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This article is about the position in government. For other uses, see Chancellor (disambiguation).

Chancellor (Latin: cancellarius) is a title of various official positions in the governments of many nations. The original chancellors were the cancellarii of Roman courts of justice—ushers, who sat at the cancelli or lattice work screens of a basilica or law court, which separated the judge and counsel from the audience. A chancellor's office is called a chancellery or chancery. The word is now used in the titles of many various officers in all kinds of settings (government, education, religion, etc.). Nowadays the term is most often used to describe:

  • The head of the government
  • A person in charge of foreign affairs
  • A person with duties related to justice
  • A person in charge of financial and economic issues
  • The head of a university

Head of government[edit]

  • The Chancellor of Germany or Bundeskanzler (official German title which means "Federal Chancellor"), is the title for the head of government in Germany. Bundeskanzlerin is the exclusively feminine form. In German politics the Bundeskanzler position is equivalent to that of a prime minister and is elected by the Bundestag, ("Federal Diet", the lower house of the German Federal Parliament), every four years on its first session after general elections. Between general elections, the Federal Chancellor (together with the whole cabinet) can only be removed from office by a konstruktives Misstrauensvotum ("constructive motion of no confidence") which consists in the candidacy of an opposition candidate for the office of Chancellor in the Bundestag. If this candidate gets more votes from the members of the Bundes-tag than the incumbent head of govern-ment, he (or she) will be sworn in immediately as new Federal Chancellor.[1]

The current German Bundeskanzlerin is Angela Merkel from the CDU (Christian Democrats).

The former German Empire, the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany had the equivalent position of Reichskanzler ("Chancellor of the Realm"), as the head of the executive. Between 1871 and 1918 the Chancellor was appointed by the German Emperor. During the Weimar Republic (1919-1933), the Chancellor was chosen by the Reichspräsident and stood under his authority. This continued (formally) during the two first years of the Nazi regime until the death of President Paul von Hindenburg in 1935. Between 1935 and 1945 Adolf Hitler, the dictatorial head of state and government of Nazi Germany was officially called "Führer und Reichskanzler" (literally "Leader and Chancellor of the Realm").

  • The Chancellor of Austria, also titled Bundeskanzler, is the head of government in Austria. Werner Faymann is the current Bundeskanzler in Austria.
  • In Switzerland, the Federal Chancellor (Bundeskanzler, Chancelier fédéral, Cancelliere della Confederazione) is not the head of government, but rather the Chief of Staff of the Swiss Federal Government. He or she is elected by the Swiss federal parliament to head the Federal Chancellery — the general staff of the seven-member executive Federal Council, the Swiss federal government. The Chancellor participates in the meetings of the seven Federal Councilors with a consultative vote and prepares the reports on policy and activities of the council to parliament. The chancellery is responsible for the publication of all federal laws.

Foreign minister[edit]

In South America, the terms Canciller (Spanish) or Chanceler (Portuguese), equivalent to "chancellor", are commonly used informally to refer to the post of foreign minister. Likewise, the ministry of foreign affairs in many South American countries is referred to as the Cancillería or (in Brazil) Chancelaria. However, in Spain the term canciller refers to a civil servant in the Spanish diplomatic service responsible for technical issues relating to foreign affairs. On the contrary, in Mexico it relates solely to the position of head of the ministry of foreign affairs (the formal term being Secretary of Foreign Affairs).

Functions related to justice and the law[edit]

  • In Finland the Chancellor of Justice (Oikeuskansleri, Justitiekanslern) supervises the legality of actions taken by the government and monitors the implementation of basic civil liberties. In this special function the chancellor also sits in the Finnish Cabinet, the Finnish Council of State.
  • In Sweden the Chancellor of Justice or Justitiekanslern acts as the Solicitor General for the Swedish Government. The office was introduced by Charles XII of Sweden in 1713. Historically there was also a Lord High Chancellor or Rikskansler as the most senior member of the Privy Council of Sweden. There is in addition to this a University Chancellor or Universitetskansler, who leads the National Agency for Higher Education.
  • In the legal system of the United Kingdom, the term can refer to two officials:
    • The Lord Chancellor (Lord High Chancellor, King's Chancellor) is the occupant of one of the oldest offices of state, dating back to the Kingdom of England, and older than Parliament itself. Theoretically, the Lord Chancellor is the Chancellor of Great Britain. A former office of "Chancellor of Ireland" was abolished in 1922, when all but Northern Ireland left the United Kingdom. The Lord Chancellor is the second highest non-royal subject in precedence (after the Archbishop of Canterbury). In addition to various ceremonial duties, he is head of the Ministry of Justice, which was created in May 2007 from the Department for Constitutional Affairs (which was created in 2003 from the Lord Chancellor's Department). In this role, he sits in the Cabinet. Until the Constitutional Reform Act of 2005, the Lord Chancellor had two additional roles:
      • Head of the English, but not Scottish, judiciary. In previous centuries, the Lord Chancellor was the sole judge in the Court of Chancery; when, in 1873, that court was combined with others to form the High Court, the Lord Chancellor became the nominal head of the Chancery Division. The Lord Chancellor was permitted to participate in judicial sittings of the House of Lords; he also chose the committees that heard appeals in the Lords. The de facto head of the Chancery Division was the Vice-Chancellor, and the role of choosing appellate committees was in practice fulfilled by the Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary.
      • De facto speaker of the House of Lords. These duties are now undertaken by the Lord Speaker. The Lord Chancellor Jack Straw, was the first who is a member of the House of Commons, rather than the House of Lords or its predecessor, the Curia Regis, since Sir Christopher Hatton in 1578.[2][3]
    • The Chancellor of the High Court is the head of the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice. Before 2005, the judge occupying this position was known as the Vice-Chancellor, the Lord Chancellor being the nominal head of the Division.
  • Some U.S. states, like Delaware, Tennessee, and Mississippi, still maintain a separate Court of Chancery with jurisdiction over equity cases. Judges who sit on those courts are called chancellors.


