A seneschal // was an officer in the houses of important nobles in the Middle Ages. In a medieval noble household a seneschal was in charge of domestic arrangements and the administration of servants. In the French administrative system of the Middle Ages, the sénéchal was also a royal officer in charge of justice and control of the administration in southern provinces, equivalent to the northern French bailli. It is equivalent to the Slavonic title stolnik or the English steward.
Etymology and origin
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The term, first attested in 1350-1400, was borrowed from Anglo-Norman seneschal "steward", from Old Dutch *siniscalc "senior retainer" (attested in Latin siniscalcus (a.d. 692), Old High German senescalh), a compound of *sini- (cf. Gothic sineigs "old", sinista "oldest") and scalc "servant", ultimately a calque of Late Latin senior scholaris "senior guard".
The scholae in the late Roman Empire referred to the imperial guard, divided into senior (seniores) and junior (juniores) units. The captain of the guard was known as comes scholarum. When Germanic tribes took over the Empire, the scholae were merged or replaced with the Germanic king's warband (cf. Frankish-Latin dructis, OHG truht, Old English dryht) whose members also had duties in their lord's household like a royal retinue. The king's chief warbandman and retainer (cf. Old Saxon druhting, OHG truhting, truhtigomo OE dryhtguma, dryhtealdor), from the 5th century on, personally attended on the king, as specifically stated in the Theodosian Code of 413 (Cod. Theod. VI. 13. 1; known as comes scholae). The warband, once sedentary, became first the king's royal household, and then his great officers of state, and in both cases the seneschal is synonymous with steward.
The administrative sénéchal in France
Under the Ancien Régime in southern France, the sénéchal was the king's representative charged with the application of justice and control of administration in the sénéchaussée (administrative district). In northern France, the terms used were bailli and bailliage (bailiwick). According to historian Henry Hallam, the first sénéchaux to receive judicial functions did so by an edict of Philip II of France in 1190, and "acted as the king's lieutenants in his domains", or as a sort of roving ambassador or minister for the throne. See bailli for more information.
- William de Gometz was Seneschal of France circa 1000 AD
- Osbern the Steward was Seneschal to two Dukes of Normandy.
- Grand maître de France – the Great Officer of the Crown of France in charge of the Royal Household (the "Maison du Roi")
- Sheriff, another Germanic rooted title of command over a jurisdiction. From "shire" & "reeve".
- Sir Kay, a legendary seneschal in the court of King Arthur.
- The Free Dictionary
- Encyclopaedia Perthensis; or Universal Dictionary of the Arts Volume 20 (1816), p. 437
- Leo Wiener, Commentary to the Germanic Laws and Mediaeval Documents (Harvard UP, 1915; reprint Union, NJ: Lawbook Exchange, 1999), 33-4.
- D. H. Green, Language and History in the Early Germanic World (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998), 110-2.
- Wiener, 34.