Norwegian nobility

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Norwegian nobility is a term which is used to identify persons and families who in early times belonged to the supreme social, political, and military class and who later were members of the institutionalised nobility in the Kingdom of Norway. It has its roots in the group of chieftains and warriors which evolved in the times before Norway was gathered into one kingdom. However, modern ennoblement of farmers and citizens as well as foreign noblemen, supplied the nobility with members who did not originate from the ancient sword nobility.

The old nobility, which in the 1200s was institutionalised during the formation of the Norwegian state, became a great political factor in the kingdom. Their land and their armed forces, and also their legal power as members of the Council of the Kingdom, made the Norwegian nobility remarkably independent from the King. When it was at its height, the Council had the power to choose or to recognise throne pretenders. It has even chosen its own council leaders, e.g. Sigurd Jonsson (Stjerne) til Sudreim, as regent. This high nobility's power lasted until the Reformation in 1537, when the King abolished the Council. This removed nearly all of the nobility's political foundation, and when the absolute monarchy was introduced in 1660, the old nobility was basically disappeared from governing institutions.

The old nobility was after 1537 gradually replaced by the new nobility, which consisted mainly of from the Middle Ages surviving and in Norway living Danish noble families, and persons who were recently ennobled or had received recognition or naturalisation of their (claimed) foreign noble status. A dominant element in the new nobility, was the office nobility (Norwegian: embetsadel) after the 1660s, i.e. persons who for themselves, and in many cases also for their wife and children, received noble status due to holding a higher civilian or military office. Especially from the 1700s, persons were often ennobled because of their military or artistic achievements or by monetary donations.

The Constitution of Norway of 1814, which had been established in the spirit of the principles of the French Revolution and greatly inspired by the Constitution of the United States, forbade new nobility, and hereunder new countships, baronies, family estates, and fee tails, to be created. The 1821 Law of Nobility abolished all noble titles and privileges, but though allowed the current bearers to keep their titles for the rest of their lifetime. Many of the Norwegians who had noble status in Norway, had noble status also in Denmark, and thus remained noble.

Even though officially granted titles and privileges were abolished and the recognition of them was removed, some families still consider themselves as noble and still bear their inherited name and coat of arms. After 1821 and until the Second World War, members of these families continued to play a significant rôle in the political and social life. Today, this social class is a marginal factor in the community, culturally and socially as well as in politics.


Ancient aristocracy

The old nobility originated from the warrior class of the Viking Age.
Skeleton remains of a woman who likely was a member of the ancient aristocracy. She was buried in the Oseberg Ship.

Aristocracy before and after the unification of Norway

The land that in the 1000s became the Kingdom of Norway, was a typically Germanic tribal society. From leaders of tribal entities, as well as from soldiers and landholders supplying them, emerged a weapon-based political and military class. Though similar structures existed in the small kingdoms which later were gathered into one kingdom, it was after the unification of Norway that the first national class of aristocrats appeared.

In the upper classes of this aristocracy were e.g. the Bjarkøy Gens, which had been a chieftain dynasty in Northern Norway and which continued to hold a prominent position for three hundred years after the final unification of Norway around 1050, and the Giske Gens.

Civil war era

The Lendman Party (Norwegian: Lendmannsflokken or Lendmannspartiet), appearing after the 1150s, and its successor, the Baglers, formed in 1196, were movements consisting of the church and some mighty lendmen, among others Earl Erling skakke, wishing to introduce absolute monarchy of European model. The civil war in Norway (1130–1240), in which various groups had fought for their throne candidate to become king, ultimately lead to the victory of the Birchlegs and Sverre and his descendants, reigning from 1184, subsequently got rid their enemies of groups like the Lendman Party/the Baglers, thus eliminating and replacing considerable parts of the ancient aristocracy.

Old nobility


The group of persons and families who constituted the original nobility, may be followed back to the time of the formation of the Norwegian state in the 1200s. Not later than in King Magnus VI's reign, the worldly aristocracy or the nobility can be said to be identical with the members of the King's hird (a king's men or bodyguard).[1] However, it is likely that many of these families had a similar social and military position after and even before the unification over two centuries earlier.

The hird was divided into three classes, whereof the first had three ranks. The first class was hirdmann with lendmann as the 1st rank, skutilsvein as the 2nd, rank and ordinary hirdmann as the 3rd rank. Thereafter came the classes gjest and kjertesvein.[2][3][4][5]

The lendmen, having the first rank in the group of hirdmen, had the right to hold 40 armed huskarls, to be the King's advisors, and to receive an annual payment from the King. They were normally also the persons who held the highest official positions in the state. The foundation for their rights was the military duty which their title imposed.

