The aristocratic societies in the individual lands under Habsburg rule were originally very diverse in their traditions. As a rule, a distinction was made in the nobility of the individual Habsburg Crown Lands between the politically and economically more influential upper nobility and the minor nobility, which was of only local importance.
Of even higher rank were the families who belonged to the Estate of the Empire, who had a seat and a vote in the Imperial Diet of the Holy Roman Empire and were directly subordinate to the Emperor.
Within the upper nobility, families who bore the title of prince or duke had the highest rank. They were followed by the counts and then the barons.
Over the course of time, the Habsburg imperial Court evolved its own courtly hierarchy which became binding for the nobility of the individual territories.