  • Denmark. The office of chancellor (or royal chancellor) seems to have appeared in the 12th century, and until 1660 it was the title of the leader of the state administration (a kind of a "Home Office" but often with foreign political duties). Often he appeared to be the real leader of the government. From 1660–1848, the title continued as "Grand Chancellor" or "President of the Danish Chancellery", and was replaced in 1730 by the title "Minister of Domestic Affairs."[4]
  • Estonia. A Chancellor (Kantsler) directs the work of a ministry and coordinates institutions subject to the ministry. A ministry can also have one or several Vice-Chancellors (Asekantsler), who fulfill the duties of the Chancellor, when he is absent.[5] The Chancellor of Justice (Õiguskantsler, Currently Indrek Teder) supervises the legality of actions taken by the government and monitors the implementation of basic civil liberties.[6]
  • United Kingdom.
  • United States of America. In the United States, the only "chancellor" established by the federal government is the Chancellor of the Smithsonian Institution, a largely ceremonial office held by the Chief Justice of the United States. As the Smithsonian is a research and museum system, its use of the title is perhaps best thought of as akin to a university's chancellor.


The chancellor is the principal record-keeper of a diocese or eparchy, or their equivalent. The chancellor is a notary, so that he may certify official documents, and often has other duties at the discretion of the bishop of the diocese: he may be in charge of some aspect of finances or of managing the personnel connected with diocesan offices, although his delegated authority cannot extend to vicars of the diocesan bishop, such as vicars general, episcopal vicars or judicial vicars. His office is within the "chancery". Vice-chancellors may be appointed to assist the chancellor in busy chanceries. Normally, the chancellor is a priest or deacon, although in some circumstances a layperson may be appointed to the post.[7] In the eparchial curia a chancellor is to be appointed who is to be a presbyter (priest) or deacon and whose principal obligation, unless otherwise established by the particular law, is to see that the acts of the curia are gathered and arranged as well as preserved in the archives of the eparchial curia.[8]

In the United Methodist Church, each Annual Conference has a Conference Chancellor, who is either an active or retired lawyer or judge who serves as the Annual Conference's legal adviser and representative. While the Annual Conference usually hires outside professional counsel in matters that require legal representation, that hiring and representation is done under the supervision, and with the consent, of the Conference Chancellor.[9]

Educational usage[edit]

A Chancellor is the leader (either ceremonial or executive) of many public and private universities and related institutions.

The heads of the New York City Department of Education and the District of Columbia Public Schools, who run the municipally-operated public schools in those jurisdictions, carry the title of Chancellor. New York State also has a Chancellor of the University of the State of New York, the body that licenses and regulates all educational and research institutions in the state and many professions (not to be confused with the State University of New York, an actual institution of higher learning).

In a few instances, the term chancellor applies to a student or faculty member in a high school or an institution of higher learning who is either appointed or elected as chancellor to preside on the highest ranking judicial board or tribunal. They handle non-academic matters such as violations of behavior.

In Germany many heads of universities carry the title "Kanzler" (Chancellor). In order to avoid any misunderstanding, the head of the German Federal Government is therefore usually called by his official title Bundeskanzler (Federal Chancellor).

Historical uses[edit]

There is the "royal sealer" (xtmtj-bity or xtmw-bity), a title attested since the First Dynasty (about 3000 BC).[10] People holding the post include Imhotep and Hemaka.[11]
The other title translated as chancellor is "Keeper of the Royal Seal" (or overseer of the seal or treasurer—imy-r xtmt[12][13]). Officials holding the post include Bay or Irsu, Khety[14] Meketre,[15] and Nakhti.[16]
The first title (royal sealer) announced a certain rank at the royal court, the second (supervisor of the sealed goods, i.e. treasurer) was responsible for the state's income. This position appears around 2000 BC.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Grundgesetz der Bundesrepublik Deutschland
  2. ^ "Sir Christopher Hatton". Love to Know Classic Encyclopedia (from the 1911 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica). 
  3. ^ "Constitutional continuity: Jack Straw speech at the London School of Economics". 3 March 2009. Retrieved 5 March 2009. 
  4. ^ [1]
  7. ^ CIC 482; CCEO 252—§1.
  8. ^

    Canon 482 [...]

    §2. If it seems necessary the chancellor can be given an assistant whose title is vice-chancellor.

    §3. The chancellor as well as the vice-chancellor are by the law itself notaries of the eparchial curia.

    In the 1983 Code of Canon Law for the Latin rite of the Catholic Church, the chancellor may be a layperson, and not necessarily a presbyter or deacon. The office of the Chancellor is mandatory in all diocessan (eparchial) curia. The primary function of the Chancellor is to keep the curial records properly. Beal, New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, Paulist Press, Mahwah, New Jersey, 2000, p.635.

  9. ^ As an example, see the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church (
  10. ^ Toby A. H. Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt, Routledge 1999, p.131
  11. ^ Michael Rice, Who's Who in Ancient Egypt, Routledge 2001, p.63
  12. ^ pBerlin 10035 in U. Luft, Urkunden zur Chronologie der späten 12. Dynastie, Briefe aus Illahun, Wien 2006, 69 ff.
  13. ^ pLouvre 3230 B in E. Wente, Letters from Ancient Egypt, Atlanta, 1990, 92
  14. ^ Memoirs, Egypt Exploration Society—1958, p.7
  15. ^ Serdab of the Chancellor Meketre
  16. ^ Michael Rice, Who's Who in Ancient Egypt, Routledge 2001