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
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.
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.
Comital titles in different European languages
The following lists are originally based on a Glossary on Heraldica.org by Alexander Krischnig.
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 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
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
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
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.
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
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 Guelders later Dukes of Guelders Count of Holland Count of Zeeland Count of Zutphen
- 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
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.
Poland was notable throughout its history for not granting titles of nobility.
Somewhat similar to the native privileged class of nobles found in Poland, Hungary also had a class of Conditional nobles.
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.
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.
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.
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
- Count Berlin
- Count Dragorin
- Count Crystal
- Count Narski
- Count von Henzel
- The Count (Sesame Street)
- Count Olaf
- Count Chocula
- Count Paris
- Count of Monte Cristo
- Count Dooku
- Count Lucio