A common feature of the German nobility is the predicate “von”, which is carried by most members of the German nobility. Since 1630 this title was awarded to the granting of the nobility. There is a small number of noble families that do not carry the predicate “von” or a variant thereof. These are almost all the Uradel or older Letter Adel. A smaller number of noble houses use “von und zu” which means that they not only come from the named place, but they also currently reside there.
The Uradel (pronounced primal nobility ) consists of families who no elevation is given such as in the case of the later Letter Adel. In Germany, a family is considered Uradlig if it is listed before 1400 in the loan book ( liber feodorum ) , as owner of a allodium , as Miles ( Knight ) or listed by name and nobility rank and when this has not been confirmed or renewed again since then.
The Almanach de Gotha puts the boundary between the Uradel and Letter Adel around this time (1400). After 1350 one can see that the peerage was granted by the emperor or prince.To the Letter Adel belong the noble families from the 15th century who have been exalted . Someone who was elevated to the peerage was given a nobility diploma or gentry letter as proof . The elevation to the peerage began in Germany in the time of Emperor Charles IV with the elevation of officers to the peerage. The oldest nobility letter was written by Charles IV on 30-09-1360 for Wyker Frosch of Stephan Church in Mainz. Elevation to the peerage was reserved for the head of state. In the Wholy Roman Empire this was a privilege of the emperor. Also, some local rulers as the rulers of Prussia, archduke of Austria , the Electors of Bavaria and Pfalz , the dukes of Lorraine , the Archbishop of Salzburg and the bishops of Metz and Toul had the right to elevate to nobility .
People with a noble letter from the Emperor stood in higher regard than those with a noble letter from for example the Duke of Lorraine.Uradel families don’t possess any nobility documents and diplomas and maybe there never was any of these documents. Often it is said that this noble families since the beginning of time were already nobility. The families that represent this segment of the nobility arose from the knights and warriors of a sovereign or fulfilled important official functions on behalf of the sovereign. The difference between Uradel and Letter Adel has only existed since about 1780 . Before that time the nobility proved their nobility on the basis of their origin in paternal and maternal line ( Nobility Probe or Ahnenprobe ) . It has therefore long been unheard of for a noble man to marry a non – noble woman. When the concept of Uradel was established these families were often granted Uradel privileges above Letter Adel , which showed their higher status . These privileges were included in the legislation.
In particular, the Uradel , makes a strong distinction between Uradel and Letter Adel . All members of the Uradel consider themselves a higher status than the letter Adel and as of equal status to each other , whether they are titled or untitled . The specific title is less important than the age and status of the family. The title is less important than the age and status of a family because people received titles of nobility only since the introduction of the Letter Adel. Before 1350 it was noble or it was not , there were no titles of nobility . The Uradel who carried titles did this as part of their function. Thus, for example, the name Earl was originally an official title for the highest carrier of administrative, legal and military authority who was appointed by Emperor Charlemagne. The Count was the official representative in that territory . Initially an earl office was a personal beneficium ( non – hereditary fief ) and an earl was also removable . Due to the anchoring of earl post within the same tribe , one began to experience from the 10de/11de century the earl office as hereditary. One may assume that this inheritance from the 12th century by the Counts sexes was generally claimed and that this was tolerated by the princes. Shortly after the letter Adel made its appearance. Some Uradel sexes were too proud to accept a formal title or did not pay money for a title that they thought they did not need (e.g. no title was needed to proof their nobility) Noble titles were indeed associated with Letter Adel.
The Uradel that did not “accept” no title was therefore untitled nobility through life since they felt they had enough proof of the their Noble status through their family name . This untitled nobility was addressed as ” Herr ” or ” Frau ” . As described earlier, the untitled nobility from East Germany was addressed with the predicate Junker / Junkfrau. When Martin Luther was done in “rijksban” on 26-05-1521 he immersed himself in the Wartburg Castle in Eisenach with the help of his Elector (Kurfurst) Frederick , and he lived for nearly a year as Junker Jörg ( here he translated the New Testament of Erasmus in German ) . To date, many members of the Uradel still look down on the Letter Adel , even if the letter Adel is many hundreds of years old. Today , some Uradellijke families have a brass plate on their door with the text : ” Lieferanten and Letter Adel zur Hintertür ” ( ” Letter Deliveries and Adel through the back door ” ) . Although this should be interpreted as a joke, it still shows how the Uradel today still views the letter Adel . There are today much less Uradel families than Letter Adel. This is due to the fact that families over the last 600 years got extinct as they could not be created in a way the Letter Adel was created. And more important the Uradel looks down on how Letter Adel is created.