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Ministerialis (plural ministeriales); a post-classical Latin word, used in English, meaning originally servitor, agent, in a broad range of senses. In Germany, in the High Middle Ages, the word and its German translations, Ministeriale(n) and Dienstmann, came to describe those unfree knights who made up a large majority of German knighthood during that time.

Contents

Origins to 11th century

Ministeriales were at first bondsmen or serfs who were entrusted with special responsibilities by their overlords, such as the management of a farm, administration of finances (chancery) or of various possessions. From the 11th century the term came to denote functionaries living as members of the knightly class with either a lordship of their own or one delegated from a higher lord as well as some political influence (inter alia the exercise of offices at court).

11th–12th centuries

As the need for such service functions became more acute, (as for example during the Investiture Controversy) and their duties and privileges, at first nebulous, became more clearly defined, the ministeriales developed in the Salian period (1024–1125) into a new and much differentiated class. They received fiefs, which to begin with were not heritable, in return for which they provided knightly services. They were also allowed to possess, and often did hold, allods.

From the reign of Conrad II (1024–1039) they were employed as stewards (Vögte), castellans (Burggrafen) and judges in the administration of the imperial territories, and in the lay principalities. As Imperial ministeriales (Reichsministerialen) they upheld the Salian, and particularly the Hohenstaufen, imperial polity.

Over the course of the 13th century their status was slowly assimilated to that of the free nobility, or vassals. The remaining traces of the taint of servility gradually faded, and the "fiefs for service" turned into proper hereditable fiefs, partly also because impoverished free nobles, while reserving their personal free status, voluntarily became ministeriales.

13th century onwards

By the 13th and 14th centuries the ministeriales formed an intrinsic part of the lower nobility, and in the 15th century formed the core of the knightly class (Ritterstand).

References

  • Arnold, Benjamin, 1985. German Knighthood 1050–1300. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

This article is based on that in the German Wikipedia

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