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Thumbnail for version as of 18:56, 13 May 2011 
Nobility of the World
Volume VIII - Norway

The Constitution of Norway abolished nobilisation in 1814, and in 1821 the remaining privileges were also abolished. Most native Norwegian noble families disappeared in the male line during the 16th century. Norway still has plenty of people who descend in female line from its indigenous medieval nobility, such as Queen Sonja of Norway herself, and own parts of their manorial and landed properties, now generally in sizes of farms and peasant manors, and a number of male-line families, mainly having Danish and foreign surnames, that descend from the official Dano-Norwegian period nobility.

 Studies in Copenhagen archives by Jens Chr. Berg found that there were 120 family manors in Norway in the 16th century (a figure later research with much more sources has shown inadequate) - many of them in Bohuslän, which is now a part of Sweden. The Norwegian nobility was gradually weakened during the 16th century.

The Danish monarch repeatedly tried to give Danish noble people privileges in the Norwegian kingdom. When KingFrederick I of Denmark was crowned in Copenhagen on August 5, 1523, the Norwegian Letter of Accession (håndfestingen) was not issued by the Norwegian Royal Council until November 1524. Other factors were of course the Norwegian laws that allowed foreign people who married Norwegian noble heiresses actually to hold noble land. These families fell into ignobility, whereas a law prohibiting "marrying down" would have kept lands in noble hands. In Sweden and Denmark such marriages meant loss of the right to hold noble land, and this strengthened the nobility there so it remained a strong class well into the 20th century.

During a sitting of the Danish Parliament, herredagen, in Copenhagen in 1536, the Norwegian Royal Council (Det Norske Riges Raad) was abolished, and Norway ceased to exist as a totally separate country, its administration continuing in part in native hands and in part controlled from Copenhagen. The Norwegian nation, however, did not cease to exist, and for example king Christian IV of Norway was honoured by the Norwegian nobility at Akershus Castle on June 10, 1591.

Since the Danish kings after 1534 were of agnatically German descent, a German or English style nobility rank system was introduced in Denmark-Norway. In order to strengthen royal absolutism, a new title of nobility was introduced in 1671: the Greve (count, like the German Graf - the full royal style had since long included a number of ducal and comital titles in the Holy Roman Empire; the old title Jarl, cognate of Anglo-Saxon Earl, had been of higher rank, more like a Duke). Anyone with enough land could get royal recognition as a count. He or she who owned less land, got the title of friherre (like the German Freiherr, a lesser title below Count - and below Burgrave/Viscount where that rank exists). Later, the title of friherre was replaced by the title baron, its equivalent in most European languages.

 A few Danish nobles were given titles to Norwegian estates. Two countships were established; Laurvig i.e Gyldenløve in 1671 and Jarlsberg in 1673 for Peder Schumacher, better known as Griffenfeld. After he was convicted of treason in 1678, the manor was sold to Gyldenløve, who sold it to baron Gustav Wilhelm von Wedel. A barony in Rosendal was established in 1678 for Ludvig Rosenkrantz. After independence the creation of new noble titles was forbidden in the Constitution of Norway of 1814, and the last legal privileges were dissolved by Act of Parliament in 1821, to expire upon deaths of their then holders, which ultimately seems to have happened in 1893.

The Medieval Nobility of Norway

 What became Norway in 11th and subsequent centuries, had a typical tribal society common to most or all Germanic peoples. From leaders of tribal entities, as well as from landholders supplying soldiers to royal troops, emerged Norwegian noble class of last medieval centuries, when also knightly culture from Western Europe penetrated to some extent to Norway. In 13th century, important lords (lendmenn) were entitled to be called "barons" in Norway. Haakon V however forbade that title in 1308, which left "knights" (riddere) as the highest strata of noble class.

The Norwegian nobility of that and the following couple of centuries can be classified into high nobility and lower nobility, in practical terms. Those families from whom, generation after generation, lords held the highest offices of the country (such as being High Councillors of the kingdom) and owned a substantial property (at least several manors), usually dispersed in more than one part of the country, are called high nobility (for examples of those personages see ancestry of the Roemer av Staarum , where much of Norway's high nobility of 13th and 14th centuries are present). Lower nobility, local leaders who usually were known as "vaepner" (esquire), provided one or a few soldiers to the king per family, and each family owned just one or not very many manors, and were prominent usually at local level but not nationally. All nobility enjoyed exemption from general taxation. The civil war era left at least one family which almost competed in influence with the royal family, and held next-highest positions in the country. Actually, the later Sudreim claimants to the throne descnded from that lineage.

