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Titles of European hereditary rulers

This site provides samples of the usage of titles of territorial dominion in Europe based on superscriptions of contemporary diplomas.

Until the second half of the 20th century emperors, kings, grand dukes, princes and other hereditary rulers played an important role in Europe. The evolution of their official titles reflects in its special way the complex political history of the continent.

In law Title is the means by which the owner has just and legal possession of his or her property. A title of territorial dominion expresses claims to authority in a certain geographical region. Thus, such a title includes a proper name of the region or an ethnical group that gives its name to the region (e.g., "King of the Franks" and "King of France").

Before the rise of nationalism in the 19th century, European rulers often united lands located in the different corners of the continent. Some of these unions last for many generations. When the same person ruled several lands, they were often administered by local governments. Chancelleries of these governments might issue documents with their own versions of the ruler's titles (see examples).

According to traditions of most European noble families only one person at a time could bear the same title because only one person could own the corresponding land. However, traditions of the German Ancient Nobility (Uradel) were different. The German noble families were reluctant to adopt primogeniture, and until the 18th century, family's possessions were often divided among several male relatives. When a family member did not receive a share, he was still considered as a potential heir. In Germany, many individuals bore the same titles even after the adoption of primogeniture.

The number of geographical names in official titles of European rulers grew from the 14th century on. When the rulers acquired a new possession, or advanced a claim to it, its name was added to their titles. However, the rulers reluctantly removed names. Often European rulers kept names of lost territories hoping to regain them in the future (e.g., France in the British titles, Burgundy in the Spanish titles, etc.). Even when the rulers finally recognized that a land belonged to other states, its name could remain in their titles. Many rulers considered some territorial names in titles as family names (e.g., Lorraine by the Emperors of Austria, Nassau by the Kings of the Netherlands, Oldenburg by the Kings of Denmark, etc.). Thus, a list of geographical names in titles might not inform us about actual estates of their owners. Some rulers possessed none of the territories mentioned in their titles (see examples). In the 18th century, several rulers had titles that included more than twenty geographical names (e.g., Austria, Russia, Prussia, Spain, Sweden, Savoy, Nassau-Orange, etc.).

From the 19th century, one can see a different trend. The multi-name titles became less fashionable than before. The kings of Greece, Belgium, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Norway and Albania, the European monarchies established in the 19th and the 20th centuries, had only one territorial name in their titles. Some countries (e.g., Austria, Prussia, Russia, Württemberg, Saxony-Meiningen, etc.) introduced three forms of the state title, Grand, Middle and Short. The Short form, which included a few geographical names, was used in most official documents. The Middle form included names of main possessions. Only the Grand form included all names, and was reserved for special occasions. In the 1970s, the simplified versions of the royal titles, which included only one geographical name, replaced the traditional multi-name ones of in Sweden and Denmark.

The Hierarchy of Common Territorial Titles

The ranking of titles

The secular titles of territorial dominion Duke, Marquis, Count, Viscount and Baron, which originated in the Carolingian Empire in the 9th century, found their way in most European countries. By the 12th century, these European common titles had been accepted in the Catholic countries that used Latin in official documents. The cceptance of the common titles in the Christian Orthodox countries began later, and had completed by the 19th century. The common titles became the foundation of the hierarchy of the European secular titles, which had developed by the 14th century, when it was finally recognized that some title had a higher rank than others.








Empereur (Imperatrice)

Emperor (Empress)


Císař (Císařovna)


Rex (Regina)

Roi (Reine)

King (Queen)

König (Königin )

Král (Královna)



Duc (Duchesse)


Herzog (Herzogin)

Vévoda / Kníže  



Margrave / Marquess   





Comte / (ancient) Cuens  

Count / Earl


Hrabě (Hraběnka)  


Vicomte (Vicomtesse)





[Liber] Baro   


Baron (Baroness)

Freiherr (Freifrau / Freiin)



Sire / Seigneur

Lord (Lady)

Herr (Frau)


Official documents often had a section named superscription (lat. superscriptio, intitulatio), which contains a name and titles of the person issuing the document. As a rule, in superscriptions, territorial names were grouped by title, and the title groups were sorted according to the hierarchy: kingdoms followed by duchies, counties placed after duchies, untitled lordships were at the end. There were always exceptions. When a territory had a special importance it could be placed before the names associated with a higher rank in the hierarchy of titles (see examples).

