A new social group was formed in the Duchy in the thirteenth century, comprised of the particularly qualified servants of the sovereign. Known as “ministerials” or “ridders,” they organised the administrative affairs of the country and the fortresses, or they warranted the safety of the estate as fighters.
Over time they were assigned privileges and tenures, which then evolved into feudal estates.
The boundaries between these members of the lower gentry and the peasantry and the urban patricians were still blurry. It was not until the fifteenth to sixteenth century that they became more clearcut. The most remarkable role played by the Westphalian nobility was its representative competence, enabling it to form corporations at the Landtag Assemblies.
In its continual discourse with the sovereign, it fought against absolutistic tendencies and achieved a special legislation enforced only for the Duchy of Westphalia.
The clustering of aristocratic estates along the middle Lenne river is noteworthy, particularly in view of the fact that no such noble estates were recorded in the courts of Olpe, Drolshagen and Wenden since the fifteenth century.
Several factors led to a considerable decrease in the number of nobility in the fourteenth century. Around 40 aristocratic families lived between the Bigge and Lenne rivers in the mid-fourteenth century. In the mid-fifteenth century this number was reduced to less than 20. At the end of the eighteenth century, only 4 feudal estates were left that were inhabited by nobility. The estate was in part acquired by commons or peasants, or it was accumulated in the possessions of successful aristocratic families.