Great Officers of State

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Government in medieval monarchies generally comprised the king's companions, later becoming the Royal Household, from which the officers of state arose, initially having household and government duties. Later some of these officers became two: one serving state and one serving household. They were superseded by new officers, or were absorbed by existing officers. Many of the officers became hereditary and thus removed from practical operation of either the state or the household.[1]

Especially in the Norman kingdoms these offices will have common characteristics. In the United Kingdom, the Great Officers of State are traditional ministers of The Crown who either inherit their positions or are appointed to exercise certain largely ceremonial functions or to operate as members of the government.[2] Separate Great Officers of State exist for England and for Scotland, as well as formerly for Ireland. It was the same in the Kingdoms of Sicily and Naples. Many of the Great Officers became largely ceremonial because historically they were so influential that their powers had to be resumed by The Crown or dissipated.


Initially, after the Norman Conquest, England adopted the officers from the Normandy Ducal court (which was modelled after the French court) with a steward, chamberlain and constable. Originally having both household and governmental duties, some of these officers later split into two counterparts in Great Officer of the State and officer of the royal household, while other offices were superseded by new offices or absorbed by existing offices. This was due to many of the offices becoming hereditary because of feudalistic practices, and thus removed from the practical operation of either the state or the Royal Household.[3] The Great Officers then gradually expanded to cover multiple duties, and have now become largely ceremonial.

Order[4] Office Current holder Superseded by Royal Household
1 Lord High Steward of England [a] Chief Justiciar (now defunct) Lord Steward of the Household[3]
2 Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain

Lord High Chancellor of England

Dominic Raab
MP for Esher and Walton
(Secretary of State for Justice)
3 Lord High Treasurer of the United Kingdom

Lord High Treasurer of Great Britain

Lord High Treasurer of England
(c.  1126–1714)

[b] Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and First Lord of the Treasury

Chancellor and Under-Treasurer of His Majesty's Exchequer and Second Lord of the Treasury

Lords Commissioners of His Majesty’s Treasury

4 Lord President of the Council Penny Mordaunt
MP for Portsmouth North
(Leader of the House of Commons)
5 Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal Nicholas True
Lord True

(Leader of the House of Lords)
6 Lord Great Chamberlain of England In gross:[c]
Rupert Carington
7th Baron Carrington
Lord High Treasurer (in monetary affairs) Lord Chamberlain of the Household
7 Lord High Constable of England [a][d] Earl Marshal (in the command of troops) Master of the Horse to His Majesty
8 Earl Marshal of England

Lord Marshal of England

Edward Fitzalan-Howard
18th Duke of Norfolk
9 Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom

Lord High Admiral of Great Britain

Lord (High)[e] Admiral of England

High Admiral of England, Ireland and Aquitaine

The Viscount Hailsham, robed as the Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain. He was the Lord High Steward at the last trial of a peer in the House of Lords.


Coat of arms of the King of France

The Great Officers of the Crown of France (French: Grands officiers de la couronne de France) were the most important officers of state in the French royal court during the Ancien Régime and Bourbon Restoration. They were appointed by the King of France, with all but the Keeper of the Seals being appointments for life. These positions were neither transmissible nor hereditary.

During the time of the First French Empire, the equivalent officers were known as the Grand Dignitaries of the French Empire. The Great Officers of the Crown of France should not be confused with the similarly named Great Officers of the Royal Household of France (Grands officiers de la maison du roi de France), which share certain officers, headed by the Grand Master of France.

Holy Roman Empire[edit]

Page from an armorial showing the arms of Emperor Frederick III, ca 1415-1493.
Page from an armorial showing arms of Kaiser Maximilian I ca 1508-1519
German Kurrent script, in which the armorial sources are written.

