A count is a title of nobility that varies slightly in meaning depending on which country you’re in. However, when referring to a count, you’re likely speaking about someone who falls in the middle of the social hierarchy—not quite at the level of a king or queen, but far more impressive than the rest of us commoners.
The term is primarily used in European countries and has been around for centuries. In fact, it was even utilized back during the Roman Empire, though at the time it was used to refer to certain military commanders.
The word’s origins are largely attached to the word “county,” as in an estate or a vast amount of land. As you might have guessed, many counts were historically those who owned land. However, as feudal systems gave way to modern day monarchies, the power and political authority once afforded to counts mostly faded away. They are still considered to be part of the nobility, but often in name only.
That said, there are always exceptions. In certain countries, such as Denmark, royalty will use the title in the same way that the British use duke. So, similar to how Prince William is also the Duke of Cambridge and Cornwall, Prince Frederik of Denmark is also called the Count of Monpezat.
2. How does someone become a count?
Once again, it depends on when (or where) we’re talking. Some individuals have become counts based on family lineage (as the land or “county” was passed on, along with the title), while others have had the honor simply bestowed upon them.
In Britain today, for example—where the title actually isn’t count at all (but more on that later)—such designations are passed on from one generation to the next. In Germany, as early as the tenth-century, the title was hereditary as well.
In Italy, both historically and in the modern era, countships were bestowed by sovereigns and popes, meaning that it was more about who you knew than what family you were born into. In many countries, a monarch could simply bypass the land requirement by making someone a count in exchange for services rendered (which is just a fancy way of saying a personal favor).