian Herman von Krogh: Den høiere danske Adel. En genealogisk Haandbog, C. Steen & søn, 1866
- Labarre de Raillicourt: Les Comtes Romains
- Westermann, Großer Atlas zur Weltgeschichte (in German)
- Heraldica.org - here the French peerage
- Italian Titles of Nobility
- Webster's 1828 Dictionary