See Peerage in Encyclopaedia Britannica

Duke in Encyclopaedia Britannica

Marquess in Encyclopaedia Britannica

Count and County in Encyclopaedia Britannica

Baron in Encyclopaedia Britannica

Extentions to the Hierarchy of Common territorial titles

In some countries the common hierarchy of titles might be augmented to reflect local specifics. For example, in Germany there were additional titles derived from the title of Count (Graf): Landgrave (Landgraf), "Forest Count" (Wildgraf), "the Rhine Count" (Rheingraf), "Raugrave" (Raugraf), and Burgrave (Burggraf).

The title of Archduke (German: Erzherzog) was invented in the Privilegium Maius, a 14th century forgery initiated by Duke Rudolf IV of Austria. Originally, it was meant to denote the ruler of Austria, in an effort to put that ruler on par with the Electors of the Holy Roman Empire.

In the Frankish state, term Count Palatine (Latin: Comes Palatinus, German: Pfalzgraf) meant a high official, 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. 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. By the 12th century, the office of the counts palatine had become hereditary. In the 14th century there were a few rulers that bore the title (Champagne, Franche-Comté, Saxony, the Rhine, etc.).

The title Dolphin (Latin: Delphinus; French: Dauphin), was used by the rulers of Viennois and Auvergne. For the discussion about the origin and usage of the title see the article Le nom du troubadour Dauphin d'Auvergne et l'évolution du mot dauphin en Auvergne au Moyen Age by Pierre- François Fournier in Bibliothèque de l'école des chartes (1930; tome  91; pp. 66-99) .

A Castellan (Latin: Castellanus; French: Châtelain) was the administrator of a Castellany, a land and jurisdiction belonging to a given castle. The position of castellan could become a hereditary fiefdom. Some of castellanies, like the Castellany of Lille, became so important, that their names were included in titles of territorial rulers.

See Dolphin in Encyclopaedia Britannica

Castellan in Encyclopaedia Britannica


In the Middle Ages, the term Prince, which originated from the unofficial title Princeps used by the Roman emperors in the 1st-3rd centuries, meant a hereditary ruler exercising complete or almost complete sovereignty. In most cases it was considered a rank rather than a title of territorial dominion. There were several exceptions, e.g., the Princes of Anhalt, Taranto, Asturia, Orange, Wales, Aquitaine, Achaea, Piedmont, Rügen, etc. ).

From the 17th century, in Germany when the Latin term Princeps was translated as Fürst, it could mean the title of territorial dominion placed between Duke and Margrave in the hierarchy. When this term was translated as Prinz, it denoted, as in other European countries, a member of a royal family other than the monarch.

Prince-Elector of the Holy Roman Empire (German: des heiligen Römischen Reichs Kurfürst) was not considered as a title of territorial dominion, although the position of Prince-Elector was associated with possession of special territories (Bohemia, Mainz, Treves (Trier), Cologne, Brandenburg, Saxony, the Rhine Palatinate, Bavaria, Hanover, etc.). The term denoted a German ecclesiastical or secular ruler who had the right to elect the Holy Roman Emperors.

The Slavic term / Kníže / Książę, which originally meant a ruler in general, became translated as Prince or Duke in the Western European languages.

Grand Princes and Grand Dukes

In the Western Europe, the title of Grand Prince was used by the Kings of Sweden in Finland (Storfurste till Finland) since 1581, and by the Austrian monarchs in Transylvania (Großfürst von Siebenbürgen / Erdély nagyfejedelme ) since 1765.

According to the inheritance traditions of the Rurikids and the Gediminids, the dynasties that ruled in Russia and Lithuania in the 10th-16th centuries, territories of a late prince were divided by his close male relatives. The prince, who received the recognition of seniority with the biggest share of the inheritance, was called "Velikiy Kniaz" ( K). This term may be translated as Grand Prince in the Western European languages. Nevertheless, it was mostly translated as Grand Duke (Latin: Magnus Dux).

In 1569, Pope Pius V granted the title of Grand Duke (Italian: Granduca) of Tuscany to Cosimo Medici, Duke of Florence.

In the 1790s, the Grand Duchies of Tuscany and Lithuania disappeared from the map of Europe.

