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In its earliest form, the title of Count was used to denote a type of favoured companion of the ruling sovereign, such as an Emperor or King. The root of the word count relates to the Latin word comes – meaning companion – which was adapted into the French term for a Count which is Comte. 

So, in the earliest days of the title, the way to become a Count, was to work your way into the position of right-hand man to the king or emperor, and then to impress them favourably with your service, loyalty or valour. 

Back in the early history of the aristocracy, the lines between the nobility and the common men and women were less clear than they would become in the centuries to follow. 

There was much more fluidity and flexibility within social ranks and classes than there was during the strictest days of social mobility, such as during the Renaissance for example, when those not born into aristocratic families were unlikely to access the military path required to become a close ally of the sovereign. 

So, before the class structure became a barrier to entry for many ordinary folk, rising through the ranks of the king’s favoured companions was one way to become a Count. 

Counts Through the Ages

As the aristocracy evolved during the centuries of the Middle Ages, the role of a Count changed. While it was still generally an esteemed rank granted within the king or emperor’s close circle, it began to include more administrative duties, rather than being a purely military honour. This evolution of the role was likely a result of the changing nature of towns and villages. As these social hubs became larger and more complex, they began to require more organised management. 

Johan Erik Lindh, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The countries of Europe, while still subject to shifting territories themselves, began to divide into small independent regions that we would now refer to as counties. The word county actually derives from the title of Count, as it was the area given to a Count to manage or protect. 

So, during the later medieval period, the way to become a Count was to again rank among the favoured assistants of the king, but in addition, you would need to demonstrate the skills and expertise required to manage an independent area or region. 

In line with the social changes of the times, this role would have become less a hands-on military position, and more of management and social leadership role. 

The regions within a country, while still subject to social problems and legal issues, tended to be less prone to invasion from other nations, compared to a country’s territorial boundary lines. These latter regions were regarded as the more vulnerable, and more dangerous, parts of a country and as such required the best military forces in place. Those granted these roles were the early Marquises, a noble title that stems from the word marche or marque, to denote the dangerous borderlands they were commissioned to protect. 

So, in the more peaceful inner counties, the role of a Count began to take on a more civilised and professional role within the ranks of governance, and as such, anyone wanting to become a Count would need both an affinity and a skillset to suit the new evolution of the role. 

Throughout the following centuries, the entire system of aristocracy continued to evolve, and the noble title of Count was no exception. So, in the later Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, the title of Count was one of the small group of titles that monarchs would grant to their subjects as a prized honour or a gift for noble service. 

The title of Count began to be regarded less as an administrative position related to a certain region, and more as a status symbol, reflecting a mid-ranking appointment within the aristocratic hierarchy. 

The majority of the nobles of the Renaissance were a world away from the early military heroes of Roman times. Theirs was a lifestyle of lavish leisure and social entertainment, which very often also featured considerable wealth, influence and palatial estates. 

Becoming a Count in Modern Times

So, the route to becoming a Count during these times was still a function of close contact with the reigning monarch, but was much more related to social standing and political influence, or financial support of the king (or queen) and country. The title of Count was often granted as a token prize or reward for service or support, rather than as an official duty. While the route to becoming a Count was still to favourably impress the sovereign, the nature of that service was generally of a more civilised and sociable advancement. 

Becoming a Count through royal warrant led to the creation of many of the titles of Count that endured during the last millennia, and some of these still survive today. However, in modern times, there are far fewer occasions where the monarch grants a new position within the nobility, and so the ones that remain tend to be those that are hereditary titles, i.e. they can be passed along the family line to future generations. 

This means that in contemporary society, there are limited ways to become a Count, unless you are born into a family already in possession of a hereditary title at this level, and even then, you would need to have been born in the right position within the birth order, so as to be in line for the title of Count when the current holder dies. 

As a result, for anyone who wants to become a Count in modern society, the most accessible option is to purchase a genuine title from a family willing to sell their hereditary claim. This is a little-known route to joining the ranks of the world’s aristocracy, but it is an option for those who have the means, and are able to connect with the reputable agents who manage the legal transfers of nobility titles. 

If you desire to take on the role of a 21st century Count, it may still be an option, and given the demands of the position throughout the centuries, this modern route may be a faster, not to mention safer, pathway to noble living.