The kjertesveins were young men of good family who served as pages at the court, while the gjests constituted a guard and police corps. In addition, there was a forth group known by the term huskarl, but it remains uncertain whether they were considered being a part of the hird or rather serving the hird.

During the second half of the 1200s, the pan-European court culture began to gain influence Norway. In 1277, the King introduced a continental titular in the hird, whereby the lendmen were called barons and the skutilsveins were called ridder (English: knight).[6] Both were then styled as Herr (English: Lord). In 1308, King Håkon V abolished the lendman/baron institution, and it was probably also during his reign that the aristocracy seems to have been restructured into two classes: ridder (English: knight) and væpner (English: squire).[7]

The hirdman institution, i.e. the system of local men representing the King, stood stronger and lasted longer in the Norwegian tributary lands Shetland, Orkney, the Faeroe Islands, and Iceland, and hereto the landscape Jemtland.[8]

Black Death

The Black Death, which came to Norway around 1349, gave remarkable consequences for the nobility. Beside that the nobility itself suffered a loss of members, the fact that approximately two thirds of the Norwegian people were killed by the plague, lead to reduced income of taxes etcetera and limited access to (inexpensive) working power.

Time of greatness

Austrått Fortress was the seat of two of Norway's mightiest noble families, Gyldenløve and Rømer.
The Rosenkrantz Tower in Bergen is named after Erik Ottesen Rosenkrantz, whose family belonged to the original nobility.
Until the absolute monarchy was introduced in 1660, the nobility paid homage to new kings on Akershus Fortress.

In the 1300s, the members of the abolished hird continued in various directions. The élite of the hird, and especially the lendmen, became the origin of the Late Middle Ages' high nobility. This group stood near to the King and received as such, be it, seats in the Council of the Kingdom and fief (Norwegian: len). The social distance was big between the most higherstanding of these, of whom some even had family relations to the royal house, and ordinary members of the hird. Ordinary members mostly sank down into the farmer estate, in which they, often for centuries, took a leading rôle and position, be it as lensmann (a man holding the upper police authority in a district), shippers, and traders. Oppositely to ordinary farmers, this farmer nobility often owned their ancestral farm and land.

The Council of the Kingdom (Norwegian: Riksrådet) was the kingdom's governing institution in which members of the higher worldly and the higher clerical aristocracy took seat. From originally, in the 13th century, having had an advisory function as a king's council, the Council became in the 15th century remarkably independent from the King. When it was on its height, the Council had the power to choose or to recognise throne pretenders. It has also happened that it has chosen its own leaders as regent (Norwegian: drottsete, riksforstander). They were Sigurd Jonsson Stjerne til Sudreim and Jon Svaleson Smør. This high nobility's power lasted until the Reformation in 1536–37, when the King illegally abolished the Council.[9]

In Norway as well as in Denmark and Sweden, it was in this period that the idea and the principle of riksråd constitutionalism arose, i.e. that the Council was considered as the real foundation of sovereignty. Although the recognised kings were the formal head of state, the Council was very mighty. The Council's power and active reign, especially as regents, have made historians characterise this state as de facto a nobility republic (Norwegian: adelsrepublikk).[10][11][12]

From fiefs and to royal administration

The old nobility was mainly a fief-based aristocracy holding power and jurisdiction within their area, beside in the Council of the Kingdom. This was also the power base which made them independent.

After the Reformation, two primary factors contributed to reduce the importance of fiefs in favour of a new and centralised royal administration apparatus.

Military-technical development made the nobility's military function outdated. Also rented soldiers became more important in battles, and hereto came King Christian II's system of a royal-controlled national army of soldiers recruited directly from the farmer estate.

Instead of the organisation of noble-governed fiefs, the country was to be controlled through a centralised administration apparatus in Copenhagen. There was established a direct connection between the central apparatus and the local administrations, and the men who were appointed to such positions in Norway, were mainly Danish noblemen and citizens. The Norwegian nobility was of strategical reasons actively placed on the sideline when new high officials were appointed.


The original nobility was extensively reduced during the last part of the Late Middle Ages. Among the reasons for this are the following:

  • Noble families did not produce a sufficient amount of male descendants, wherefore many of them became extinct.
  • Noblemen were as warriors etc. exposed to bigger danger and risks than the population in general, wherefore many died in young age and without issue.
  • Unequal marriages, of which there became many in the low nobility, lead to the loss of noble status.

It is often claimed that the old nobility 'died out' in the Late Middle Ages. This is mostly correct, but though a statement which should be modified. The term 'extinction' includes not only physical extinction, but also that post-noble families disappeared from the written sources due to lack of political power and importance. Furthermore, this creates a missing link between the post-noble families before and of the 1500s and their farmer descendants who appear in the sources from and after the late 1600s. In other words, many noble families have survived (in a concrete interpretation of this word).