In his quality of Protector of the Rhine Confederation, Emperor Napoleon I granted the title of Grand Duke (German: Grossherzog) to several German rulers who joined the Confederation: Baden, Hesse-Darmstadt, Berg, Wüzburg and Frankfort.

The Congress of Vienna (1814-1815) liquidated the Grand Duchies of Berg, Wüzburg, and Frankfort, created the Grand Duchies of Saxony-Weimar, Oldenburg, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Luxembourg, Fulda (for the Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel), Poznan and the Lower Rhine(for the King of Prussia), and revived the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

After the World War I, there is only one Grand Duchy in Europe, Luxembourg.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Titles of territorial dominion in the Christian Orthodox Europe

The Orthodox countries of East Europe developed their own distinct systems of titles.

Various monarchs of the Ancient Greece and the Hellenistic countries used the title of Basileus (βασιλευσ). By the 7th century, the Byzantine rulers, who considered themselves successors to the Roman Emperors, began to use this title. In this context Basileus meant "Emperor", and as such was recognized by other European powers. When Greece gained independence in the 19th century, its monarchs choose Basileus as their title. In this context, it was considered as title equal to King.

The Medieval Bulgarian monarchs used the title of Czar / Tsar ( / ). This term derived from the word Caesar, and was considered as equal to the Greek title of Basileus. In the 15th century, the Ottoman Turks conquered Bulgaria. When the Treaty of Berlin established Bulgaria as an autonomous state under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire in 1878, its monarchs used the title of Prince (). After 1908, when Bulgaria declared its complete independence, its monarchs became to use the title of Czar, which in this context was considered as equal to King.

In 1345, King Stephen Urosh IV of Serbia, who had conquered all Byzantine territories in the western Balkans, proclaimed himself Czar. In his Greek documents this title was translated as Basileus. In this context it was considered that Czar was equal to Emperor, and was more prestigious title than King. After the childless death of his son, Stephen Urosh V, in 1371, no Serbian ruler ever used the title of Czar.

By the 16th century, the Russian contemporary sources had used the term Czar when they referred to either the Byzantine Emperors or various Tatar Khans from the House of Genghis Khan. In 1547, Grand Prince John (Ivan) "the Terrible" of Russia, who saw himself as the heir to the destroyed Byzantine Empire, was crowned as Czar. The Russian government considered that Czar was no less important title than King was. Most Western European powers did not recognized the claims of the Russian rulers to be treated as Emperors. Even when some of them did, it was a treatment of "an emperor" of a remote country outside of the European political system, such as Japan, China, or Ethiopia.

In 1721, Czar Peter I "the Great", who had westernized many Russian institutions, was proclaimed Emperor of Russia. Nevertheless, the term of Czar remained in the official Russian title referring to lands of the former Tatar Khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan, Siberia, and Crimea. Unofficially the Russians continued to refer to their monarchs as "Czars".

In 1815, Emperor Alexander I of Russia annexed a part of the former Kingdom of Poland, and assumed the title of Czar of Poland. The Russian documents referred to Poland as "Czardom" (). The same time the official documents issued in Polish used "the Kingdom of Poland" (Królestwo Polskie). This implied that the titles Czar and King are equal in this context.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Development of titles of territorial dominion in European countries


1. The following articles are focused only on the hereditary secular titles of territorial dominion. Thus, all titles, which not not belong to this category are excluded from the detailed descriptions.
Some European countries were transformed into the elective monarchies. However, for candidates a family connection with the preceding monarchs was usually considered as an advantage.

For example, the titles "Defender of the Faith", "Privy Counsellor" or Knight are not related to possessions of lands. The titles like "Lieutenant-General of Normandy", although they refered to territories, do not denote territorial rulers. The titles like "Son of the King of France" or "Infant of Spain" were non-hereditary.

2. The position of the Head of the Holy Roman Empire finally became elective in the 13th century, and the title of "the King / Emperor of the Romans" was not always considered as a hereditary title.

3. Before the 14th century, a person who was elected Roman King (the head of the Holy Roman Empire), he stopped using any titles below the royal rank.

