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The origins of the name “Burggraf”


The origins of the name “Burggraf”:Original article at the German language edition of the free encyclopaedia Wikipedia.The burggrave (lat. praefectus, castelanus or burggravius) was a medieval feudal office. The domain of a burggrave was called burggraviat (lat. prefectura). The burggraves belonged to the landowning lesser nobility (MB disagree: not necessarily as they could also be unfree ministerialis or knights) and on occasion adopted their office’s designation as part of their name.

The term burggrave covers a number of different aspects. Burggraves could either be in service to a king, to a bishop or to another lord. Their duties could be administrative, military and/or jurisdictional. Some burggraves only had military command over a castle and their role was limited to its maintenance and defence. Others on the other hand managed to expand their lordship over a larger territory.The first mention of a burggrave in the Holy Roman Empire was or Ratisbon (ger. Regensburg). In the first half of the 11th century, Arnold of Saint Emmeran cites a certain Burchard as ‘prefectus Rati-sbonensis’. The foundation of this burggraviat took place sometime between 953 and 972, maybe around the new year of 961. After Burchard, as of ca. 980 the burggraves of Ratisbon belonged to the House of Babo (ger. Babonen).

 After that house’s extinction around the end of the 12th century, the burggraviat came into the hands of Louis I duke of Bavaria. The character of this burggraviat was long under dispute. Recent research has determined that the burggraviat of Ratisbon was a “Stadtgrafschaft” (rough translation: city county). Accordingly the burggraviat was not subservient to the county of the western Donaugau but instead a county whose holder held comitatus (comital rights of jurisdiction, military governance and administration) in its own right. Other burggraves like for instance those of Rheineck managed to become direct vassals of the king of Germans and thereby assumed a position akin to that of a “Reichsgraf” (lit. count of the (Holy Roman) Empire).Parallel to these types numerous burggraviats existed, particularly in southern and eastern Germany, in the 11th and 12th century. These had evolved from the older office of “(Burg-Vogt)” (lat. advocatus).

These were only military commanders of an imperial- or episcopal- castle or city and therefore superiors to the Burgmannen” (lit. men of the castle, the garrison).By the middle of the 12th century Conrad III king of Germans created a new type of burggraviat for the German colonisation of the east. They became protectors and administrators of large royal domains around important imperial castles which included the office of judge. They themselves likewise acted as colonisators carving entire lordships out of conquered territories. The burggraviats from that region disappeared in the following two hundred years when the House of Wettin gained prominence in the margraviat of Meissen, the later Saxony.Like other offices of the feudal state the burggraviats rapidly became hereditary. Their designation was also increasingly used for “Burgvögte” (lat. advocatus) depending off lesser nobles. Sometimes they even devolved into simple titles without rights or power.The burggraviat could also be a powerbase for the expansion schemes of noble families, as was for instance in the burggraves of Nuremberg (ger. Nürnberg).Particularly notable were the (episcopal) burggraves of Mainz, Magdeburg and Wurzburg, the burggraves of Dohna, the burggraves of Staufeneck as well as the royal burggraves of Nuremberg (Hohenzollern), also the east German burggraves of Meissen (Meinheringer) who were administrators and judges but only had military command within their castles.

The creator of the office of burggrave could be the Holy Roman Emperor (MB uncertain: king of Germans might be equally likely) (or an imperial city) as in the case of Nuremberg. It could also be a religious principality like the prince-bishopric Würzburg which originally gifted their burggraviat to the counts of Henneberg. Or the collegiate of Saint Cassius of Bonn which founded the burggraviat of Drachenfels in the arch-bishopric of Cologne. Occasionally the office was hereditary from the outset (Drachenfels), in most cases it only later became such (Nuremberg), sometimes a burggraviat could also be dissolved (as in the prince-bishopric of Würzburg in 1230).An example of the evolution of the office of burggrave can be seen with the burggraves of Tirol, first advocati of the bishops of Trento and Brixen, finally counts of Tirol ruling the entire region (whose original core lands in South Tirol are designated even today as the Burggrafenamt).In Austria the term burggrave only came into use around the end of the medieval period. “Burghauptmann” (lit. captain of the castle) is a local synonym used to this day.

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