This demographic development, together with family connections and inheritance of wealth and land, made the reduced high nobility remarkably richer and exclusive. At the same time, it became politically more vulnerable due to its marginal size. For example after the Reformation, the number of nobles was reduced from approximately 800 and to approximately 400, i.e. under 0,2 percent of the population and approximately 1/7 of the size of the Danish nobility.[13] After 1536, only 15 percent of Norwegian land was in noble possession, and much of this belonged to Dano-Norwegian noble families, whereof many moved to or already lived in Denmark.[14]

Following the abolition of the Norwegian Council of the Kingdom in 1537, the nobility lost most of its political foundation. The Danish Council of the Kingdom took over the governing of Norway. However, the nobility continued to take part in the country's political life, be it at homages to new kings. When the absolute monarchy was introduced in 1660, the Norwegian nobility had no longer formal legislative or executive power in the kingdom.[15]

New nobility

The legendary naval hero Kurt Sørensen was ennobled under the name Adeler. Many persons were ennobled for their significant military or artistic achievements.


The nobility that in Norway is called the new nobility, was the old nobility of Denmark (the few families which had survived the Middle Ages), recently ennobled persons, and persons whose (claimed) noble status was recognised or naturalised by the King. They came to Norway in order to administrate the country and to occupy civilian and military offices. The strategy of sending Danish noblemen to Norway was also a part of the King's tactics for strengthening his power and control in the kingdom.

Office nobility

A considerable element in the new nobility was the office nobility (Norwegian: embetsadel, sometimes called rangadel; equal to the French noblesse de dignité). A person holding a high-ranking office within one of the three highest classes of rank, automatically received ennoblement for himself, his wife, and his children, as well as for his patrilineal descendants.[16] However, many such enoblements were annulled when King Christian VI in 1730 entered the throne, and only they who after application received special recognition, maintained their noble status.[17][18] Royal decrees of 1746 and 1808 introduced a more restrictive policy, deciding that noble status depending on an office was limited to the person concerned, his wife, and his children, thus not being inheritable.[19]

Letter nobility

It became customary to ennoble persons by letter patent for their significant military or artistic achievements, and there were also persons who by monetary donation were ennobled.


  • Kurt Sørensen was a young man who for his braveness in battle was ennobled under the name Adeler.
  • Ludvig Holberg was a famous writer who for his merits, and by bequeathing his fortune to the Sorø Academy, was ennobled as baron.
  • Joachim Geelmuyden, who was the son of a priest and the grandson of a tradesman, and who himself became a markant person holding many titles and offices within the Norwegian-Danish state, was ennobled under the name Gyldenkrantz.

1814 Constitution and 1821 Law of Nobility

The Constitution of the Kingdom of Norway of 1814, which had been established in the spirit of the principles of the French Revolution and greatly influenced by the Constitution of the United States of America, forbade new nobility, and hereunder countships, baronies, family estates, and fee tails, to be created.

The 1821 Law of Nobility (Norwegian: Adelsloven) abolished all noble titles and privileges, but though allowed the current bearers to keep their titles for the rest of their lifetime. The man who seems to be the last titled Norwegian nobleman, Fief Count Peder Anker Wedel-Jarlsberg, died in 1893.

The Law of Nobility instructed that nobles who wished to present reclamation before the Great Thing, should provide documentation confirming their noble status. Persons representing eighteen noble families delivered their reclamation to the parliament:[20]

  1. Frederich, Count of Trampe.
  2. Johan Caspar Herman, Count of Wedel-Jarlsberg; Juliane Marie, Comtesse of Wedel-Jarlsberg; Caroline Sophie Amalia, Comtesse of Wedel-Jarlsberg; Helene Margrethe, Comtesse of Wedel-Jarlsberg; Sophie Frederikke Antonette, Comtesse of Wedel-Jarlsberg
  3. Carl Ferdinand, Baron of Wedel-Jarlsberg; Christian Frederich, Baron of Wedel-Jarlsberg; Frederich Wilhelm, Baron of Wedel-Jarlsberg; Wilhelm Frederich, Baron of Wedel-Jarlsberg
  4. Eggert Christopher, Baron of Løvenskiold
  5. Carl Løvenskiold; Frederich Løvenskiold; Niels Løvenskiold; Severin Løvenskiold
  6. Christian Hendrich, Baron of Hoff-Rosencrone
  7. August Niels Anker; Elen Margrethe Anker; Elisabeth Sophie Anker; Erich Theodor Anker; Morten Anker; Niels Christopher Anker; Peder Bernhard Anker; Peder Martin Anker; Sophie Adelaide Rosalie Anker
  8. Hagbarth de Falsen
  9. Captain Rosenørn Grüner
  10. Hans Gyldenpalm
  11. Andreas Niels Hauch
  12. Johannes Nicolay de Kløcker
  13. Niels Knagenhjelm
  14. Bredo Hendrich von Munthe af Morgenstierne
  15. Peter Tordenskiold
  16. Knud Adolph Roestorph
  17. Oluf Borch de Schouboe; Ulrich Frederich Anton de Schouboe