4. The samples are taken from superscriptions of contemporary diplomas.

The modern European countries

Austria (Österreich)

        Part I. The 11th century-1282

        Part II. 1282-1711

        Part III. 1711-1918


Belgium (België / Belgique)

        The Low Countries




        The Grand Duchy of Lithuania

        The Russian Empire




Croatia (Hrvatska)


Czechia ( Czech Republic )

        Bohemia and Moravia

        Opava (Troppau) and Krnov (Jägerndorf)


Denmark    (Genealogical tree)


France    (Genealogical tree)

        The Frankish States

        Grand Fiefs of France

        Sub-states in the Kingdom of Arelat (Burgundy)







         The Holy Roman Empire and Germany

         German Lands


Great Britain    (Genealogical trees)

        England (1066-1707)    (Genealogical tree)

        Scotland    (Genealogical tree)









        Italian Lands





        Courland and Semigallia





        Part I. The 10th century-1467

        Part II. The Burgundian Period. 1467-1790

         Part III. The Modern state. 1814-present


         Vielsalm / Lower Salm


The Netherlands    (Genealogical tree)

        The Low Countries







        Polish Lands


Portugal    (Genealogical trees)








        The Russian Empire


Serbia and Montenegro / Yugoslavia


Spain    (Genealogical tree)

        Aragon and Catalonia

        Castile and Leon

        Navarra    (Genealogical tree)


Sweden    (Genealogical tree)




        The Grand Duchy of Lithuania

The European sub-states

Polish Lands

In the 12th century, the sons of Duke Boleslas III divided Poland. The division created several dozens of Polish duchies ruled by various branches of the House of Piast. In the 14th century Wladislas I "Lokietek", Duke of Kujavia, united most of the Polish lands and established a new kingdom in Poland. After the extinction its ruling house in 1526, Mazovia was annexed to the Polish Crown, and all Polish lands but Silesia were reunited. By that time Silesia had become Germanized, and would stay outside the Polish state until the end of the World War II.

Greater Poland (Wielkopolska)

Kujawy, Sieradz, Łęczyca, and Dobrzyń

Lesser Poland (Malopolska)

Mazovia (Mazowsze)

Pomerania (Pomorze)

Silesia (Śląsk)

         Cieszyn / Teschen

         Głogow / Glogau

         Legnica / Liegniz and Brzeg / Brieg

         Oleśnica / Oels and Münsterberg (Ziębice)

         Opole / Oppeln

         Oświęcim / Auschwitz

         Raciborz / Ratibor

         Wrocław / Breslau, Jawor / Jauer and Świdnica / Schweidnitz

         Żagań / Sagan

         Free State-Lordships

Sub-states in the Holy Roman Empire / Germany

In the 9th century, the Empire, which Charlemagne established in the previous century, broke up, and was replaced by the Kingdoms of Germany, France, Arelat (Burgundy) and Italy. In their turn these kingdoms lost their territorial integrity giving way to numerous sub-states (principalities, duchies, margraviates, counties, baronies, free cities, etc.).

In 961, King Otto I of Germany was crowned the Roman Emperor, and Germany became the main part of the restored (Holy) Roman Empire that existed until the abdication of Emperor Francis II in 1806.

Before the 19th century, Germany consisted of numerous sub-states that differed in size and importance. The French revolution of 1789 and the wars that followed it dramatically changed the political map of Germany: several rulers gained new territories, but a great number of the German sub-states disappeared (almost one hundred pity rulers lost their independence in one day by the Act of Creation of the Confederation of the Rhine, July 1806). In 1870, all the German rulers but the Emperor of Austria, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg and the Prince of Liechtenstein, recognized the King of Prussia as the German Emperor. Although the German central government restricted their authority, kings, dukes, and princes preserved a great deal of autonomy in the local affairs until the time of the November Revolution of 1918, which deposed all of them. (See The German rulers in 1789-1918).

The historical maps of the Holy Roman Empire (Wikipedia): 1400; 1618; 1648; 1789;

Imperial Circles of the Holy Roman Empire

The Imperial Estates in 1803-1806

The German rulers in 1806-1813

The German rulers in 1813-1815

The German rulers in 1815-1918



Ansbach and Bayreuth

Austria (Österreich)

        Part I. The 11th century-1282

        Part II. 1282-1711

        Part III. 1711-1918




Barby and Mühlingen

Bavaria (Bayern)


The Berg and Jülich

Bentheim, Steinfurt, Tecklenburg



Brandenburg and Prussia

        Part I. The 12th century-1415

        Part II. 1415-1918


Brunswick (Braunschweig) and Hanover

Carinthia (Kärnten) and Styria


Chiny   (Map of the Counties of Chiny and Loon).

