When the nobility emerged is a mysterious subject. Among the old tribes of Germans (West- and Ostgermanen) it was customary to elect a king from among the existing nobility. The king was surrounded by dukes, princes and knights which made up his entourage. To become part of this group was voluntary and only for those who had the right to carry arms (Waffenrecht). These were usually men of good families or were well seasoned warriors. He who had the right to carry arms was simultaneously a member of the thing (gatherings to determine the next sovereign, duke or prince and among the rising generation who would be worthy to carry arms and to determine the law) and the army. Within noble ranks existed gradations. Regarded as the highest nobility were the lines connected to royals.
Nobility in Schleswig-Holstein
Nobility in Schleswig-Holstein existed before the 1200s. We find them in Holstein and Stormarn. Nobody here could be part of the nobility if he/she was not born into it. While in Holstein it was pivotal to have a noble pedigree to be counted as a member of the nobility, the situation in Schleswig was different. Here an ascent into the ranks of nobility was possible until well into the 1500s. For instance, a farmer who had served his military obligations via a horse could be installed as a noble.
Most noble families in Schleswig-Holstein lived on farms (curie) or in a castra (castle with mote). After the Reformation this part of society amassed huge territories in Angeln, Schwansen, Dänisch Wohld and Ostholstein and established themselves as agricultural large scale operations with ties into the market. This was accomplished by serfdom, new methods of agriculture and stock-farming.
Members of the nobility usually act in accordance with the rules of an exclusive set-up. There are strict observances as to marriage, inheritances and especially connections to non-nobles.
Most family traditions of a noble ancestor turn out, on investigation, to have little foundation. Most members of the noble class did not emigrate to the United States. In addition, contrary to prevailing opinion, it was not customary to disown members of noble families for unacceptable behavior. Thus, traditions of an ancestor being "erased" or eliminated from "all records" are usually unfounded.
Ibs, Jürgen. Historischer Atlas Schleswig-Holstein vom Mittelalter bis 1867. Wachholtz Verlag. Neumünster 2004
Schröder, Richard. Lehrbuch der deutschen Rechtsgeschichte. Von Veit & Comp. Leipzig 1889
Lehe v., Erich. Der holsteinische Adel im Mittelalter in Zeitschrift für Niedersächsische Familienkunde, 28. Jahrgang, Heft 2 und 3,1953
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Institut zur Erforschung Historischer Führungsschichten http://www.ahf-muenchen.de/Mitglieder/Institutionen/InstPersonengeschichte.shtml