Sovereign Counts, Princes and Dukes in Europe / Germany (Reigning and Non-Reigning) and International Law

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In Germany / Europe the several compacts / agreements of states to mutually protect other states sovereignty was always strong. These came under several forms, and one that stayed the longest was called “the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation”. There were many other names for these loosely Confederated Monarchies who did well to mutually protect each others’ sovereign rights (ie to their inheritance / contracts / property law etc) to adequately represent and defend their own local peoples. Simultaneously in Germany there would be numerous Dukes and Counts rightfully  (by law) representing/governing numerous estates / domains as actual full blown Emperors (that is although many didn’t use the term Emperor for themselves). The one called the HRE Emperor was himself so limited in powers, and was elected by the prince electors. In times of war this Emperor (Kaiser) would be outranked by the Commanders-in-Chief of the army (always picked of the highest Imperial blood). Still just the ordinary Counts and Dukes would by definition outrank Kings, Princes, etc. It was much different from the British ranking system. According to their sovereign rights/obligations in the supreme law they advanced, these were in fact mini-emperors of their hereditary estates / domains etc. Whenever governing of multiple states was involved (very often) that is an Empire. – Rev Dr Brunswick

Sovereign Counts, Princes and Dukes:

Reigning and Non-Reigning 

and International Law

In the Holy Roman Empire(Germany),

 A PRINCIPALITY is that territory [state] or country whose sovereign [monarch or ruler] has the title of Prince. William Pinnock and Edwin Williams, A Comprehensive System of Modern Geography andHistory, 1835, p. 25) [The designation “prince, was . . . given to all degrees of sovereignty . . . even Kings and Emperors are often called Prince.” (Ibid.) A COUNTY . . . is that district possessed by one who has the title of COUNT. . . . (Ibid.)A DUKEDOM, or DUCHY, signifies the dominion or territories of a Duke. (Ibid.) Even though such title holders were members of the Empire, . . . they were absolute in their respective territories, being in effect kings without the title. . . .” (Ibid.) “. . . At present there are no sovereign Barons but such as are members of the German Empire.” (Ibid, p. 27) If they maintained this right through prescription, they are still sovereign Barons. “. . . Sovereignty is not of like character with other things, rather, in its exalted rank, it far exceeds other things.” (Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace, Book 2, chapter 12, no. I) It is something truly magnificent — there is something supreme and wonderful about it, which is above most things in life. 

​​          Within determined [a certain type of] territor[y], princes acted like kings in their own realms. Their principalities were ‘statelets.’” (Peter Haidu, The Subject Medieval/Modern: Text and Governance in the Middle Ages, 2004, p. 160.) 

That is, they are their own little independent countries or nations. 


          . . . One of the principal things he [the Emperor] promiseth in his Oath, is, That he will save to every of the States their Rights and Privileges, and disturb none of them in the exercise thereof.  And this is one of those Rights in which the Princes and States of Germany take the greatest Pride; That every one of them can govern their own proper Subjects, according to his own will, or to the Compacts he has made with them. (Samuel von Pufendorf,The Present State of Germany, Michael J. Seidler, ed., Edmund Bohun, trans, chapter 5, no. 5, [1696] 2007)


          . . . The princes were not mere officials of the [Holy Roman] Empire with delegated powers, but true rulers [sovereigns or monarchs] who represented their dominions in the Imperial Diet. . . . (Heinz H. F. Eulau, “Theories of Federalism under the Holy Roman Empire,” The American Political Science Review, vol. 35, no. 4, August 1942, p. 663)


          . . . The [Holy Roman] Empire was never a proper monarchy such as France or England. . . .  [The] princes . . . [held] comprehensive royal jurisdiction and royal rights, summarized as superiority, or Landesobrigkeit, over a defined territory. . . .  Superiority . . . possessed by the princes [was] to exercise royal rights over such a defined territory and its inhabitants.  No territory was ever without such jurisdiction and royal rights. . . .  These territories and the royal rights and rights of jurisdiction inherent in them were conceded in perpetuo [which means in perpetuity or forever]. . . .  They exercised plenitude potestatis [sovereignty or a fullness of power]. . . .  For the princes were not vicarii [not deputies], civil servants or representative of the Emperor, but rulers in their own hereditary right. (Robert von Friedeburg, “The Reception of Bodin in the Holy Roman Empire and the Making of the Territorial State,” The Reception of Bodin, Howell A. Lloyd, ed., 2013, pp. 308-309 and Andreas Knichen, De jure Territorii, 1658, pp. 130, 168, 171, 174, 189-191, 192, 199, 200, 201-202)