Princes elector held a "High Office of the Empire" (Reichserzämter) analogous to a modern Cabinet office and were members of the ceremonial Imperial Household. The three spiritual electors were Arch-Chancellors (German: Erzkanzler, Latin: Archicancellarius): the Archbishop of Mainz was Arch-Chancellor of Germany, the Archbishop of Cologne was Arch-Chancellor of Italy, and the Archbishop of Trier was Arch-Chancellor of Burgundy. The six remaining were secular electors, who were granted augmentations to their arms reflecting their position in the Household. These augments were displayed either as an inset badge, as in the case of the Arch Steward, Treasurer, and Chamberlain—or dexter, as in the case of the Arch Marshal and Arch Bannerbearer. Or, as in the case of the Arch Cupbearer, the augment was integrated into the escutcheon, held in the royal Bohemian lion's right paw.

Augmentation Imperial office German Latin Elector
Simple gold crown.svg
Arch-Cupbearer Erzmundschenk Archipincerna King of Bohemia
HRE Arch-Steward Arms.svg Arch-Steward
(or Arch-Seneschal)
Erztruchseß Archidapifer Elector Palatine to 1623
Elector of Bavaria, 1623–1706
Elector Palatine, 1706–1714
Elector of Bavaria, 1714–1806
HRE Arch-Treasurer Arms.svg Arch-Treasurer Erzschatzmeister Archithesaurarius Elector Palatine, 1648–1706
Elector of Hanover, 1710–1714
Elector Palatine, 1714–1777
Elector of Hanover, 1777–1814
HRE Arch-Marshal Arms.svg Arch-Marshal Erzmarschall Archimarescallus Elector of Saxony
HRE Arch-Chamberlain Arms (Ancient).svg HRE Arch-Chamberlain Arms (Modern).svg Arch-Chamberlain Erzkämmerer Archicamerarius Elector of Brandenburg
HRE Arch-Bannerbearer Arms.svg Arch-Bannerbearer Erzbannerträger Archivexillarius Elector of Württemberg[9]


In the Kingdom of Hungary the Great Officers of State were non-hereditary court officials originally appointed by the king, later some of them were elected by the Diet. They were also called the barons of the kingdom (Hungarian: országbárók, országnagyok) and lords banneret because they were obliged to lead their own Banderium (military unit) under their own banner in times of war. The offices gradually got separated from the role they originally fulfilled and their deputies took over the responsibilities.

Position officer Hungarian Latin
1 Palatine nádor palatinus, comes palatinus
2 Voivode of Transylvania erdélyi vajda voivoda Transsylvaniae
3 Judge royal országbíró judex curiae regiae
4 Ban of Croatia, Ban of Macsó, Ban of Szörény horvát bán, macsói bán, szörényi bán banus totius Sclavoniae
5 Master of the treasury tárnokmester magister tavarnicorum, magister tavernocorum regalium or summus camerarius
6 Master of the doorkeepers Ajtónállómester Janitorum regalium magister
7 Master of the stewards asztalnokmester dapiferorum regalium magister
8 Master of the cupbearers pohárnokmester pincernarum regalium magister
9 Master of the horse lovászmester agasonum regalium magister
10 Ispán of Pozsony County and Temes County pozsonyi és temesi ispán comes Posoniensis and comes Temesiensis
11 Royal treasurer kincstartó summus thesaurarius
12 Ispán of the Székelys székelyek ispánja comes Siculorum
13 Privy Chancellor titkos kancellár cancellarius aulicus


The Lord High Steward of Ireland is a hereditary Great Officer of State in the United Kingdom, sometimes known as the Hereditary Great Seneschal.[10] The Earls of Shrewsbury (Earls of Waterford in the Peerage of Ireland) have held the office since the 15th century. Although the Irish Free State, later the Republic of Ireland, became independent in 1922, the title remained the same, rather than reflecting the region of Northern Ireland, which remains within the United Kingdom.