Cilli / Celje   (Map of possessions of the Counts of Cilli in the 15th century).



East Frisia



Falkenstein and Oberstein

Fürstenberg, Stühlingen, and Heiligenberg


Gelderland / Guelders (Gelre)




Hanau, Zweibrücken and Rieneck



Hesse (Hessen)








Isenburg, Büdingen and Birstein


Kleve and The Mark

Kriechingen / Créhange




Limburg (an der Lenne) and Styrum


Lindau and Ruppin


Lusatia / Lausitz


        Part I. The 10th century-1467

        Part II. The Burgundian Period. 1467-1795

Lotharingia / Lorraine (Lothringen)   (Genealogical tree)






Myllendonk / Milendonk




Oldenburg and Delmenhorst



The Electoral Palatinate (Kurpfalz)

       The House of Palatinate

Regenstein / Reinstein

Reifferscheid and Dyck


Rekem / Reckheim

Reuss of Plauen, Vogtland and the Burgraviate of Misnia





The Upper Salm, Kyrburg, and Dhaun

Saxony (Sachsen)

        Part I. The 12th century-1422

        Part II. 1423-1918

Sayn and Wittgenstein

Schaumburg / Schauenburg

Schaunberg   (Map of the County of Schaunberg ca.1385).






        Part I. The 12th century-1440

        Part II. 1440-1547

        Part III. 1547-1918



Sponheim / Spanheim

Stolberg, Königstein and Wernigerode


Tarasp / Trasp (Dietrichstein)











The Members of the Lower Rhenish-Westphalian Circle

German Lands

The Low Countries

The historical maps of the Low Countries (Wikipedia): 1477;

Bergen op Zoom

Brabant and Limburg    (Genealogical tree)


Flanders    (Genealogical tree)

Gelderland / Guelders (Gelre)

Hainaut / Hennegau    (Genealogical tree)



        The 10th century-1467



Rekem / Reckheim

Other territories in the Low Countries

Sub-states in the Kingdom of Arelat (Burgundy)

The historical maps of Arelat (Wikipedia): the 13th century;

Albon, Viennois, and Dauphiné







Provence and Forcalquier


Grand Fiefs in France

By the end of the 9th century the authority of the Kings of France had declined and the real power in the country passed to counts, royal officials who governed territorial units called counties. They were able to make their offices hereditary, and became virtually independent rulers. The most important of them controlled several counties and were styled dukes. In the 12th century, the Kings of France annexed the Duchy of Normandy, the Counties of Poitou, Anjou, Maine, Toulouse, etc., and became the biggest landowners in the country (although, the Kings of France continued to gave away duchies and counties to their younger sons as apanages). By the 16th century, with the restoration of the royal authority, the French dukes, counts and other grand feudatories gradually had lost their independence.

See Grand Feudatories and Royal Authority in France in the 12th-16th centuries, from Lordship in France by James Lowth Goldsmith.

1. Boulton, D'Arcy Jonathan Dacre. Dominical titles of dignity in France 1223-1515: a study of the formalization and hierarchization of status in the upper nobility in the later Middle Ages (University of Pennsylvania : 1978; a dissertation in History). [ Ann Arbor, Mich.. Univ. Microfilms Internat.. 1982. VII, 587 Bl. : graph. Darst. ].

The historical maps of France (Wikipedia): 1180; 1328; 1477

Alençon and Perche


Anjou and Maine

Aquitaine and Guienne

Armagnac, Fezensac and Rodez



Auxerre and Tonnerre

Bar / Barrois

Benon / Benaon

Blois and Orléans


Boulogne-sur-Mer and Auvergne


Brittany (Bretagne)    (Genealogical tree)

Burgundy (Bourgogne)    (Genealogical tree)














La Marche

Laval, Montfort-sur-Meu and Quintin






Nevers and Rethel



Poitou and Berry





Saint Pol





Other French grand fiefs...

Italian Lands

Since the Middle Ages the territory of the modern Italy was divided among several states. In 1859-1860 the King of Sardinia united them into the Kingdom of Italy.

The historical maps of Italy (Wikipedia): 1499;




Montferrat and Mantua







The European states outside Europe

The Crusaders states



Jerusalem    (Genealogical tree)

American states



Interesting Links



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