In the 14th century, Norway's resources were decimated by plague epidemics that left the country drained of approximately half of its previous population. The king generally resided in Denmark from this time onwards. Danish and Germans, sent to Norway to represent the royal administration, got increasing role in Norway. Norwegian nobility continued, in diminished conditions, to serve in country's administration and military as well as lording their own properties. Denmark-Norway was not an expanding kingdom (contrary to its eastern neighbor, the Swedish "empire"), but a stable and even stagnating entity. In the early modern age (such as 16th century), educational requirements to administrative positions became increased markedly, and native lower nobility was generally no longer willing or able to meet these demands, administrators for positions around Norway then being mostly chosen from Slesvig-Holsteiner educated cadres. As lower nobility has lost most or all of factors that held it among the leading class of the country, its families usually continued as wealthier peasants, farm- and/or manor-owners, all around Norway. Their landed properties continued to be divided between children, as is the Scandinavian inheritance pattern, and within centuries, they generally became part of peasant class. In 19th century romanticism, "odalbonde" was something many local descendants and heirs of Norwegian medieval nobility actually quite well were.

In 1660, Bohus province, a region historically particularly filled by tax-exempted manors and plenty of Norway's noble families (because it had always been a borderzone and a concentration of medieval soldier families inhabited it), was lost to Sweden - and many of its inhabitants continued as Swedish subjects. Although other regions of Norway kept their families of noble ancestry, this one cessation was still significant in numbers.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, Norway (like most other Scandinavian regions) was several times under disputes over throne and/or power, which caused sometimes high nobles of rival camps (especially of the losing camp) to emigrate from Norway. For example, the neighboring Sweden received several heirs of Norway's highest nobility, those having founded there such families later known as Roos (Hjelmsäter and Ervalla [5], Posse, and Counts of Bogesund. Through such heirs of Norwegian earlier leaders, most of Sweden's nobility maintains the Norwegian ancestry in the female line. King Charles XVI Gustav of Sweden, Queen Margaret II of Denmark and King Harald V of Norway each also descend from such Norwegian high nobles settled in Sweden in late medieval centuries (each of them descend, for example, from Countess Sigrid Gustavsdotter of Bogesund, and also from the lady Inger of Austraat).

Within the so-called Dano-Norwegian union, Norway's highest medieval nobility continued generally to own its remarkable properties, and intermingled with and into other Dano-Norwegian high nobility, very often moving to Copenhagen, where heirs of medieval Norwegian noble houses were sometimes high officers of the combined state (such as Jens Bjelke, the High Chancellor for Norway, and high admiral Henrik Bjelke). No Norwegian family of high nobility continued long in the male line (quite similarly as Danish medieval high noble houses have almost all gone extinct in the male line). In the female line, they continued and still continue as families such as: branches of Kaas, branches of Ahlefeldt, Moltke, Brockenhuus, Danneskiold-Samsoe, recent Dukes of Slesvig-Holstein, (Bjelke; extinct now in male line).

To many of the Norwegian-rooted families settled in the Copenhagen region, their ancestral possessions in Norway became unimportant, and geographical distance was long. Such remote properties were often sold to others, or ceded to some family members, for example as dowries. In that way, Norwegian landed properties moved largely into the hands of the peasant class and/or business people who built local businesses there, such as sawmills.

Example: From one particular Norwegian family's descendants, its five generations; a remarkably wealthy and high-born house of high nobility) we see that their vast properties (two main lines were: Giske and Austraat) were inherited within Norway up to 16th and even to 17th centuries, but that those Norwegian owner families settled sooner or later near or in Copenhagen, and that their other, side-line descendants are found in high aristocracy of Denmark and Sweden.

 The Nobility in Bahus province

 In that borderzone, the old fiefs of Elfsyssel and Ranrike, had since almost constant medieval border wars a high concentration of petty nobility: those who produced mid-level militaries actually to defend areas of the continuously threatened province. In 1658, as result of a major war, the king of Denmark-Norway was compelled to cede the province to Sweden. Measures of Swedification ensued. Local nobility tended to be conservative, and remained, in much, more or less loyal to the Danish king, hoping for the return of the province to Dano-Norwegian rule. In the almost continuous wars in the latter half of the 17th century between Denmark-Norway and the Swedish empire, plenty of Bohusian nobles fought in Dano-Norwegian troops. Sweden treated them as treasonous.

Quite often, landed propeties of such noble people were confiscated. And, they either did not receive, or lost, their naturalization among Swedish nobility. Plenty of lands in Bohus province were granted or sold to Swedes. When such moved to the area, they formed a partially new upper social stratum. Sweden did not need to return the province to Denmark-Norway ever, contrary to hopes of the abovesaid nobles. After some decades, several Bohusian nobles switched loyalty to Sweden, and began serving in its military and administration. Much was however lost by an initial perception of disloyalty, and long-lasting suspicions. It can be said that no Bohusian noble rose to any very important position in Sweden for centuries, and no noble Bohusian family regained in full its earlier power. The vast majority of families were at least somewhat lowered (and some lost everything). This meant, among other things, that the earlier highest noble families found themselves as local petty nobility at best, and the earlier lower nobility were relegated almost to the level of peasantry.