The 1st Earl of Shrewsbury was created Earl of Waterford and Lord High Steward of Ireland on 17 July 1446 by letters patent of King Henry VI, to hold in tail male.[11] The current Lord High Steward is his heir, the 22nd Earl of Shrewsbury.

It was the Lord High Steward of Ireland, the Earl of Shrewsbury, who performed the responsibility of the curtana, and carrying the Sword of State at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953.[12] Four Swords of State are used, and the Lord High Steward of Ireland carries one of these, the Sword of Mercy, which has a blunt tip, and is called thus the Curtana. The others are the Swords respectively of Spiritual Justice, and of Temporal Justice, and the Great Sword of State, or the Sword of Offering. The Curtana is also known as the Sword of King Edward the Confessor.
The office of Lord High Constable of Ireland was used during coronations of the monarch of the United Kingdom after the Acts of Union 1800. The office was abolished after the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922.


During the Vespers War, the Angevins were expelled from the island of Sicily but remained to reign in the continental territories of the kingdom thus forming the so-called kingdom of Naples, but also claiming the throne of Sicily; this explains why the official name of the kingdom of Naples was the kingdom of Sicily. When the Angevins kings settled in Naples they recreated the seven offices of the kingdom


The following dignitaries were permanent members of the Council in the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland:


The term "officer of state" is sometimes used loosely of any great office under the Crown. As in England, many offices are hereditary. A number of historical offices ended at, or soon after, the Treaty of Union 1707. There are also a number of Officers of the Crown and Great Officers of the Royal Household. These Officers of State were also called "Officers of the Crown" despite there being a separate group of officers so named that are not officers of state[13] and, unlike the officers of state, did not sit or vote in meetings.[13]



In the Kingdom of Sicily, which existed from 1130 to 1816, the Great Officers were officials of the Crown who inherited an office or were appointed to perform some mainly ceremonial functions or to act as members of the government. In particular, it was a norman king, Roger II, who once he became King of Sicily and conquered the territories of Southern Italy was concerned with organizing the Kingdom politically. For this reason, in 1140 King Roger convened a Parliament in Palermo where the seven most important offices of the Kingdom of Sicily were established, to which the title of archons was given.[14][15][16]

The system has notable similarities with the English one, being both derived from Norman rulers, in which four of them had a certain correspondence with the officers of the court of the Franks, where there was a senescalk, a marchäl, a kämmerer, a kanzlèr; later reverted with the Great Officers of the Kingdom of France.[17]

With the pragmatic of November 6, 1569 on the reforms of the Courts, three Great Offices of the Kingdom are made the prerogative of the judiciary: the Great Chancellor by President of the Tribunal of the Sacred Royal Conscience; the Great Justiciar, whose functions had already been absorbed by President of the Tribunal of the Royal grand Court; and the Great Chamberlain by the President of the Tribunal of Royal Patrimony.[18]

Officers of State[edit]

The Great Officers of State of the former Kingdom of Sicily, consisting of Sicily and Malta, were:

Position Officer First and last holder[19] Notes
1 Great Constable - Robert of Hauteville

- Fabrizio Pignatelli d’Aragona, duke of Monteleone

The Gran Conestabile was the commander of the army, in charge of judging the cases of military relevance, he was the highest[20] officer of the Kingdom
2 Great Admiral - George of Antioch

- Diego Pignatelli, prince of Castelvetrano

The Grande Ammiraglio dit amiratus amiratorum was the commander of the Navy of the Kingdom of Sicily. For a short time the title of granted with that of Count of Malta. This office was by far the most influential as the Sicilian navy was among the most powerful Christian fleets during the Middle Ages in the Mediterranean
3 Great Chancellor - Guarin

- marquess Antonio Ardizzone

The Gran Cancelliere kept and affixed the Seal of the Kingdom of Sicily. His functions could be compared to those of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. During the Hauteville’s dynasty most of the chancellors were ecclesiastics. From 1569 until 1816 the office was held ex officio by the President of the Tribunal of the Sacred Royal Conscience, the high-instance court
4 Great Justiciar - Robert of Rocca

