Count palatine

"Pfalzgraf" redirects here. It is not to be confused with Palsgraf.

Count palatine is a high noble title,[1] used to render several comital (of or relating to a count or earl) styles, in some cases also shortened to Palatine, which can have other meanings as well.

Importance of a Count Palatine in Medieval Europe

Comes palatinus

This Latin title is the original, but also pre-feudal: it originated as a Roman Comes, which was a non-hereditary court title of high rank, the specific part palatinus being the adjective derived from palatium ('palace').

But after the fall of Rome, a new feudal type of title, also known simply as palatinus, started developing. The Frankish kings of the Merovingian dynasty (reigned 480-750) employed a high official, the comes palatinus, who at first assisted the king in his judicial duties and at a later date discharged many of these himself. Other counts palatine were employed on military and administrative work.

In Visigothic Spain, the Officium Palatinum consisted of a number of men with the title of count that managed the various departments of the royal household. The Comes Cubiculariorum oversaw the chamberlains, the Comes Scanciorun directed the cup-bearers, the Comes Stabulorum directed the equerries in charge of the stables, etc. The Ostrogothic kings that ruled in Italy also maintained palatine counts with titles such as Comes Patrimonium, who was in charge of the patrimonial or private real estate of the king, and others.

The system was maintained by the Carolingian sovereigns (reigned 750-1000). A Frankish capitulary of 882 and Hincmar, archbishop of Reims, writing about the same time, testify to the extent to which the judicial work of the Frankish Empire had passed into their hands, and one grant of power was followed by another. (See the twelve legendary Paladins.)

Instead of remaining near the person of the king, some of the counts palatine were sent to various parts of his empire to act as judges and governors, the districts ruled by them being called palatinates. Being in a special sense the representatives of the sovereign, they were entrusted with more extended power than the ordinary counts. In this way came about the later and more general use of the word "palatine", its application as an adjective to persons entrusted with special powers —– but also to the districts over which these powers were exercised.

By the High Middle Ages, the title "count" had become increasingly common, to the point that both great magnates who ruled regions that were the size of duchies, and local castle-lords, might style themselves "count". As the great magnates began to centralize their power over their local castle-lords, they felt the need to assert the difference between themselves and these minor "counts". Therefore, several of these great magnates began styling themselves "Count Palatine", signifying great counts ruling regions equivalent to duchies, such as the Counts Palatine of Champagne in the 13th century. See also Royal Administration of Merovingian and Carolingian Dynasties.

Related terms

Pfalzgraf is an exclusively German title (from the above Latin comes palatinus 'count of the palace'), rendered in English also (recorded since 1548) as palsgrave since medieval times for the permanent representative of the Frankish king, later of the Holy Roman Emperor, in a palatial domain of the crown (pfalz). Grafio is probably from the Greek grafein 'to write', hence 'scribe'; it plausibly comes via the Byzantine Greek grapheus or suggrapheus "he who calls a meeting, i.e. the court, together", which denoted a civil servant, rather than a feudal count. There were dozens of these royal Pfalzen throughout the Empire, and the monarch travelled between them. The empire had no real capital. This practice of a mobile, somewhat omnipresent king, thus also 'eating his taxes' (literally wining and dining), was common in early feudal Europe. Travel was often already required because of military considerations. The count responsible for these places was thus responsible for the palace during the king's absence. In the empire the word count palatine was also used to designate the officials who assisted the emperor in exercising the rights which were reserved for his personal consideration, like granting arms. They were called imperial counts palatine (in Latin comites palatini caesarii, or comites sacri palatii; in German, Hofpfalzgrafen. Both the Latin form (Comes) palatinus and the French (comte) palatin have been used as part of the full title of Dukes of Burgundy (a branch of the French royal dynasty) to render their rare German title Freigraf, which was the style of a (later lost) bordering principality, the allodial countship of Burgundy (Freigrafschaft Burgund in German) which came to be known as Franche-Comté.

In early medieval Poland the Palatinus was next in rank to the King. As he is also the chief commander of the King's army the rank is merged with Wojewoda, with the latter replacing the title of Palatine. During the Fragmentation of Poland each Prince would have his own voivode. When some of these Principalities are reunited into the Kingdom of Poland the Palatines are infeudated with them as there is no local Prince anymore. Or rather on behalf of the King to whom all these princely titles returned. The Principalities are thus made Voivodships (sometimes translated as Palatinates). In the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth the Voivodes sit in the Senat. Throughout its history the dignity remained non-hereditary or semi-hereditary. Today voivodes are government officials.

Medieval social structure and development of the Count Palatine

During the 11th century, some imperial palatine counts became a valuable political counterweight against the mighty duchies. Surviving old palatine counties were turned into new institutional pillars through which the imperial authority could be exercised. By the reigns of Henry the Fowler and especially of Otto the Great, comites palatini were sent into all parts of the country to support the royal authority by checking the independent tendencies of the great tribal dukes. We hear of a count palatine in Saxony, and of others in Lorraine, in Bavaria and in Swabia, their duties being to administer the royal estates in these duchies.

