Geheimrat was the title of the highest advising officials at the Imperial, royal or princely courts of the Holy Roman Empire, who jointly formed the Geheimer Rat reporting to the ruler. The term remained in use during subsequent monarchic reigns in German-speaking areas of Europe until the end of the First World War. At its origin the literal meaning of the word in German was 'trusted advisor'. The English-language equivalent is Privy Councillor.
The office contributing to the state's politics and legislation had its roots in the age of absolutism from the 17th century onward, when a governmental administration by a dependent bureaucracy was established similar to the French Conseil du Roi. A precursor was the Reichshofrat, a judicial body established by Emperor Maximilian I of Habsburg. In Austria the professional title of Hofrat (Court Councillor) has remained in use as an official title for deserved civil servants up to today.
With the Empire's dissolution and the rise of Constitutionalism in the aftermath of the French Revolution, the office of a Geheimrat became an honorific title conferred by the German states upon high officials, accompanied by the address Exzellenz. During that period related titles no longer affiliated with an office arose, like Geheimer Kommerzienrat, an award for outstanding contributions in the field of commerce and industry, or Geheimer Medizinalrat, an award for outstanding contributions to medicine. The term is also used in combination with the word Ecke – Geheimratsecke, colloquially describing male pattern baldness at the 'edges' of the forehead (i.e. the upper 'corners' of the face).
In the Republic of Austria the title was officially abolished in 1919. In Germany, the title largely disappeared after the fall of the German Empire in 1918, when the various princely states of Germany were replaced by the constituent states of the Weimar Republic, although Geheimräte continued to be appointed by the Free State of Bavaria. However, many honorees continued to use it, and the title Geheimrat, its abbreviation Geh. Rat and related abbreviations (Geh. Med.-Rat, Geh. Ober-Med.-Rat and even Geh. Hofrat) appear in captions until the 1930s, such as used by the German Federal Archives.
- Nicholas Remy (1530–1616), title bestowed in 1575 by Duke Charles III of Lorraine
- Raimondo Montecuccoli (1609–1680), in 1660 by Emperor Leopold I
- Gottfried Leibniz (1646–1716), in 1678 by Duke John Frederick of Brunswick-Calenberg
- Andrey Osterman (1686–1747), in 1721 by Emperor Peter I of Russia
- Emerich de Vattel (1714–1767), in 1758 by Elector Frederick Augustus II of Saxony
- Mathias Franz Graf von Chorinsky Freiherr von Ledske (1720–1786), in 1778 by Empress regnant Maria Theresa of the Holy Roman Empire
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), in 1779 by Duke Charles Augustus of Saxe-Weimar
- Samuel Thomas von Sömmerring (1755–1830), in 1810 by King Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria
- Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777–1855),
- Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff (1788–1857), in 1841 by King Frederick William IV of Prussia
- Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve (1793–1864), in 1856 by Emperor Alexander II of Russia
- Johann Gustav Stickel (1805-1896), Charles Frederick, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach
- Heinrich von Stephan (1831–1897), in 1868 by King Wilhelm I of Prussia
- Felix Draeseke (1835–1913), in 1906 by King Frederick Augustus III of Saxony
- Richard Assmann (1845–1918), by German emperor King Wilhelm II of Prussia
- Felix Klein (1849–1925)
- Ignaz Bing (1840–1918), industrialist and naturalist, Geh. Kommerzienrat
- Adolf von Harnack (1851–1930), by German emperor King Wilhelm II of Prussia
- Friedrich Loeffler (1852–1915), by German emperor King Wilhelm II of Prussia
- Georg von Schanz (1853–1931), in 1914 by King Ludwig III of Bavaria
- Emil Adolf von Behring (1854–1917), in 1903 by German emperor King Wilhelm II of Prussia
- Paul Ehrlich (1854–1915), in 1911 by German emperor King Wilhelm II of Prussia
- Ferdinand Tönnies (1855–1936), in 1917 by German emperor King Wilhelm II of Prussia
- Theodor Curtius (1857–1928), in 1895 by German emperor King Wilhelm II of Prussia
- Max Planck (1858–1947), by German emperor King Wilhelm II of Prussia
- Alfred Hugenberg (1865–1951), by German emperor King Wilhelm II of Prussia
- Leo Maximilian Baginski (1891–1964), in 1919 by Prince Albert of Thurn and Taxis
- August Bier (1861–1949), by German emperor King Wilhelm II of Prussia
- Ferdinand Sauerbruch (1875–1951)
- Gottfried von Schmitt (1827-1908), title given in 1888 by Prince Regent Luitpold of Bavaria
- Josef von Schmitt (1838-1907), title given in 1896 by Prince Regent Luitpold of Bavaria
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