- Giovanni Battista Asmundo e Paternò

The Gran Giustiziere was the most senior judge and the head of the judiciary. Peter II made the office hereditary first to the Count of Mistretta and second to the Count of Agosta until the reform of 1569. From that date until 1816 the office was held ex officio by the President of the Tribunal of the Royal grand Court, the civil court
5 Great Chamberlain - Richard of Mandra, Count of Molise

- knight Michele Perremuto

The Gran Camerario had the role of treasurer, in fact he watched over the administration of public expenditure. The office soon became hereditary as prerogative of the Count of Geraci. From 1569 until 1816 the office was held ex officio by the President of the Tribunal of Royal Patrimony
6 Great Prothonotary - Matthew of Ajello

- Alfonso Ruiz (?)

The Gran Protonotaro was the notary of the Crown and secretary of the Sacred Royal Council and of the Parliament, the prothonotary had extensive functions in administrative matters and was the head of all notaries of the Kingdom. He had also particular skills in matters of feudal ceremony and investitures.  The office was also a registering body for royal acts similar to the chancery
7 Great Seneschal - Richard of Hauteville

- Prince Francesco Statella, marquess of Spaccaforno

The Gran Siniscalco supervised the Royal Palace, providing the King and the court with provisions, supervising the royal forests, and hunting reserves. He was the Judge of the Royal House and its subordinate officers. In 1296 the office soon became hereditary as prerogative of the Count of Modica and it was later inherited by Marquess of Spaccaforno


The Great Officers of the Realm (Swedish: de högre riksämbetsmännen) were the five leading members of the Swedish Privy Council from the later parts of the 16th century to around 1680. With the constitution of 1634, the five officers became heads of five different branches of government (Swedish: kollegium). The same constitution also declared that the great officers were to act as regents during the minorities of kings or regnal queens. All great officers of the realm were abolished by king Carl XI of Sweden. The Lord High Steward and the Lord High Chancellor offices were revived in the late 18th century, but were soon removed again.[21]