Mr Bergh (the 18th) withdrew his reclamation, and in addition, the reclamations of Mr Brømbsen and Mr Cold were dismissed as unproven.

Many of the Norwegians who had noble status in Norway, had noble status also in Denmark, vice versa, and thus remained noble. (They are included in Yearbook of the Danish Nobility.) This, together with that many Norwegian nobles did not live in the country, contributed to create less resistance against the 1821 Law of Nobility.

Norwegian nobility after 1821

Although the noble titles and privileges were abolished, members of these families continued to play a significant role in the political and social life, mainly until the Second World War. For example Stewards and Prime Ministers like Count Herman Wedel-Jarlsberg (Steward, 1836–1840), Severin Løvenskiold (Steward, 1841–1856, Prime Minister, 1828–1841), Peder Anker (Prime Minister, 1814–1822), Frederik Due (Prime Minister, 1841–1858), Georg Sibbern (Prime Minister, 1858–1871) and Carl Otto Løvenskiold (Prime Minister, 1884) had noble background.

Aristocrats were active also in the dissolution of the Swedish-Norwegian union in 1905. Most prominent was the world-famous polar explorer Fridtjof Wedel-Jarlsberg Nansen, who was for dissolving the union and who, among other acts, travelled to the United Kingdom, where he successfully lobbied for support for Norway's movement of independence. Also in the following referendum about republic versus continued monarchy in Norway, the popular hero Nansen's yes to kingdom, and hereunder his active participation in the pro-monarchy campaign before the referendum, is said to have had an important effect on the popular opinion. After the dissolution of the union, the leading person in the creation of the new Ministry of Foreign Affairs was Thor von Ditten, a Norwegian of foreign nobility.

Norwegian nobility today

Today, the nobility is a marginal factor in the community, culturally and socially as well as in politics. Persons of noble families appear only individually, like Anniken Huitfeldt.

Even though titles and privileges were abolished and official recognition of them was removed, some families still consider themselves as noble and still bear their inherited name and coat of arms. One of the arguments which are presented, is that the King granted them everlasting noble status. This is more a philosophical question and does not affect legislative realities.

Noble titles

Iceland was settled by Norse aristocrats, farmers and slaves.
A drawing made on basis of a historical relief of Duke Skule Bårdsson. One may not expect that the portrait is authentical.
A sculpture believed to be of Håkon Magnusson, Duke of Oslo, Oppland, Ryfylke, the Faroe Islands, and Shetland.

Titles of the ancient aristocracy

Title English Information
jarl earl A chieftain, especially as a ruler under a king.
herse A local chieftain.
sysselmann An administrator of a syssel. Introduced in the late 1100s and displaced 'lendmann' and 'årmann'.
lendmann A regional administrator under the King. He was usually of higher origin.
årmann A local administrator under the King. He was usually of lower origin.
huskarl housecarl Élite infantery.
hauld hold Farmer whose family had possessed a farm for six generations or more. The highest rank of free men.

Note: This list does not express accurate rank between the titles.

Titles of the old nobility (1st system)

Title Rank English Information
hertug duke 'Hertug' introduced in 1237. Not in use after 1299, when Duke Håkon Magnusson became king.
jarl earl The last jarl in mainland Norway was appointed in 1295 and died in 1309.
hirdmann 1st: lendmann 'Lendmann' was in 1277 replaced with 'baron', which in 1308 was abolished.
2nd: skutilsvein 'Skutilsvein' was in 1277 replaced with 'ridder'.
3rd: hirdmann Later abolished.
gjest Later abolished.
kjertesvein Later abolished.

Titles of the old nobility (2nd system)

Title English Information
ridder knight A knight was styled Herr (Lord), and his wife Fru (Lady).
væpner squire

Titles of the new nobility

Title Title for wives Title for sons Title for daughters Fief English
hertug hertuginne hertugdømme duke
markis markise markis markise mariksat marquess
riksgreve riksgrevinne greve komtesse riksgrevskap count of the kingdom
lensgreve lensgrevinne greve komtesse lensgrevskap fief count
greve grevinne greve komtesse grevskap count
baron of the kingdom
fief baron

Furthermore, the following titles are present in the Norwegian language without necessarily having been an official title:

  • vicomte (also: visegreve, borggreve etc.)


