The noble title of Count is one of the most fascinating ranks within the social system known as the aristocracy. Its origins stretch back way beyond the medieval social ranks, however, with the earliest Counts being recorded in the histories of the Holy Roman Empire. 

So, it’s not surprising that the ways to become a Count have altered over the many centuries since the title first came into use. And like many of the similar aristocratic ranks and titles, such as Duke and Duchess, Baron and Baroness, or Lord and Lady, the precise definition and routes to obtaining a Count or Countess title can vary widely from country to country and continent to continent. 

The History of Counts

In times past, the way to become a Count was to find favour with the King or Queen. For much of the Middle Ages, noble titles were granted by the reigning monarch, usually in recognition of loyal service. 

Over time, this historical title of Count began to also include certain rights and privileges, and also property. For example, a Duchy estate would be the accompanying land and property of the related title of Duke

The title of Count, however, was originally a rank-only appointment, in that it did not, by default at least, include any property. The origins of the word count relate to an area or region, and it was the Count’s role to manage that region – areas that came to be known as a county. 

This was largely an administrative role, in that the assigned Count managed the county on behalf of the king or queen, they did not automatically own the region, rather they were the custodians of it. 

As the nature of the aristocratic classes developed over the centuries since the earliest counts of Roman times, the title of Count began to represent a more elevated social standing and did at times include a prestigious property or region. 

As a result, the way to become a Count moved on from a professional career status, and became more about mixing in the right social circles and offering devoted service that gained the attention of the king or queen. 

Aristocratic titles would also sometimes be granted as a gesture of gratitude to wealthy nobles who lent their resources or finances in support of the royal purse, especially during times of costly military expenditure or shortfalls in taxes. 

Inheriting Count Titles

Another way to become a Count was to inherit a Courtesy Title. The title of Count is a mid-level rank within the aristocratic hierarchy, and at times those with higher-ranking titles would inherit or possess more than one title of nobility. For example, a Duke may also be the official holder of a Count title, but would always use the superior rank of Duke. 

In such cases, the children of high ranking aristocrats, usually the firstborn son, would be allowed to use the lesser title, known as a Courtesy Title. An example of this practice was the Duke of Guise, who proclaimed the title of Count of Paris for his son as a Courtesy Title. 

Carlodangio, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

For those not born to high-ranking nobles, or unable to gain favour with their sovereign, there is another route to becoming a Count, and it’s one that was chosen strategically throughout the history of the aristocracy in an attempt to acquire more wealth, power of social advancement, and that’s the age-old practice of marrying the appropriate noble partner. 

Becoming a Count by Marriage

In rare cases, it’s possible to become a Count by marrying a Countess. The laws and regulations around this route into the nobility have changed much over the last few centuries, and it is not quite as simple a transaction as it once was. 

The criteria for obtaining a title of Count through marriage can be subject to the laws of the relevant country, which themselves can be complex, but those in possession of a noble title may also impose certain restrictions on the rights of a marriage partner to claim a hereditary title. 

The legal claims to such esteemed social ranks have been subject to numerous disputes throughout the ages, both legal battles and social disagreements, and so it’s not surprising that families who have a legitimate claim to a rare aristocratic rank would want to protect it for future generations, especially in the modern climate of high divorce rates.

The fact that modern monarchs rarely grant new titles of nobility, along with the tendency of those with a claim to a hereditary title being fiercely protective of them, means that in contemporary society, it is extremely difficult to become a Count via the traditional routes.  

Purchase a Count Title

This rarity and exclusivity would explain why noble titles are still regarded with such esteem and fascination. As a result, genuine noble titles are highly sought after. In social terms, they are a hot commodity, regarded as an entree to a world of nobility and elevated social standing that the legacy of the aristocracy has come to represent. 

So, it’s perhaps not surprising that, on rare occasions, families with a legitimate claim to a noble title may choose to sell the privilege – obviously for a considerable sum. 

And this practice is not a new phenomenon. The nobles of old would have been very familiar with stories of families whose change in fortunes led to them selling their noble title. Likewise, the aristocrats throughout the ages would have encountered ‘new nobles’, those who had recently acquired the rank and status, rather than belonging to a hereditary line. 

While the occasions of genuine Count and Countess titles appearing on the marketplace are understandably rare, it may still be a possible, legitimate and perfectly respectable route to becoming a modern-day Count. 

So, if you choose to join the esteemed ranks of history’s Counts and Countesses by purchasing the relevant noble title, you would be part of a rich and captivating line of individuals – those who may not have been born into the noble hierarchy, but who attained a superior social stature nonetheless, by way of success in their field, discernment, and the decision to make their own fate and define their own elevated place within society.