          [In] the eleventh century . . . the possessor of the fief, great or small, possessed all the rights of sovereignty in his domains.  No external or distant power gave laws there, established taxes, or administered justice; the proprietor alone possessed all this power . . . in a word, he was sovereign. (François Guizot, The History of Civilization from the Fall of the Roman Empire to the French Revolution, vol. 3, 1879, pp. 359-360)


           [Thus the] great feudatories [or fiefs] were petty kings ruling petty kingdoms.  These facts did not escape contemporary notice and so it is not astonishing that legalists categorized duchies, [princes] marquisates, and counties as fiefs of regal dignity. (D. C. Skemer, “The Myth of Petty Kingship and a New Periodization of Feudalism,” Belgian Journal of Philology and History, vol. 51, issue 51-52, 1973, p. 270) 


          The pivotal nature of the Peace of Westphalia lies in the fact that it recognized the full territorial sovereignty of the member States of the Holy Roman Empire. . . . (R. W. Dyson, Natural Law and Political Realism in the History of Political Thought: From the Seventeenth to the Twenty First Century, vol. 2, 2007, p. 167)

Although the States of the Empire held internal supremacy all along. Nevertheless, “By this [the Westphalian treaties and accords] . . . the princes of the empire became absolute sovereigns in their own dominions [and the constitution of the Empire now officially acknowledged it].” (Alfred Bradley Gough, “Westphalia, Treaty of,” The Encyclopaedia Britannica: a Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information, 11th ed., vol. 28, Hugh Chisholm, ed., 1911, p. 558) “Each prince or king became an emperor in his own realm.” (Andrew Vincent, Nationalism and Particularity, 2002, p. 17) “The royal qualities [were] attributed to the various grades of princes [in the Holy Roman Empire] made . . . [them] more comparable to emperors than to the Roman provincial praesides [governors] with whom they had been traditionally linked.” (Richard Roy Beneri, “Inferior Magistrates in Sixteenth-century Political and Legal Thought,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Minnesota, December 1967)  In other words, “. . . their dignity [and status] was [that of a] ‘royal’. . . .(Ibid.)


          [The prince’s] powers included regalia [emblems of royalty and prerogatives], rights of majesty (iura maiestatis [the right to be honored and protected in their regal prominence]) and rights of empire (iura imperii [the imperial right to rule]) which they might have acquired either from the emperor [directly by ennoblement] or by prescription. (Ibid.)

. . . Their hereditary independence rendered them virtually immune to the emperor’s superiority, even though it may have originated by imperial concession.” (Ibid.) Interestingly, “. . . a rich commonwealth [or common person] might buy the sovereign rights and power of a spendthrift prince [who needed money], just as it might buy his landed estate or his manorial privileges.” (Edward Augustus Freeman, Comparative Politics: Six Lectures Read Before the Royal Institution in January and February, 1873, 2010, p. 289) In the German Empire, “Sovereignty . . . could pass by inheritance, testament, investiture, infeoffment, or even sale or lien. Its possession or enjoyment did not require noble status.” (The Holy Roman Empire, 2016: A commoner, if he had the money, or any other person with financial means, could purchase a county or principality and become a count or prince of the empire and hold the right of sovereignty as a full-fledged royal monarch over a small or large designated territory. “The right to receive the investiture [of such a high honor and distinction] was nevertheless attached to the land, and could not be denied [or prevented] by the Emperor.” (Ibid.) Thus, royal rights was held by who owned the sovereign territory, not by a family that sold their rights. Such transfers of high regal status along with the right to rule and govern were not uncommon occurrences. In other words, in Germany:


          The dominical [royal or feudal sovereign] titles [of duke, prince, count, baron, lord, etc.) were associated with government of territories. Territories gave titles to their owners. E.g. a man became a count, when a king gave him a county. When the county went to a new owner, the old one lost the title [and all his dynastic rights]. (The Imperial Nobility and the Constitution of the Holy Roman Empire, 2013:

Many princes of the empire also used the title “by the grace of God,” because according to jurists of the time “ . . . Plenitude of power [or sovereignty also equaled] the right to use the title, ‘Dei Gratia’” — which is “by the grace of God.” (Richard Roy Beneri, “Inferior Magistrates in Sixteenth-century Political and Legal Thought,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Minnesota, December 1967) 

By definition, a principality is “. . . a territory ruled by a prince or princess. . . . [It is] the position, authority, or jurisdiction of a prince or princess [in other words, a] sovereignty [involving the right to rule].” (The Free Online Dictionary, 2013: If a sovereign entity is transferred or conveyed in one of many possible ways to a man, “. . . It is this which gives the receiver . . . regal [kingly and/or princely] right,” depending on the legal status of the sovereign territory. (Johann Wolfgang Textor, Synopsis of the Law of Nations, [1680], vol. 2, John Pawley Bate, trans., chapter 9, no. 19, 1916)