The seat of the Counts of Wedel-Jarlsberg.
From the Barony of Rosendal.

Norway has had two countships (Norwegian: grevskap) and one barony (Norwegian: friherreskap or baroni). In addition come two marquisates, which at least de facto were only nominal and honourific.[21][22]

Name Receiver Date of creation Date of abolition English Information
Grevskapet Larvik Ulrik Frederik Gyldenløve 1671 Countship of Larvik
Grevskapet Jarlsberg Peder Schumacher 1673 1893 Countship of Jarlsberg Originally Grevskapet Griffenfeldt.
Baroniet Rosendal Ludvig Holgersen Rosencrantz 1678 Barony of Rosendal
Markisatet Lister Hugo Octavius Accoramboni 22 April 1709 Marquisate of Lister
Markisatet Mandal Franciscus di Ratta 24 November 1710 Marquisate of Mandal

Noble privileges


The noble privileges consisted of freedoms, rights, and prerogatives.

Around 1277, lendmen and skutilsveins received tax freedom for themselves and two members of their household, and ordinary members of the hird received the same, but for one member of their household.

In 1548, the nobility's attempts to weaken farmers' allodial land right (Norwegian: odelsrett) were rejected by the King and the Danish nobility.[23]

The noble privileges of 1582 decided that a noble woman who married a non-noble man, should lose all her hereditary land to her nearest inheritor. The rule was designed with the intention of keeping noble land on noble hand, and thus to strengthen the nobility's power base. The same privileges decided that a noble man who married a non-noble woman, should lose the noble status for their children.[24]

The noble privileges of 1646 introduced the neck and hand right and the charge and fine right.[25]

Tax freedom

Noblemen enjoyed personal tax freedom, which though later was abolished. The tax freedom for their seat farms remained.

Noblemen had other economical privileges, among others the freedom from duty on imported and exported goods, e.g. imported beer and wine.

Seat farm


While any farm on which a nobleman decided to reside, earlier would achieve status as seat farm, the right to become a seat farm was remarkably limited in 1639, when it was decided that only farms on which noble people lived and which had been seat farms for minimum 40 years, were considered as seat farms. After 1800, the tax freedom was modified, and with the 1821 Law of Nobility, it was decided that the tax freedom should end with the present owner's death.

  • Approximate number of seat farms in 1639: 100[27]
  • Approximate number of seat farms in 1821: 25[28]

Weekday farmers

Weekday farmers (Norwegian: ukedagsbønder, vekedagsbønder) were persons who, as farmers under a noble seat farm, had duty work (weekday) on the seat farm. The system came from Denmark before 1600. It became most widespread in Eastern Norway, where the concentration of seat farms was highest, but existed also in other parts of the kingdom. From 1685 the duty work was limited to farmers who lived within two miles from the seat farm.[29]

Feud right

The feud right (Norwegian: feiderett) was the right to officially proclaim a feud between two or more persons. A murder which was committed after that a feud had been proclaimed, was considered as a so-called honest murder, and while ordinary murderers normally received capital punishment, a murder under the feud right could be expiated with fines. The feud right is mentioned in almost all electoral charters (Norwegian: valghåndfestning) from 1513 and to 1648.[30]

Conveyance right

The King and noblemen, as well as high officials, had the right to receive conveyance from farmers. The right was never a formal right, but rather a consequence of the conveyance duty, which was imposed on farmers. Conveyance duty (Norwegian: skyssplikt) is known since the 1100s and had the function of indirect taxation. In 1816, the duty was changed from being a free service and to receiving payment per trip. However, the partial tax freedom which conveyance farmers had, was abolished at the same time.

Neck and hand right

On 18 July 1646 the nobility achieved the possibility to receive neck and hand right (Norwegian: hals- og håndsrett), i.e. the authority to arrest and to prosecute persons and to execute judgments. This right was limited to the farms or the fiefs over which noblemen had jurisdiction.[31]

Charge and fine right

Related to the neck and hand right was charge and fine right (Norwegian: sikt- og sakefallsrett), i.e. the authority to raise charge against and to fine persons. Also this right was limited to each nobleman's area of jurisdiction.[32]

Birk right

The birk right (Norwegian: birkerett) was the authority to appoint judges at the birk court, et cetera. Nine birks were created in 1649, but abolished already in 1651. The first real birks came in 1671 with the creation of the Countship of Larvik, in 1673 with the creation of the Countship of Griffenfeldt, and in 1678 with the creation of the Barony of Rosendal. In addition was birk right granted to the Halsnøy Monastery since 1661, the Lysekloster Estate since 1661, and the Svanøy Estate since 1685. The two countship birks and the barony birk lasted until the noble privileges were abolished in 1821.[33]

Jus patronatus

Jus patronatus (English: patronage right) consisted of jus presentandi, i.e. the right to suggests priests to a specific church, and it later became jus vocandi, i.e. the right to appoint such priests. Furthermore, the patron had the right to parts of church taxes and other incomes of the church. Jus patronatus did not have any relevance in Norway until after the 1640s, when a few noblemen began to receive it. This privilege was never widespread in the kingdom.[34]

Noble symbolism

Coronets of ranks were a part of the symbols of the new nobility.

