Aristocracy: privileged class endowed in the early Modern Era with the character of an estate ("Indigenat", "Inkolat"), aristocratic land ownership, and the privilege to be judges of their peers ("Landschranne", "court of the land marshal"). In the post-revolutionary period (1848/1867), the right to bear titles of nobility and to use foundations reserved for the nobility was enshrined in law, and some families of high nobility had the right to hereditary membership in the Herrenhaus of the Austrian Reichstag. All of these privileges, including the use of titles of nobility, were abolished in 1919 (Penal Code No. 211, April 3, 1919).
The aristocracy arose from service to the princes (mostly in war); in Austrian territories of the Middle Ages mostly from (free or non-free = ministerial) membership in the vassalry of the Babenbergs, Otakars, Sponheims, etc., then of the Habsburgs. Aristocracy could at first be imperial aristocracy (subordinate to the Roman emperor) or provincial aristocracy (subordinate to the provincial overlord); the latter group was mainly divided into gentlemen (Herren) and knights (Ritter) in Austrian territories. In addition, there was also a non-hereditary aristocracy, which was granted (by ennoblement) for outstanding accomplishments or services. In the Modern era, hereditary landowner aristocracy came about through the mutual recognition of aristocracy in various countries and the granting of titles of nobility by the Austrian (later Bohemian-Austrian) court chancellery. In Austrian nobility, "greater aristocracy" (prince and count lineage) and "lesser aristocracy" are differentiated; the latter is almost entirely a product of ennoblement in the 18th and 19th centuries. Levels of aristocracy: 1) simple aristocracy (with or without the title "Edler von"), 2) knighthood, 3) baronage, 4) countship, 5) princedom
Under Absolutismus the estate aristocracy was transformed into a court nobility. Service to the princes remained the binding ideal behind the aristocracy. until the very end, an ideal which also determined the aristocracy's education and economic principles. The leading "100 families" perceived themselves as the "highest society" because of their vast land ownership, influence at court and significant role in politics and diplomacy.
Further reading#Allgemeines Adels-Lexikon der Oesterreichischen Monarchie, 1784; P. Frank-Doefering (ed.), Adelslexikon des oesterreichischen Kaisertums 1804-1918, 1989.