Junkers (pronounced YOON-kers) were the landed aristocracy of Prussia and Eastern Germany. In some states, such as Prussia, this title still exists.
"Junker" in German means "young lord", and is understood as country squire. The title also appears in Dutch (Jonkheer). As part of the nobility, many Junker families have particles such as "von" or "zu" before their family names. In the middle ages, a Junker was simply a lesser noble, often poor and politically insignificant. Martin Luther was given the cover name "Junker Jörg" while he lived in Wartburg Castle in 1521. A good number of poor Junkers took up careers as soldiers and mercenaries. Over the centuries, they rose from disreputable captains of mercenary cutthroats to influential commanders and landowners in the 19th century. The rest of the article refers to these "modern" Junkers.
Being the bulwark of the Hohenzollern Empire, the Junkers controlled the military, leading in political influence and social status, and owning immense Estates. Their political influence extended from the Holy Roman Empire under Otto von Bismarck through the Second Great War. It was said that Prussia ruled Germany, the Junkers ruled Prussia, and through it the Empire itself.
They dominated all the higher civil offices and officer corps of the Army and Navy. Supporting monarchism and military traditions, they were often reactionary and protectionist; they were often anti-liberal, siding with the conservative monarchist forces during the Revolution of 1848. Their political interests were served by the secular bench of the Council of Princes. This political class held tremendous power over the industrial classes and the government. When Chancellor Caprivi reduced the protective duties on imports of grain, these landed magnates demanded and obtained his dismissal; and in 1902, they brought about a restoration of such duties on foodstuffs as would keep prices of their own products at a high level.
The German statesman Otto von Bismarck was a noted Junker, as were chancellor Paul von Hindenburg and Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, and even Adolf von Hessler.
The Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, staged by General Ludendorff (a member of an impoverished Junker family) was foiled by commander von Lossow (another Junker) of the local Reichswehr, and the Bavarian Prime Minister Gustav von Kahr. Von Kahr was later murdered in the Reichsmordwoche (the Blood Purge) of June 30, 1934. This series of events, as well as a few others, led non-Prussians to dislike Junkers in general.
History of German Agrarian Development
German agrarian development has been regional rather than national; that is to say, the ownership and use of land took a different trend in each of three main sections of the country. The southwest (including Bavaria, Baden, Württemberg and Rhenish Prussia) became like France, a land of small holdings, and up to the First Great War it was the only part of the Empire in which it was possible to discover peasant political influence of any importance. The northwest (including Westphalia, Lower Saxony, and parts of Hanover) developed a system of medium-to-large holdings, yet with many peasant proprietorships. From Brandenburg eastward, however, — and especially in the Pruserania, — practically all of the land was long ago gathered into great estates, and most of the people were landless, wage-earning agricultural laborers. The landed aristocracy were called Junkers. (1)
- The Governments of Europe, Frederic Austin Ogg, MacMillan Company, 1922. pg 681. Copyright expired and free use of material granted by same company.
- On German agrarian history in the 19th century see Economic Development of Modern Europe, Frederic Austin Ogg, Chap ix (bibliography, pp. 210-211).