Norwegian Nobility

Norwegian nobility and aristocracy are 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 historical roots in the group of chieftains and warriors that evolved before Norway was unified as a single kingdom. However, modern-time ennoblement of farmers and burghers as well as of foreign noblemen has supplied the nobility with members who did not originate from this ancient warrior class.

The old nobility, which in the 13th century 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 nobility remarkably independent from the King. At its height the Council had the power to recognise or to choose inheritors of or pretenders to the Throne. In 1440 they dethroned King Eric III. The Council sometimes even chose its own leaders as regents, among others Sigurd Jonsson (Stjerne) to Sudreim. This aristocratic power lasted until the Reformation, when the King in 1536 illegally 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.

After 1537 the old nobility was gradually replaced by a new. It consisted on the one hand of medieval Danish noble families moving to and settling in Norway, representing a new era in the Kingdom, and on the other hand of persons who had recently been ennobled. Dominant elements in the new nobility were the office nobility (Norwegian: embetsadel), i.e. persons who because they held high civilian or military offices received noble status for themselves, their wives, and children, and in some cases also for patrilineal descendants, and the letter nobility (Norwegian: brevadel), especially prominent in the 18th century, i.e. persons who for military or artistic achievements or for monetary donations received letters patent.

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 the creation of new nobility, including countships, baronies, family estates, and fee tails. The 1821 Nobility Law initiated a long-range abolition of all noble titles and privileges, a process in which the current bearers were allowed to keep their noble status and possible titles as well as some privileges for the rest of their lifetime. Many Norwegians who had noble status in Norway also had it in Denmark, and thus remained officially noble. Even today many patrilineal descendants of these families enjoy official recognition from the Danish government and are, as well, included in the Yearbook of the Danish Nobility, published by the Association of the Danish Nobility.

Even though officially granted privileges were abolished and official recognition of titles was removed, several families maintained an aristocratic profile, for example based on their estate and by marriage with other persons of the nobility, 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 of the country. Today this social class is a marginal factor in the community, culturally and socially as well as politically. A handful of families, like Løvenskiold, Treschow, and Wedel-Jarlsberg, still possess considerable wealth.

Read more about Norwegian Nobility:  Ancient Aristocracy Overseas, Medieval Secular Aristocracy, Medieval Secular Aristocracy Overseas, Medieval Clerical Aristocracy, Modern Aristocracy, Noble Legacy and Influence, Noble Meetings, Noble Privileges

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