Coat of arms

The use of coats of arms was originally a custom which was developed and maintained by the nobility, but it was not exclusive for this estate. Also Norwegian farmers and citizens, as well as the non-noble part of the clergy, had since early times borne arms.

While the arms of the old nobility were of ancient origin and inherited through generations within each family, and therefore were not a privilege from the King, the arms of the new nobility were often granted by the King upon ennoblement. In some cases, the ennobled person's former coat of arms or his wishes could be regarded in the process of composing new arms and thereto belonging achievements.

While everyone could use an open helmet above the shield, coronets and supporters were reserved for the nobility. Supporters were normally granted to only counts and persons of higher ranks.


Noble coronets (Norwegian: adelskrone), whether they were physical coronets or appearing in heraldic artwork, were reserved for the nobility. There were specific coronets for counts, barons, and untitled nobility. In addition, the Golden Lions (Norwegian: de Gylden Løver), who are illegitimate royal descendants, had an exclusive coronet.

The use of physical coronets has been very rare, if not non-existing, in Norway.

Norwegian nobility's relation to the people

Meløya was the seat of the significant noble family Benkestok. After that the family lost the noble status and became patrilineally extinct, Meløy Farm and the family estate was inherited by their descendants, among whom one finds ordinary farmers.

Cognatic descent

A bigger amount of Norwegians may follow ancestral lines back to the old nobility. They must very often cross numerous cognatic links (Norwegian: kvinneledd) and go back until the 1500s in order to establish a such connection to the nobility. Also, that particular family is often the only noble family which they have in their ancestry, which otherwise mainly consists of farmers and citizens, the other estates in the Norwegian feudal society. An important factor to regard is also that many experts dispute some popularly accepted family relations, which they consider as undocumented or obviously wrong. Of these reasons, a distant connection to a family of the old nobility is often considered as a curiosity. For example Queen Sonja of Norway has noblemen among her distant forefathers.

A considerably lower amount of Norwegians descend from the new nobility. The reasons for this, in addition to the time aspect, are that this Danish-rooted nobility lived relatively separated from the ordinary population, especially in the aspect of marriage, like the old nobility had done until it began to fall down in the society.

What concerns descent of royalty through nobility, the nobility expert [35]

Other connections to nobility

Even though a family could lose the noble status, it would keep its fortune and remained rich and influential. There are examples of that farmer descendants of such families still inherited old noble land many generations after that the noble family concerned became patrilineally extinct. One example is the noble estate of the family Benkestok, which became patrilineally extinct in the end of the 1500s. The estate consisted of land in Eastern, Western and Northern Norway as well as on the Faeroes and Shetland. The estate is a well-known example of a big noble estate which was inherited through generations. While the first generations of inheritors received big parts of the estate, it was subsequently divided into smaller and smaller parts so that later generations of inheritors received e.g. a bigger farm each.

Farmer nobility

Authentical farmer nobility

Farmer nobility (Norwegian: bondeadel) refers to farmers who were noble.

This term may also, unofficially, be used to describe farmers who had been noble or who through cognatic links and within a short genealogical timeframe had such ancestry. They were not a part of the Norwegian nobility.

Romantic nationalistic farmer nobility

Upon Norway's constitutional independence in 1814 and the romantic nationalism that followed, the town-based 'cultural élite' as well as some farmers themselves began considering the Norwegian farmer as a representative or a symbolic figure for Norwegianness. Norwegian farmers had always been relatively free compared with farmers in continental Europe, something that the lack of a strong and numerous nobility had contributed to. Farmers had in general sufficient amounts of food, and lived 'in peaceful and natural circumstances'. Furthermore, from the middle of the 1700s, and reaching the climax in the 1800s, Norwegian farmers managed to buy their own farm parts (Norwegian: (gårds)bruk). Factors like these contributed to that some farmers began regarding themselves as a kind of farmer nobility. Such ideas are reflected in romantic nationalistic literature and similar. This term has never had any legal authority in Norway.

