Swedish nobility: Wikis


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The Swedish nobility (Adeln) were historically a legally privileged class in Sweden, part of the so-called frälse (a classification defined by tax exemptions and representation in the diet that also applied to clergy). Today, the nobility is still very much a part of Swedish society but they do not maintain many of their former privileges. They still do possess some privileges such as the protection by law of their family names, titles and coats of arms. The House of Nobility or Riddarhuset also has a special tax for all noblemen over the age of 18. Belonging to the nobility in present day Sweden still carries some social privileges, and is of certain social and historical significance.

Swedish nobility is organized into three classes according to a scheme introduced in riddarhusordningen (Standing orders of the House of Knights) 1626

The two last classes contains the so called untitled nobility (Swedish: obetitlad adel). The division into classes has roots in the middle ages when the nobility frälse was divided into lords in the Privy Council, knights and esquires.

Until 1719 the three classes voted separately, but in the Age of Liberty all classes were voting together with one vote for each family head (Swedish: huvudman). This made the vast majority of the untitled nobility in power, for example officers and civil servants were represented.

In 1778 Gustav III restored the classes and class voting and at the same time he reformed the Class of Knights. Originally this class only contained family descendants of Privy Councillors and was the smallest class of the three classes. But Gustav III also introduced in this class the 300 oldest families in the Class of Esquire and also the "commander families", who are of the descendents of commanders of the Order of the Northern Star and the Order of the Sword. No more commander families were introduced in the House of Knights after 1809, and thereafter also the class voting was abolished and the nobility was then voting as during the Age of Liberty.

A Swedish duke (hertig) has almost always been of royal status and counted as such. An exception in medieval times was Benedict, Duke of Halland. Two men were also created princes (furstar) in the 18th century: Fredrik Vilhelm von Hessenstein and Vilhelm Putbus.

Following the elevation of a commoner into nobility by the Swedish monarch, the key concept was that of introduction to one's peers in the House of Nobility (Riddarhuset), which formerly was a chamber in the Riksdag of the Estates, the Swedish Parliament. After 1866 the Palace of the Nobility served as official representation for the nobility and was regulated by the Swedish government, but this regulation ceased completely in 2003, as have the privileges. Many noble families are introduced and their members are listed in a calendar published every three years. There are many noble families that are unintroduced and they are not registered in the House of Knights.


Medieval nobility: Frälse

The institution of Swedish (and Finnish) nobility dates back to 1280, when it was stated in the Decree of Alsnö that magnates who could afford to contribute a mounted soldier to the cavalry were to be exempted from tax - at least from ordinary taxes - just as the clergy already had been. The archaic Swedish term for nobility, frälse, also included the clergy with respect to their exemption from tax.

The background for this was that the old system of a leiðangr fleet and a king constantly on travel through the realm (between the estates of Uppsala öd) had by this time became outmoded and in need of replacement. The crown's court and castles were now to be financed through taxes on land.

Soon it was agreed that the king should govern the realm in cooperation with a Privy Council (or Royal Council), in which the bishops and the most distinguished magnates (i.e. the most prominent contributors to the army) participated. When critical decisions were necessary, the whole frälse was summoned to the diets.

Swedish nobility had no hereditary fiefs. In the case where a noble was granted a castle belonging to the crown, his heirs couldn't later claim their ancestors' civil or military rights. The lands of the magnates who constituted the medieval nobility were their own and not "on lease" from a feudal king. If they by their own means (including the suffering of their local peasantry) built a castle and financed its troops, then the castle was theirs, but its troops were expected to serve as a part of the army of the realm.

For extended periods, the commander of Viborg at the Novgorod/Russian front did, in practice, function as a margrave, keeping all the crown's income from the fief to use for the defense of the realm's eastern border. But despite heavy German influence during the medieval period, the elaborate German system with titles such as Lantgraf, Reichsgraf, Burggraf and Pfalzgraf was never applied in Sweden.

Nobility after 1561

Axel Oxenstierna secured all government appointments to be filled by nobles.

At the coronation of Eric XIV in 1561, Swedish nobility became formally hereditary for the first time upon the creation of the higher titles of Count (greve) and Baron (friherre, baron). The House of Knights was organized in 1626. The grounds for introduction into this House became either birth into an "ancient" noble family or ennoblement by the King or Queen. Consequently, a great interest in genealogy followed.

The Lord High Chancellor, Axel Oxenstierna, was the architect of the Instrument of Government of 1634, which laid the foundation of modern Sweden. It guaranteed that all government appointments were to be filled by candidates from the nobility, a move which helped mobilize support for, rather than opposition to, a centralized national government.

