Nobility of the Holy Roman Empire?

So, I'm trying to map out some NPCs for my new campaign, which is set in the Westerwald, in Rhine Tribunal. What confuses me is the ranks of nobility below Baron. So let me get this straight. Counts, like Henry II the Rich of Nassau, is served by Barons (Freiherr). These barons have several manors each, right? And each of these, apart from the Baron's demesne, is managed by a knight (Ritter). Or is there one more link in this chain? A Baron has several banneret knights, each having several manors, managed by one vasall knight each? Damn, I know the English system quite well, but the german seems very complicated..


Not sure what the difference between Empire nobility and other nobilities but it is not that simple, I am probably completely wrong but here goes:

A Count does not necessarily have any barons sworn allegiance to him, he might just have a large number of knights. Take the example Count in the Triamore set, he has allegiance from a dozen knights over as many fiefs, but also a hermitage of the templars who own a single fief and an abbey who own three, as well as receiving some tribute from the covenant in that setting who own three fiefs.

A knight does not necessarily have only one manor, a rich knight might have three or four. You can have a manor that you do not directly control run by a servant managing it for you without ownership given away, the name for that is a senechal. If you give the manor to a knight instead then that knight gets to take the taxes for himself, and merely tithes to the church its share and gives the higher noble tribute.

An Empire noble who would be a Count in sheer terms of land owned could be only a Baron in one Duchy and a Baron in another, and merely a knight in the third. And would give allegiance to each lord seperately for the land held. even though each of those Counts or Earl all owe allegiance to the Emperor. This comes about from marriages between nobles who live far off. It was also how the Netherlands was formed internally to the Holy Roman Empire as the Hapsburg family married into more and more titles and land, their head was Emperor, as well as being seperately King of Hungary, King of Spain, Count of Flanders, Graf of something else, etc.

An example of this from England, which you know most about, is the King of England also holding Normandy from France and swearing allegiance to the King of France for those holdings only. The higher the noble the more convoluted the web of mutually idiotic alliegances, where a noble in two countries has to decide which side in a war he fights for.

One of the reasons for the Netherlands eventual rebellion is that each fief he inherited had different laws and a different set of agreements with its Lord, which was ignored by the him.

It is likely any high noble in the Empire with fiefs held seperately has the same problem, he might have the right to impose taxes as he wishes, conscript troops at will, impose tariffs etc, in one domain. But in another it could be highly curtailed and he could make no decisions without confirmation from the head burgers of the city. Remember that not all cities get to be independant, they must have a licence to be so, from their overlord.

Far more complicated than you appear to imagine, indeed. No, you cannot even judge somebody's place in the feudal pyramid of the Holy Roman Empire just by his title alone.
There are e. g. Reichsritter, knights who hold their knighly fiefs directly from the king, without any intermediaries. There a holders of Allods, who are only bound to the laws of the German kingdom for it.
And Baron is not a title in the medieval Holy Roman Empire at all, just a generic classification of lower hereditary nobility in history books. There's Freie, Edelfreie, and Freie Herren - but no Barons in the lists of the Heerschilde. (For a first look: - no English Wiki available.)

To start a thorough study of the Stände of the Holy Roman Empire around 1220 to 1230, get a translation of Eike von Repgow's famous Sachsenspiegel.
For a first look, see again .

There is no way to explain the Stände of the Holy Roman Empire adequately on this forum.
Samuel von Pufendorf, jurist, statesman and historian, wrote in 1667: "Nihil ergo aliud restat, quam ut dicamus Germaniam esse irregulare aliquod corpus et monstro simile ..." ("We are therefore left with calling Germany a body that conforms to no rule and resembles a monster").

Kind regards,


Right.. then I'm happy that nobles won't be the focus in my campaign, but Magi. I also run a campaign in Pendragon, and that's happily set in England :laughing:


My game is also set int the westerwald, and I'm running into the same headaches trying to figure out the chain of command, the borders, and where exactly the clergic nobels seem to fit into all this.


I guess my advice would it the way you |WANT it.

Trying to do this just on abstract ideas of feudalism will not lead to useful results.
I would suggest looking for local history sources about the Westerwald: if you have no other starting points, begin with good travel guides, continue with their bibliographies, see which books listed there are actually available to you at online bookstores or antiquarians (lots can be 'grey literature' from small or extinct publishers, published by assocations or even the authors themselves).
Best bet is, of course, to just travel there and check out the libraries and better bookstores: it's a rare place in Europe where you cannot in a few hours research the local noble families in the middle ages, their holdings and their histories. And if you've been there, inventing stories fitting your chosen setting is also much easier.
Both methods usually require some acquaintance with the local language, though: local history sources are rarely available in translation.

If a noble joins the clergy, he is - in principle and in theory - lost to the world, free of his family's feudal obligations, cut off from their fortunes, and can no longer inherit.
In practice, he relies on the clout and resources of his family to advance through the ranks of the church, and pays his family back by using the influence of his offices to support them.

Kind regards,


Being in California, a quick afternoon trip to central Germany isn't exactly an option. :slight_smile: Even if I could do a juant over to the westerwald, I think there might be a language barrier that would be a hinderance to the research.

The opposite of nobles joining the clergy is clergy raised to the nobility by fact of how much land their particular rank holds. A Bishop who has scattered churches and holdings given to his diocese by penitent noblemen, would hold each of those holdings as if he was a noble, and would be expected to act the same as any other noble in terms of meeting feudel obligations like raising soldiers, passing on the correct share of revenue etc. If he was powerful enough he might even hold an electors seat within the Empire.

Along this line,

I've never had a good hold on post Charlemange Burgundian and HRE history. Always have a hard time figuring out whose in charge and how that mass of noble and church landholder interrelate. Whereas, at least for an English speaker, there is a relative wealth of information on the social, political, and economic history west of the Rhine, Germania and marches have IMO been hard to get a handle on. So the question is - what are some good introductions to German Medival History, both early and high middle age in English.

Many thanks.

Here's a good one:

Medieval Germany (Routledge Encyclopedias of the Middle Ages)
by John M. Jeep (Author)

Best look for it in public or university libraries.

But if you wish to purchase it, amazon has it at a steep price: ... s#citebody

Kind regards,


Here's yet another:

Germany in the High Middle Ages: c.1050-1200 (Cambridge Medieval Textbooks) (Hardcover)
by Horst Fuhrmann (Author), Timothy Reuter (Translator)

Less pricy, more concise, and concentrating on the main Ars Magica time. ... F8&s=books

Kind regards,


And this is treated in depth here:

Princes and Territories in Medieval Germany (Hardcover)
by Benjamin Arnold, Cambridge University Press (July 26, 1991) ... F8&s=books

Kind regards,


Here's the last suggestion, because of a nice amazon customer review of an amateur:

"Most concise, easy reading medieval German history I've read, March 21, 1998
Reviewer: A reader
In my research for information about the history of castles in Germany for a future book and web site I've purchased almost every book on the subject of medieval Germany I could get my hands on. I figured that if I read the same subject over and over something would eventually stick. I should have found Professor Haverkamp's book first. I would have saved a fortune."

Kallie, is it that what you're looking for?

Then the book is:

Medieval Germany 1056-1273 (Paperback)
by Alfred Haverkamp (Author), Helga Braun (Translator), Richard Mortimer (Translator), Oxford University Press, USA; 2 edition (October 1, 1992) ... F8&s=books

Used it sells for under 10$.

Kind regards,



Thanks so much for the direction and your efforts.. Probably go with the survey piece first followed by the detail. Worked well for Byzantium, and I'm sure the germans won't be byzantine.