Hanseaten (class)

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Reliefs of coats of arms of the three Hanseatic (sister) cities

The Hanseaten (English: Hanseatics) is a collective term for the hierarchy group (so called First Families) consisting of elite individuals and families of prestigious rank who constituted the ruling class of the free imperial city of Hamburg, conjointly with the equal First Families of the free imperial cities Bremen and Lübeck. The members of these First Families were the persons in possession of hereditary grand burghership (German: Großbürgerschaft) of these cities, including the mayors (Bürgermeister), the senators (Senatoren) and the senior pastors (Hauptpastoren). Hanseaten refers specifically to the ruling families of Hamburg, Lübeck and Bremen, but more broadly, this group is also referred to as patricians along with similar social groups elsewhere in continental Europe.

The three cities since the Congress of Vienna 1815 are each officially named the "Free and Hanseatic City Hamburg" (Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg),[1][2] the "Free Hanseatic City Bremen" (Freie Hansestadt Bremen) and the "Free and Hanseatic City Lübeck" (Freie und Hansestadt Lübeck), since 1937 merely the "Hanseatic City Lübeck" (Hansestadt Lübeck).[3]

Hamburg was one of the oldest stringent civic republics,[4] in which the Hanseatics preserved their constitutional privileges granted in 1189 by Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor until the German Revolution of 1918–19 and the Weimar Constitution.[5] Hamburg was strictly republican, but it was not a democracy, but rather an oligarchy.

The Hanseaten were regarded as being of equal rank to the (landed) nobility elsewhere in Europe,[6] although the Hanseaten often regarded the (rural) nobility outside the city republics as inferior to the (urban and often more affluent, and in their own view, cultivated) Hanseaten. Thomas Mann, a member of a Lübeck Hanseatic family, portrayed this class in his Nobel Prize-winning novel Buddenbrooks.

Relationship to the nobility

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The relationship between the Hanseatic and noble families varied depending on the city. The most republican city was Hamburg, where the nobility was banned, from the 13th century to the 19th century, from owning property, participating in the political life of the city republic, and even from living within its walls. Hamburg, however, was not a true democracy, but rather an oligarchy, with the Hanseaten as its elite occupying the position held by noble and princely families elsewhere. According to Richard J. Evans, "the wealthy of nineteenth-century Hamburg were for the most part stern republicans, abhorring titles, refusing to accord any deference to the Prussian nobility, and determinedly loyal to their urban background and mercantile heritage."[7] Many grand burghers considered the nobility inferior to Hanseatic families.[8] A marriage between a daughter of a Hanseatic family and a noble was often undesired by the Hanseaten.[9] From the late 19th century, being integrated into a German nation state, a number of Hanseatic families were nevertheless ennobled (by other German states, e.g. Prussia), but this was often met with criticism among their fellow Hanseaten. As the Hanseatic banker Johann von Berenberg-Gossler was ennobled in Prussia in 1889, his sister Susanne, married Amsinck, exclaimed "Aber John, unser guter Name!"[8] Upon hearing of the ennoblement of Rudolph Schröder (1852–1938) of the ancient Hanseatic Schröder family, Hamburg First Mayor Johann Heinrich Burchard remarked that the Prussian King could indeed "place" (versetzen) Schröder among the nobles, but he could not "elevate" (erheben) a Hanseatic merchant.[8]

Hanseatic families

A few prominent families are listed here.




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Berenberg, Goßler and Berenberg-Goßler

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de Chapeaurouge





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Merck (Hamburg stirps of the Merck family)

Moller (vom Baum)



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Christian Adolph Overbeck,
mayor of the Free Imperial and Hanseatic City of Lübeck, son of Eleonora Maria Jauch (drawing by Johann Friedrich Overbeck)





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See also


  1. The Hanseatic League ended about mid of the 17th century. J. Werdenhagen, De Rebus Publicis Hanseaticis Tractatus, Frankfurt 1641, was the first to use the term "Hanseatic", characterizing the Union between Hamburg, Bremen und Lübeck, created between 1630 and 1650 in lieu of the perished Hanse. Gerhard Ahrens, Hanseatisch, in: Schmidt-Römhild, Lübeck-Lexikon, 2006, with reference to: Rainer Postel: Hanseaten, Zur politischen Kultur Hamburgs, Bremens und Lübecks., in: Der Bürger im Staat 34 (1984), 153–158; Herbert Schwarzwälder, Hanseaten, hanseatisch, in: Das Große Bremen-Lexikon, Bremen 2003, ISBN 3-86108-693-X
  2. Subsequent to the Greater Hamburg Act namend since 1938 Hanseatic City (Hansestadt) Hamburg, since the constitution of 6 June 1952 again Free and Hanseatic City (Freie und Hansestadt), being as city a State of Germany
  3. Greater Hamburg Act; Lübeck lost in the "Lübeck-decision" (de:Lübeck-Urteil) on 5 December 1956 before the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany in its attempt to reconstitute its statehood
  4. Nobles were banned since 1276 from living inside the city wall – Renate Hauschild-Thiessen, Adel und Bürgertum in Hamburg, in: Hamburgisches Geschlechterbuch, volume 14, Limburg an der Lahn 1997, p. XXII
  5. The historical science assumes a timocratic or oligarchic character of Hamburg's constitution, being the reason why Hamburg at the Congress of Vienna was accepted by the princes of the German states as a member of the German Confederation – Peter Borowsky, Vertritt die „Bürgerschaft“ die Bürgerschaft? Verfassungs-, Bürger- und Wahlrecht in Hamburg von 1814 bis 1914, in: Schlaglichter historischer Forschung. Studien zur deutschen Geschichte im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, Hamburg, p. 93)
  6. Endres, Rudolf. "Adel in der frühen Neuzeit." Enzyklopaedie Deutscher Geschichte, Vol. 18, Oldenbourg, p. 72.
  7. Richard J. Evans, Death in Hamburg: Society and Politics in the Cholera Years 1830–1910, Oxford, 1987, p. 560
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Renate Hauschild-Thiessen: "Adel und Bürgertum in Hamburg." In: Hamburgisches Geschlechterbuch. 14, 1997, p. 30.
  9. Percy Ernst Schramm: Gewinn und Verlust. Christians, Hamburg 1969, p. 108.