By definition, “sovereignty” is “royal rank, power, or authority.” (Webtster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary, “Sovereignty,” 1984, p. 1112) Whoever held true sovereignty was a royal. This legal right can be maintained andpreserved endlessly, or never end, even of he or she is deposed. The point is, . . . The king [or sovereign prince] does not forfeit the character of royalty merely by the loss of his kingdom. If he is unjustly despoiled of it by an usurper, or by rebels, he still preserves his rights. . . . (Emerich de Vattel, The Law of Nations, Book II, chapter XII, no. 196)


           The question of how long a “de jure” king may continue in this status is answered in Textor’s “synopsis Juris Gentium,” which says that “de jure” sovereigns in exile retain their status as long as they do not surrender their sovereignty to the “de facto” government. . . . (David Hughes, The British Chronicles, vol. 1, 2007, p. 358)

[Deposed] Princes, by keeping the Titles or Arms of a Kingdom, of which they have not been in Possession of a considerable Time, [do so] . . . to preserve their Right. . . .” (Professor Johann Werlhof (1660-1711) quoted in Hugo Grotius,The Rights of War and Peace, vol. 2, Jean Barbeyrac trans., ed. and writer of the notes, Richard Tuck, ed., book 2, chapter 4, no. 1, note 5, [1625], 2005) This is the law of prescription. The sovereign and regal entitlement can be kept aliveforever for the dispossessed merely by the consistent use of ones sovereign titles and national arms. 

However, according to international sovereignty law, if one cannot prove one’s claim, then it is nothing more than wishful thinking, fantasy or, at worst, a willful falsehood or act of fraud. “. . . People are not obliged to respect that title [the title of a claimant to a throne] any farther than he shows its validity.” (Emerich de Vattell, The Law of Nations, Book 2, chapter 18, no. 337) That is, rights are forfeited where “. . . original validity . . . is impossible to prove. . . .” (D. H. N. Johnson, “Acquisitive Prescription in International Law,” British Yearbook of International Law, vol. 27, 1950, p. 332) To maintain their rights, a deposed royal house or exiled government must be able to “. . . establish its own legitimate rights by conclusive proof.” (Pasquale Fiore, International Law Codified and its Legal Sanction: or, The Legal Sanction, 1919, p. 429.)


Sovereignty and titles of the deposed in Germany have different meanings and legal values than in England, but those who kept their sovereign rights alive by the natural and international law of prescription, whether counts, princes or dukes, continue to hold the highest secular right on earth and therefore hold royal status. Note that:


          An English duke might be many times richer than a minor German mediatized prince, his title was theoretically equal, and his political power might be greater — but the German prince and his children counted as royalty, and the Englishman and his children did not. This meant for example that the English duke’s daughter would be too low in rank to marry the German prince as an equal. (Sensagent, Medialization; 2017:

          The major difference or distinction in this comparison is that the mediatized German Princes were de jure sovereigns or monarchs and therefore they were “royalty.” The English duke, on the other hand, had no de jure or deposed sovereign rights, hence, even though he was considered to be of the high nobility in his country, he was not a royal. But “all Imperial Estates, which were not mediatized [before August of 1806 or the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire], received . . . unlimited sovereignty [that is, they are royalty as well].” (The High Nobility and the Imperial Constitution; 2017: The title of a “count [has] become a title of dignity only [and nothing more], though in Germany, there are now some who still retain their sovereignty.” (Ob.cit., William Pinnock, p. 25) Such is held by virtue of the law that governs deposed sovereignty. Otherwise this right does not exist. Like thecounts, There are several sovereign Dukedoms in Germany [because of prescriptive law], and also in Italy. [However] all the Dukedoms in Great Britain and France are [merely] honorary [dignities meaning they are without the right to rule]. (Ibid.)


          The sovereigns [sovereign counts, princes and dukes after the demise of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 were]  . . . freed from all their ancient ties of feudality not only as reigning princes but as private individuals, are inall respects the equals in rank of the other monarchs of Europe. (“Article 10: Deutschlands Constitutionen,” The Westminster Review, vol. 22, 1835, p. 83)

As a direct result of the preserving side of prescription:


          There are in all more than forty sovereign houses of Europe, but all do not reign over independent lands or principalities. Although many of these houses possess only the title of sovereignty and the right of royal privileges, they are equal in rank to all reigning houses, and their members intermarry freely without loss of title or rank. (George H. Merritt, “The Royal Relatives of Europe,” Europe at War: a “Red Book” of the Greatest War of History, 1914, p. 132)