  1. ^ a b These roles are now permanently vacant, except for brief appointments during coronations, where they perform certain functions in the ceremony.
  2. ^ The office of Lord High Treasurer of the United Kingdom has been vacant since 1714, and its powers and duties are exercised by the Lords Commissioners of His Majesty’s Treasury, who hold the offices of Treasurer of the Exchequer of Great Britain and Lord High Treasurer of Ireland in commission.[5] The office of Lord High Treasurer of Great Britain was held concurrently with that of Treasurer of the Exchequer of Great Britain.[6]
  3. ^ Under a 1912 agreement, the office, or the right to appoint a person to exercise it, rotates among the heirs of the 1st Earl of Ancaster, the 4th Marquess of Cholmondeley, and the 1st Earl Carrington, changing at the start of each reign, with the Cholmondeleys serving every other reign, and the heirs of Ancaster and Carrington once every four reigns each.[7]
  4. ^ The office reverted to the Crown in 1512.
  5. ^ The office was known as Lord Admiral of England until 1638,[8] when 'High' was added.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Household, Royal" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 13 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 813–814.
  2. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "State, Great Officers of" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 25 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 801. This cites:
    • Stubbs, Constitutional History, ch. xi.
    • Freeman, Norman Conquest, ch. xxiv.
    • Gneist, Constitution of England, ch. xvi., xxv. and liv.
  3. ^ a b Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Household, Royal" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 13 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 813–814.
  4. ^ Archives, The National. "Great Offices of State". Archived from the original on 20 December 2018. Retrieved 11 December 2021.
  5. ^ "Consolidated Fund Act 1816, section 2". Archived from the original on 14 December 2021. Retrieved 14 December 2021. [...] whenever there shall not be any such [Lord High Treasurer of the United Kingdom], it shall and may be lawful for his Majesty by letters patent under the great seal of Great Britain to appoint commissioners for executing the offices of treasurer of the Exchequer of Great Britain and lord high treasurer of Ireland; and such commissioners shall be called commissioners of his Majesty's Treasury of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland; and the said commissioners shall have all such powers and authorities in and through the whole of the said United Kingdom with respect to the collection, issuing, and application of the whole revenues of the United Kingdom [...]
  6. ^ Sainty, John Christopher (1972). Office-Holders in Modern Britain: Volume 1, Treasury Officials 1660–1870. London: University of London. pp. 16–25. ISBN 0485171414. Archived from the original on 30 July 2022. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  7. ^ Great Officers of State: The Lord Great Chamberlain and The Earl Marshal Archived 6 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine. The Royal Family. Archived 2019-08-24 at the Wayback Machine. Debrett's Limited. Accessed 17 September 2013.
  8. ^ Houbraken, Jacobus; Thoyras, Paul de Rapin; Vertue, George (1747). The History of England, A List of Admirals of England, 1228–1745. J. and P. Knapton. p. 271. Archived from the original on 30 July 2022. Retrieved 15 December 2021.
  9. ^ “The Holy Roman Empire,” Heraldica
  10. ^ In an inscription on a leaden coffin for the remains of Gilbert, 7th Earl of Shrewsbury (died May 1616), in the Mausoleum of the Earls of Shrewsbury in the Chancel of St. Peter’s Church at Sheffield, the said Gilbert is further described as High Seneschal of Ireland
  11. ^ Calendar of the patent rolls, preserved in the Public Record Office :Henry VI, 1422-1461 Volume 4, page 448. 24 Henry 6
  12. ^ Preparing the Coronation, chapter by Sir Gerald W. Wollaston, K.C.B., K.C.V.O., Norroy and Ulster King of Arms, in Elizabeth Crowned Queen - The Pictorial record of the Coronation, published by Odhams Press Limited, Long Acre, London, 1953
  13. ^ a b Chamberlayne, Edward; Chamberlayne, John (1718). Magnae Britanniae notitia, or, The present state of Great-Britain: with divers remarks upon the ancient state thereof. Printed for T. Godwin. p. 396.
  14. ^ Scinà, Domenico (1859). Prospetto della storia letteraria di Sicilia nel secolo decimottavo (in Italian).
  15. ^ Palmeri, Niccolò (1848). Saggio storico e politico sulla Costituzione del Regno di Sicilia infino al 1816: con un'appendice sulla rivoluzione del 1820 (in Italian).
  16. ^ Morelli, Serena (5 April 2016). Les grands officiers dans les territoires angevins - I grandi ufficiali nei territori angioini. Publications de l’École française de Rome. ISBN 978-2-7283-1207-8. Retrieved 3 January 2021.
  17. ^ Palermo, Archivio di Stato di; stato, Palermo (Italy) Archivio di (1950). R. Cancelleria di Sicilia: inventario sommario (sec XIII-XIX) (in Italian). editore non identificato.
  18. ^ Blaquiere, Edward (1813). Letters from the Mediterranean; containing a civil and political account of Sicily, Tripoly, Tunis, and Malta: with biographical sketches, anecdotes and observations, illustrative of the present state of those countries, and their relative situation with respect to the British empire. Henry Colburn, English and Foreign Public Library, Conduit-Street, Hanover-Square; and sold.
  19. ^ Marrone, Antonio. I titolari degli uffici centrali del Regno di Sicilia dal 1282 al 1390 (PDF).
  20. ^ Giuseppe Mandalà – Marcello Moscone. Tra Latini, Greci e 'arabici': ricerche su scrittura e cultura a Palermo fra XII e XIII secolo.
  21. ^ "Nordisk Familjebok - Riksämbetsmän". Nordisk Familjebok at (in Swedish). 1916. Retrieved 6 June 2009.