For example the teacher Andreas Austlid wrote in his book Salt fraa folkehøgskulen (1926) the following about his home parish:

«An old parish of wealth, broad and satisfied and good – the most beautiful in the whole walley. A kind and calm, but [with food] self-supplied farmer nobility, with much good and much low heritage [i.e. ancestors etc.], [...]»[36]

List of noble families

A griffin symbolised the Bjarkøy Gens. Originally an ancient chieftain dynasty in Northern Norway, it continued to hold a prominent position for three hundred years after the final unification of Norway around 1050.
The highest families of the old nobility were very mighty. Karl Knutsson (Bonde) became King Charles I of Norway, and members of the families Smør and Stjerne were regents.
The old nobility held also oversea possessions, like on the Faroe Islands, which then were a colony under the Norwegian Crown.
Gyldenkrantz was one of the many families who received letter of nobility from the kings of the 17th and the 18th centuries.
The family Treschow's coat of arms displayed on the portal to their manor Fritzøehus.

Ancient aristocratic dynasties

  • the Bjarkøy Gens
  • the Giske Gens

Old nobility

Most men and women of the old nobility used only patronymicon, as they had no established family name. Such families are normally referred to as e.g. Aslak Bårdssons ætt (English: Aslak Bårdsson's Gens) or Bjarkøyætta (English: the Gens of Bjarkøy).

Danish old nobility in Norway

New nobility ennobled by letter

  • Adeler (1666)
  • Ahlefeldt-Laurvig-Bille
  • Ahlefeldt-Laurvig-Lehn
  • Albertin (1749)
  • Anker
  • Arentskiold (1714)
  • Astrup (1810)
  • Bang (1777)
  • Bartholin (1674)
  • Benzon (1679; 1717)
  • Berner (1780)
  • Bernstoff
  • Berregaard (1726)
  • Blixen-Finecke (1802)
  • Blixencrone (1712)
  • Blixenskiold (1749)
  • Bolten (1783)
  • Bornemann (1731)
  • Braem (1731)
  • Brinck-Seidelin (1752)
  • von Brockdorff
  • Brockenhuus
  • Castenskiold (1745)
  • Cederfeld de Simonsen (1759)
  • Charisius (1659)
  • Clauson-Kaas (1804)
  • Danneskiold-Laurvig (1693)
  • Danneskiold-Løvendal (1662)
  • Danneskiold-Samsøe (1695)
  • von Dehn
  • Dumreicher (1757)
  • Eberlin (1782)
  • Ellbrecht (1778)
  • Fabritius de Tengnagel (1778)
  • Falkenskiold (1716)
  • Falsen (1758)
  • Fischer (1758)
  • Fischer-Benzon (1805)
  • Fisker (1797)
  • de Flindt (1768)
  • Folsach (1760)
  • Fuiren (1677)
  • Fædder (1785)
  • Fønss (1804)
  • Galtung (1640s; descent claim.)
  • Gähler (1749)
  • Grevenkop-Castenskiold
  • Grodtschilling (1784)
  • Grüner (1693)
  • Güldencrone (1673)
  • Güntelberg (1660)
  • Gyldenfeldt (1761)
  • Gyldenløve (1611)
  • Gyldenkrantz (1783)
  • Gyldenpalm (1781)
  • Halling (1783)
  • de Hansen
  • Harboe (1684)
  • Hauch (1750)
  • Hielmcrone
  • Hielmstierne (1747)
  • Hoffmann (1749; 1780)
  • Holck
  • Holck-Winterfeldt
  • Holmskiold (1781)
  • Hoppe (1772)
  • Hübsch (1691)
  • Huth (1776)
  • Høeg-Guldberg (1771)
  • Ingwersen (1759)
  • Iuel-Brockdorff
  • Jermiin (1750)
  • Jessen (1681; 1744; 1754)
  • Kiærskiold (1735)
  • Klaumann (1749)
  • Klevenfeldt (1747)
  • Knagenhjelm (1721)
  • Knuth
  • Kolderup-Rosenvinge (1811)
  • Krag-Juel-Vind-Frijs
  • Kragenskiold (1759]]
  • Krieger (1797)
  • Køller-Banner (1772)
  • Kaalund (1766)
  • Lasson (1731)
  • Lehn (1731)
  • Lente-Adeler
  • Lerche (1660; 1676; 1679)
  • Leth (1708; 1757)
  • Leuenbach (1765)
  • Levetzow (1670)
  • Lichtenberg (1739)
  • Lillienschiold (1676)
  • Linde (1704)
  • Lindencrone (1756)
  • Lohendal (1720)
  • Lohenskiold (1726)
  • Lütken (1780)
  • Løvendal (1682)
  • Løvencron (1695)
  • Løvendal (1682)
  • Løvenhielm (1669)
  • Løvenskiold (1739)
  • Løvenstierne (1714)
  • Løvenørn (1711)
  • Løwenklau (1641)
  • von der Maase (1712)
  • Meyercrone (1674)
  • Michaelsen (1809)
  • Moldrup (1731)
  • Moltke
  • Mossencrone (1761)
  • Moth (1679; 1698)
  • von Munthe af Morgenstierne (1755)
  • Münnich (1688)
  • Neergaard (1780)
  • Numsen (1688)
  • Nutzhorn (1759)
  • Nørckencrone (1754)
  • Petersdorff (1810)
  • Ployart (1777)
  • Pottendorpf (1695)
  • Revenfeld (1695)
  • Roepstorff (1701)
  • Rosencrone
  • Rosenheim (1676)
  • Rosenpalm (1679)
  • Rosenvinge (1505)
  • Rosenørn (1679)
  • Ross (1782)
  • Rothe (1809)
  • Rusenstein (1671)
  • Schaffalitzky de Muckadell
  • Schimmelmann (1762; 1780)
  • Schiønning (1681)
  • Schmetteau (1776)
  • Schmidten (1783)
  • Schmieden (1758)
  • Scholten (1777)
  • Schouboe (1747)
  • Schreeb (1755)
  • von der Schulenburg (1741; 1776)
  • Schulin (1750)
  • Sommerhielm (1764)
  • Sperling (1776)
  • Spädt (1777)
  • Stampe (1759)
  • Stemann (1777; 1782)
  • Stibolt (1777)
  • Stiernholm (1747)
  • Stockfledt (1779)
  • Stöcken (1681)
  • Suhm (1683)
  • Sundt (1733)
  • Svanenhielm (1720)
  • Svanenskiold (1780)
  • Sylverstein (1671)
  • Theilmann (1751)
  • Thurah (1740)
  • Thygeson (1776)
  • Tordenskiold (1716; 1761)
  • Tordenstjerne (1505)
  • Treschow (1812)
  • Ulrichsdal (1726; 1782)
  • Undall (1777)
  • Vedel (1812)
  • Vieregg (1776)
  • Voss (1777)
  • Wasmer (1695)
  • Wedel-Heinen (1812)
  • Werenskiold (1717)
  • von Wessel (1720)
  • von Westervick (1674)
  • Wichfeld (1777)
  • Wilster (1755)
  • Wibe (Vibe, de Vibe) (1634)
  • Wleugel (1782)
  • Wormskiold (1751)
  • Zeppelin (1785)
  • Zytphen-Adeler

