22nd January 2022

Comital Administration in the County of Luxembourg at the turn of the 13th century: Efficiency, Organization and Loyalty

by Arnaud Picqué / Henricus.justiciarius

During the 12th century, the count’s administrative entourage is a rather inoperative “Curia” made up of “witnesses”. At the end of the 12th century (with Henri “the Blind”) but especially  during the first part of the 13th century (with Ermesinde), this “Curia” transformed into an efficient and multi-level administration, whose organs, powers and levels were distinguished.


Eventually, this administrative evolution contributed to the strengthening of the count’s powers, thanks to its efficiency and the rivalry organized between bourgeoisie and nobility.

1. Auctoritas publica and fides publica (the old "Curia", 11-12th century)

The beginning of the territorial principalities in the Lotharingian area corresponds to the moment when the counts succeeded in imposing their power on their neighbours (this began as early as the 11th century). This is the auctoritas publica.


This “auctoritas publica” derives, in practice, from the “fides publica”: power must be based on a certain degree of notoriety, which needs to be “witnessed”. Thus, the proclamation of the count’s deeds and count’s justice must be done in public, in front of a large entourage (a “witnessing entourage”) composed by increasingly more people.


Sachsenspiegel. Cod. Pal. Germ. 164 : folio.7v  early 14th c.

Very early, these people concerning Luxembourg, are “ministerials” (non-noble men that are at the service of the count on a military, domanial or administrative level). They are part of what could be called a comital familia. 

They had simultaneously the role of counselling the count but also defending the deed’s authenticity and the judgements rendered in their presence when needed. But this old body had shown some flaws (too little structured and composed in a too varied social way). Reforms were needed to make administration efficient but without losing the loyalty of the count entourage.


The first half of the 13th century was the scene of two important reforms: the breakdown of the old inoperative Curia and the establishment of a multi-level administration.

2. Breakdown of the old Curia

Willhelm von Orlens. BSB Cgm 63 : folio 20 


During the first half of the 13th century, Countess Ermesinde laid the foundations for a new administrative structure (a process already started under the reign of her father, Henri the Blind), inspired by French, Champagne and Barrois models, while remaining imprinted with Rhenish and Germanic influences. This new administration is characterized by three features:

  • Differentiation and specialization of institutions (end of the Curia as the sole organ)
  • Agents are closely dependent on the count (men of trust)
  • Bipolarization of the count's entourage (rivalry between bourgeoisie and nobility).

The old Curia will therefore split into several bodies with distinct powers:


  • The narrow comital Council (very powerful nobility, great non-noble officers and clerics). This is the Central comital Government;
  • The Enlarged Court (old nobility), competent for the general affairs of the prince and the county;
  • The Feudal Court which is a specialized body for feudal justice and the future “Court of the Knights”.

3. Establishment of a multi-level administration

To ensure greater efficiency and legitimacy of its power, the county will reorganize the administrative architecture:

  • At the central level, the seneschal appears (probably in the narrow Council). The seneschal (or dapifer), for instance, represents the count in his absence;
  • At the regional level, the provost is placed at the head of an administrative district corresponding to the old counties and chatêllenies. They have administrative, judicial and military powers. Their function is removable and limited in time. They are also entitled to replace the “chatelains” and “avoués” of the count castles sometimes. This function was regularly combined with that of alderman

Cod. Pal. germ. 389 : Folio 96r  ca.1256

  • At the local / urban level, we see the appearance of the justicer and the aldermen (who already existed before) with judicial, administrative, consultative, representative and notarial missions on the territory of the City.

The first three functions have at least three common features:

  • Significant extent of their powers;
  • Close dependence on the Count;
  • Non-noble social origins.


Margue, M., « De l’entourage comtal à l’entourage royal : le cas des Luxembourg (xiie – première moitié du xive siècle) », in A l’ombre du pouvoir (dir. J.-L. Kupper, A. Marchandisse), Liège, Presses universitaires de Liège, 2003.