Next to the Dukes of Lotharingia, Bavaria, Swabia and Saxony, who had become dangerously powerful feudal princes, loyal supporters of the German Emperor were installed as counts palatine.

The Lotharingian palatines out of the Ezzonian dynasty were important commanders of the imperial army and were often employed during internal and external conflicts (e.g. to suppress rebelling counts or dukes, to settle frontier disputes with the Hungarian and the French kingdom and to lead imperial campaigns).

Although a palatinate could be rooted for decades into one dynasty, the office of the palatine counts became hereditary only during the 12th century. During the 11th century the palatinates were still regarded as beneficia, non-hereditary fiefs. The count palatine in Bavaria, an office held by the family of Wittelsbach, became duke of this land, the lower comital title being then merged into the higher ducal one. The Count Palatine of Lotharinga, changed its name to Count Palatine of the Rhine in 1085, alone remaining independent until 1777. The office having become hereditary, Pfalzgrafen were in existence until the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. The palatinate of Saxony merged with the Electoral Duchy of Saxony. The Palatinate of the Rhine became an electorate, and both were Imperial Vicars.

The term count palatine was not used in the United Kingdom. Just as Count always remained reserved for continental territories, even though the equivalence of earl became clear by rendering it in Latin also as Comes, earl palatine was the exclusively British title for the incumbent of a British county palatine.

Merovingian and Carolingian Counts Palatine


See also Royal Administration of Merovingian and Carolingian Dynasties.

Counts Palatine of Champagne

King Lothar of France (954-986) gave Odo I, Count of Blois, one of his most loyal supporters in the struggle against the Robertians and the Counts of Vermandois, in 976 the title of Count Palatine. The title was later inherited by his heirs, and when they died out, by the Counts of Champagne.

Counts Palatine of Bavaria

Originally, the Counts Palatine held the County Palatine (around Regensburg), and were subordinate to the Dukes of Bavaria, rather than to the king. The position gave its holder a leading position in the legal system of the Duchy.

Counts Palatine of Burgundy

In 1169, Emperor Frederick I created the Free County of Burgundy (not to be confused with its western neighbour, the Duchy of Burgundy). The Counts of Burgundy had the title of Free Count (German: Freigraf), but are sometimes called Counts Palatine.

Counts Palatine of Lebanon

The noble Khazen family of Mount Lebanon was endowed with the title by Pope Clement X, in addition to their honors from King Louis XIV, who named them consuls of France and "princes of the Maronites", for their generosity toward Catholic missions in their territory.[2][3] They are typically referred to by the title of Cheikh, which they received for protecting princes Fakhr-al-Din II and Younès al-Maani.[4]

Counts Palatine of Lotharingia

From 985, the Ezzonids held the title:

Herman II's widow Adelaide of Weimar-Orlamünde remarried to Henry of Laach, who inherited the County Palatine, but changed the title to Count Palatine of the Rhine.

Counts Palatine of Tübingen

Counts Palatine of the Rhine

In 1085, after the death of Herman II, the County Palatine of Lotharingia lost its military importance in Lorraine. The territorial authority of the Count Palatine was reduced to his territories along the Rhine. Consequently, he is called the Count Palatine of the Rhine after 1085.

The Golden Bull of 1356 made the Count Palatine of the Rhine an Elector. He was therefore known as the Elector Palatine.

Counts Palatine of Saxony

In the 10th century the Emperor Otto I created the County Palatine of Saxony in the Saale-Unstrut area of southern Saxony. The honour was initially held by a Count of Hessengau, then from the early 11th century by the Counts of Goseck, later by the Counts of Sommerschenburg, and still later by the Landgraves of Thuringia:

After Henry Rapse's death, the County Palatine of Saxony and the Landgraviate of Thuringia were given to the House of Wettin, based on a promise made by Emperor Frederick II:

King Rudolph I of Germany gave the County Palatine of Saxony to the House of Welf:

Counts Palatine of Swabia

After 1146, the title went to the Counts Palatine of Tübingen.

Equivalents in other states

See also


  1. Adel (german)
  2. The sword of the Maronite Prince.
  3. Origins of the "Prince of Maronite" Title .
  4. An Interview with Cheikh Malek el-Khazen. Published: 28 July 2014.
  5. Babinger 1992, p. 147: " the "Grand Celnik" (a sort of count palatine) "
  6. Trifunović 1979, p. 61: "Међу њима је највиши углед уживао велики челник (Xребељан, Радич Поступовић и др.). Неки од њих су временом стекли велике области, имања и почасти. Занимљив је и жив пример челника Радича"

Sources and references

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