New nobility ennobled by office

  • Motzfeldt
  • Rosing
  • Scheel
  • Sibbern
  • de Tonsberg
  • Undall

Naturalised foreign nobility

  • Ahlefeldt
  • Arenstorff
  • Aubert (French.)
  • Beck
  • Berger
  • Bertouch
  • Briand de Crèvecœur
  • Buchwald
  • von Bülow
  • Gersdorff
  • von der Goltz
  • Güntelberg
  • Haxthausen
  • Hobe
  • Hoff
  • de Kløcker
  • Linstow
  • Lowzow (Mecklenburgian.)
  • von der Lühe
  • Lützow (German.)
  • le Normand de Bretteville (French)
  • Raben
  • le Sage de Fontenay (French.)
  • Schack
  • Staffeldt (Pomeranian.)
  • Trampe (Pomeranian.)
  • Uyttendaele de Breton
  • Wadenstierna (Swedish.)
  • von Wedel (Pomerania.)
  • Wedel-Jarlsberg (Pomerania.)

Ancient Norwegian royalty and nobility overseas

See also

Sources and external links



  • Trætteberg, Hallvard (1933): Norske By- og Adelsvåben


  1. ^ (Norwegian Historical Encyclopædia)
  2. ^ (Norwegian Historical Encyclopædia)
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  17. ^ (Norwegian Historical Encyclopædia)
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  21. ^ (Norwegian Historical Encyclopædia)
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  25. ^ (Norwegian Historical Encyclopædia)
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  30. ^ (Norwegian Historical Encyclopædia)
  31. ^ (Norwegian Historical Encyclopædia)
  32. ^ (Norwegian Historical Encyclopædia)
  33. ^ (Norwegian Historical Encyclopædia)
  34. ^ (Norwegian Historical Encyclopædia)
  35. ^
  36. ^ Norwegian Nynorsk: Ei gamall velstands bygd, breid og mett og god - den fagraste i heile dalen. Ein snild og godsleg - men sjølvbyrg bondeadel, med mykjen god og mykjen laak arv, [...]
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