The fates of different branches of the Bildt family, in the 16th century among the highest in Bohus province, display these developments. Its one branch ultimately started to serve Sweden loyally, and won naturalization in the Swedish noble estate. Its old family manor, Morlanda, had been confiscated for a period, but was ultimately returned to that branch in the early 18th century. Even that branch did not succeed in having a full position among the ruling class of Sweden (although they were known to descend from medieval Scandinavian kings) - their 18th- and 19th-century marriages, usually with gentry and even with burghers and peasantry, display some of their lowered status. Some other branches of the family emigrated to Norway and Denmark.

 The Norwegian Noble Families - Original Nobility

 The families Smør, Galte (later Galtung) later receiders of Rosendal, Benkestok and Kane are some of the earliest Norwegian noble families and may be considered the country's high nobility. The ancestral father was Gaut at Ænesin Hardanger, born in 1100. He was a lendmann in the service of the King, and his son Jon Gautsson was a lendmann in the household of Magnus Erlingsson. Noble people were elevated for services to the king, and were usuallyknights during times of war. For their services to the Crown, knights were given land by royal charter, and the right of taxation in their area (len). These estates may be compared to baronies in the German and British systems of nobility.

From 1277 the lendmann was instead called a baron. The change may have been a result of frequent contacts and with England and Scotland. In 1308, King Håkon V abolished the baron title by decree. However, in Norway titles were bestowed personally and did not follow a land estate. As long as the lendmann married within his own rank, the title was inherited by the eldest son. Military power and wealth mattered more than formal noble titles, and cross-marriage and family alliances was the normal way of preserving the social position.

The Original Danish Nobility in Norway 
  • Huitfeldt
  • Iuel (Juel)
  • Kaas (including Munthe-Kaas)

The Families Ennobled by Letters Patent

  • Anker - ennobled 1778 og 1798, claims to descend from Swedish nobility.
  • Falsen - ennobled 1758
  • Galtung, one branch later received a Danish Letters patent, claims to be the original nobility.
  • Heubsch - ennobled 1691 - Freiherr rank in Germany
  • Kloecker - ennobled 1760
  • Knagenhjelm - ennobled 1721
  • Løvenskiold - ennobled 1739
  • von Munthe av Morgenstierne - ennobled 1755
  • Roepstorff - ennobled 1701
  • Sundt - ennobled 1733
  • Treschow [shoe maker] - ennobled 1812
  • Werenskiold -ennobled 1717
  • Wibe (Vibe, de Vibe) - ennobled 1634
  • Wleugel - ennobled 1782

The Families Recognized as Dano-Norwegian Nobility

  • Aubert - French, ennobled 1612, naturalized
  • le Normand de Bretteville (Bretteville) - French, ennobled 1612, naturalized in Denmark in 1804
  • Lowzow - from Mecklenburg, naturalized 1777.
  • Lützow - German (unproven)
  • Staffeldt - Pomeranian, naturalized 1777
  • Trampe - Pomeranian, «Count of the Realm» 1735, Danish count rank in 1743.
  • Wadenstierna - Swedish, ennobled in 1702, naturalized in Danmark in 1795, Danish Baron in 1806.
  • Wedel-Jarlsberg (Wedel, Wedell) - Pomeranian, Dano-Norwegian Marquis rank in 1684

 The Nobility of Rank - Rangadelige Slekter

  • Motzfeldt
  • Rosing
  • Sibbern

The Foreign Noble Families

  • Bülow - German
  • Coucheron - Dutch
  • De Crequi dit la Rochie - French
  • von Ditten - Mecklenburgian
  • [von] Haffner - German
  • Kaltenborn - German
  • von Koss - German
  • von Krogh - German
  • Michelet - French
  • Paus (Pauss, de Paus) - Norwegian family,  with the Papal Title and Rank of Count.  
  • Rokling (Roclenge) - French
  • Rughaaz - German, made Norwegian as Rugaas
  • Scheel (Skeel) - German (unproven)
  • Schlanbusch - German
  • Schaufel (Suffel, von Schuffelli) - German
  • de Seue - French
  • Stibolt - Danish
  • Tillisch
  • Weltzin (unproven)
  • Zernichow
  • Trætteberg, Hallvard (1933): Norske By- og Adelsvåben

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