Due to the many wars fought by Sweden, the crown needed some means of rewarding its officers, and since the royal coffers were not without end, ennoblement and grants of land were useful substitutes for cash payments. During the 17th century, the number of noble families grew by a factor of five. In less than a century, the nobility's share of Swedish land ownership rose from 16% to over 60%, which led to considerably lower tax revenue for the crown. The "reductions" of 1655 and 1680, however, brought land back into the crown's possession.

Following the German model, historically all members of a noble family were generally titled. If the family was of the rank of a Count or a Baron, all members received that title as well. However, following the new Instrument of Government from 1809, a change was made more in line with the British system so that, for later nobility, only the head of the family could hold the title. There also exist Swedish families in which all members are noble but only the head carries the title of "Count". But this new rule applies only to ennoblements granted after 1809, so the vast majority of noble families are still of the old kind.

In contrast to the United Kingdom and the Benelux countries, no hereditary titles or honours have been granted since 1902, when explorer Sven Hedin was ennobled by the King (that honor was hereditary, but he left no heirs). Since 1975 the Swedish monarch no longer has the legal right to ennoble. Royal princes and princesses are the exception to this rule, as they are created dukes or duchesses. Royal princes who lost their Swedish titles by virtue of marrying morganatically have been granted Luxembourgish or Belgian titles of nobility instead, by virtue of their family ties with the sovereigns of these two countries (see: Bernadotte af Wisborg).

Titles of high nobility

The first counts and barons, created in 1561 by Eric XIV:

  • Svante Sture of Hörningsholm, 1562 count of Vestervik and later also Stegeholm
  • Peder Joakimsson Brahe of Rydboholm, 1562 count of Visingsborg
  • Göstaff Johansson of Haga, 1562 count of Bogesund (originally Enköping)
  • Stenbock Gustaf Olofsson, baron of Torpa
  • Leijonhufvud Sten Eriksson, baron of Grevsnes
  • Grip Birger Nilsson, baron of Vines
  • Oxenstierna Gabriel Kristersson, baron of Mörby
  • Lars Fleming, baron of Arvasalo (in Finland)
  • Gera Karl Holgersson, baron of Björkvik
  • Gera Göran Holgersson, baron of Ållonö
  • Horn af Åminne Klas Kristersson, baron of Joensuu (in Finland)
  • Stenbock Erik Gustafsson, baron of Torpa (younger son of Gustaf Olofsson)

John III granted the first baronies (the earlier had been hereditary estates):

  • Öresten and Kronobäck to Erik Gustafsson of Torpa
  • Lundholm to Nils Göransson Gyllenstierna, new baron, accordingly
  • Viikki (in Finland) to Klas Eriksson Fleming, new baron
  • Läckö to Hogenskild Bielke, new baron
  • Ekholmen to Pontus De La Gardie, new baron
  • Kungs-Lena to Olof Gustafsson Stenbock (elder son and heir of Gustaf Olofsson)
  • and, 1571 county of Raseborg (in Finland) to baron Sten Eriksson of Grevsnes' widow and heirs

Charles IX created only one:

  • barony of Nynäs (in Finland) to Abraham Leijonhufvud

(Svante Bielke and Nils Bielke were elevated to baronial rank by him without baronies)

Gustav II Adolf created:

Christina created:

Charles X Gustav created:

  • county of Sölvesborg to Corfitz Ulfeldt
    • (afterwards: Lars Kagg got exchanged becoming count of Sölvesborg, then Carl Gustav Wrangel)
  • P.Wuertz baron of Örneholma
  • barony of Kastell ladugården to Rutger von Ascheberg

Charles XI created:

  • county of Börringe to Gustav Carlsson, his illegitimate half-brother

source: Nordisk Familjebok


The noble estates are not abolished in Sweden, but their privileged position has been weakened step by step since 1680. The nobility's political privileges were practically abolished by the reformation of the Riksdag of the Estates in 1866, and the last rights of precedence to certain governmental offices were removed in the 1920s. By then the last tax exemption privileges had also been abolished. However, some minor privileges remained up until 2003, when the law granting these noble privileges was completely abolished.

The perks of nobility today are limited to protection of noble titles and certain elements and styles used in coats of arms: a helm with an open visor, a coronet showing rank, a medallion and the use of supporters. Modern Swedish law makes no distinctions on the grounds of nobility.

See also

External links



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