Hanseaten (class)

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Reliefs of coats of arms of the three Hanseatic (sister) cities
Johann Hinrich Gossler of the Hanseatic Berenberg-Gossler-Seyler banking dynasty, who married Elisabeth Berenberg and became owner of Berenberg Bank

The Hanseaten (German: [hanzeˈaːtn̩], 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 of Bremen and Lübeck. The members of these First Families were the persons in possession of hereditary grand burghership (Großbürgerschaft) of these cities, including the mayors (Bürgermeister), the senators (Senatoren), joint diplomats (Diplomaten) 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.

Since the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the three cities have been officially named the "Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg" (Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg),[1][2] the "Free Hanseatic City of Bremen" (Freie Hansestadt Bremen) and the "Free and Hanseatic City of Lübeck" (Freie und Hansestadt Lübeck), the latter being simply known since 1937 as the "Hanseatic City of Lübeck". (Hansestadt Lübeck).[3]

Hamburg was one of the oldest stringent civic republics,[4] in which the Hanseatics preserved their constitutional privileges, which were 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 novel Buddenbrooks (1901), principally for which he received the 1929 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Relationship to the nobility[edit]

First Mayor Johann Heinrich Burchard

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! [But John, our good 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 rejection[edit]

The long standing tradition that Hanseaten do not accept medals and honors "of foreign powers" is called the "hanseatic rejection". It is reflecting the spirit of unconditional independence, modesty and equality of the citizens of hanseatic cities. In an early version of the Hamburg constitution from 1270 it is written that "the fact that the externally visible insignia of the order should distinguish the decorated one from his colleagues and fellow citizens as a superior one" as a circumstance that was in decisive contradiction to the spirit of the city constitution.[10] Politician Hans Koschnik (Bremen), former chancelor Helmut Schmidt (Hamburg) and several others people from Lübeck, Hamburg and Bremen refused the Order of the Federal Cross of Merit referring to the "hanseatic rejection".[11][12]

Bremen and Hamburg are also the only federal states that have not created their own orders of merit.

Hanseatic families[edit]

A few prominent families are listed here.




Berenberg, Goßler and Berenberg-Goßler[edit]


de Chapeaurouge[edit]







  • Bartholomäus Justus (1540–1607), Hamburg notary public at St Petri district of Hamburg
  • Christoph Justus (1579–1652), Merchant in the Gröninger Straße, St Katharinen district of Hamburg
  • Friederich Justus (1683–1757), Merchant in Neukalen and Mayor of Neukalen in the state of Mecklenburg, Founder of the Tobacco business est in 1723
  • Friederich Justus (1722–1784), Merchant and Tobacco Manufacturer in the Gröninger Straße, Grand Burgher, Oberalter St Katharinen, top 5 ranking member of the Hamburg Parliament, President of the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce
  • Joachim Christian Justus (1732–1802), Merchant and Tobacco Manufacturer in Hamburg and in Riga
  • Georg Heinrich Justus (1761–1803), Merchant and Tobacco Manufacturer in the Gröninger Straße
  • Friederich Justus (1797–1852), Merchant and Tobacco Manufacturer in the Gröninger Straße, Consul General of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in Hamburg
  • Heinrich Wilhelm Justus (1800–1839), Merchant and Tobacco Manufacturer in the Gröninger Straße
  • Heinrich Eduard Justus (1828–1899), Owner of the first united steam shipping fleet on the Alster and the dockyard at Leinpfad Hamburg, Member of Hamburg Parliament
  • Johannes Wilheln Justus (1857–1943), Partner of the Latin America Trading Company "Riensch & Held" est 1845 in Hamburg and Mexico, Co-Founding Member of the Hamburg Golf Club in 1905
  • Heinz Heinrich Ernst Justus (1894–1982), Partner of the Latin America Trading Company "Riensch & Held", member of the plenum of Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, First Lieutenant WWI, EK I and EK II




  • Thomas Johann Heinrich Mann (1840–1891), senator of Lübeck; fictionalized "Thomas Buddenbrook" in Buddenbrooks
  • Heinrich Mann (1871–1950), German novelist
  • Thomas Mann (1875–1955), German novelist
  • Erika Mann (1905–1969), German actress and writer
  • Klaus Mann (1906–1949), German novelist
  • Golo Mann (1909–1994), German historian

Merck (Hamburg branch of the Merck family)[edit]

Moller (vom Baum)[edit]



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












See also[edit]


  • Lu Seegers (2016): Hanseaten: Mythos und Realität des ehrbaren Kaufmanns seit dem 19. Jahrhundert. (Hanseatic class: myth and reality of the honorable merchant since the 19th century). in: Katalog des Europäischen Hansemuseums, Lübeck 2016, p. 106-110.
  • Lu Seegers (2014): Hanseaten und das Hanseatische in Diktatur und Demokratie: Politisch-ideologische Zuschreibungen und Praxen (Hanseatic League and the Hanseatic in Dictatorship and Democracy: Political-Ideological Attributions and Practices). in: Zeitgeschichte in Hamburg 2014, hrsg. von der Forschungsstelle für Zeitgeschichte in Hamburg (FZH), Hamburg 2015, p. 71-83.


  1. ^ The Hanseatic League ended about mid 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 and 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. ^ Following the Greater Hamburg Act, it was named the Hanseatic City of Hamburg (Hansestadt Hamburg) from 1938 until 1952 (constitution of 6 June 1952 Archived 18 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine), at which point it again became known as the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg (Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg)
  3. ^ Greater Hamburg Act; Lübeck lost in the "Lübeck-decision" (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. ^ Rudolf Endres. "Adel in der frühen Neuzeit". Enzyklopaedie Deutscher Geschichte. Vol. 18. Oldenbourg. p. 72.
  7. ^ Richard J. Evans (1987). Death in Hamburg: Society and Politics in the Cholera Years 1830–1910. Oxford. p. 560.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  8. ^ a b c Renate Hauschild-Thiessen (1997). "Adel und Bürgertum in Hamburg". Hamburgisches Geschlechterbuch. Vol. 14. p. 30.
  9. ^ Percy Ernst Schramm (1969). Gewinn und Verlust. Hamburg: Christians. p. 108.
  10. ^ German Original: "die Tatsache, dass die äußerlich sichtbaren Ordensinsignien den Decorierten vor seinen Kollegen und Mitbürgern als einen vorzüglicheren auszeichnen sollen". Manager Magazin, 2002 https://www.manager-magazin.de/unternehmen/karriere/a-205859.html
  11. ^ "Warum Hanseaten keine Orden tragen". shmh.de (in German). Retrieved 20 April 2022.
  12. ^ Döbler, Moritz (21 April 2016). "Ein großer Bremer, ein großer Staatsmann - WESER-KURIER". weser-kurier-de (in German). Retrieved 20 April 2022.