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Seneschal

SENESCHAL (the O. Fr. form, mod. stnechal, of the Low Lat. senescalcus, a word of Teutonic origin, meaning " old or senior servant," Goth, sini- old; cf. Lat. senex and scalks, servant; Du Cange's derivation from seneste, flock, herd, must be rejected), the title of an official equivalent to i" steward." The seneschal began presumably by being the major-domo of the German barbarian princes who settled in the empire, and was therefore the predecessor of the mayors of the palace of the Merovingian kings. But the name seneschal became prominent in France under the third or Capetian dynasty. The seneschal, called in medieval Latin the dapifer (from daps, a feast, and ferre, to carry), was the chief of the five great officers of state of the French court between the nth and the 13th centuries, the others being the butler, the chamberlain, the constable and the chancellor. His functions were described by the term major regiae domus, and regni Franciae procurator major-domo of the royal household, and agent of the kingdom of France. The English equivalent was the lord high steward, but the office never attained the same importance in England as in France. Under the earlier Capetian sovereigns the seneschal was the second person in the kingdom. He inherited the power and position of the mayor of the palace had a general right of supervision over the king's service, was commander-in-chief of the military forces (princeps mUitiae regis, or Francorum), was steward of the household and presided in the king's court in the absence of the king. Under weak rulers the seneschal would no doubt have played the same part as the mayors of the palace of the Carolingian line. It was the vast possibilities of the office which must be presumed to have tempted the counts of Anjou of the Plantagenet line to claim the hereditary dapifership of France, and to support their claim by forgeries. A count of Anjou who was also in effective possession of the office would soon have reduced his feudal lord to absolute insignificance. French historical scholars have shown that the pretension of the Anjevins was unfounded, and that the treatise concocted to support it the De majoratu et senescalia Franciae, attributed to Hugues de Cleres is a medieval forgery. At the close of the 11th century the seneschalship was in the hands of the family of Rochefort, and in the early part of the following century it passed from them 'to the. family of Garlande. The power of the office was a perpetual temptation to the vassal, and a cause of jealousy to the king. The Garlandes came to open conflict with the king, and were forcibly suppressed by Louis VI. in 1127. After their fall the seneschalship was conferred only on great feudatories who were the king's kinsmen on Raoul of Vermandois till 1152, and on Thibaut of Blois till 1191. From that time forward no seneschal was appointed except to act as steward at the coronation of the king. The name of the seneschal was added with those of the other great officers to the kings in charters, and when the office was not filled the words dapifero vacante were written instead. The great vassals had seneschals of their own, and when the great fiefs, Anjou, Touraine, Maine, Poitou, Saintonge, Guienne, were regained by the crown, the office was allowed to survive by the king. In the south of France, Perigord, Quercy, Toulouse, Agenais, Rouergue, Beaucaire and Carcassonne were royal senechaussees. In Languedoc the landlords' agent and judicial officer, known in the north of France as a bailli, was called senechal. The office and title existed till the Revolution.

See Du Cange, Glossarium mediae et infimae Latinitatis (Paris, 1840- 1 850) ; A. Luchaire, Histoire des institutions monarchiques de la France sous les premiers Capetiens (Paris, 1883-1885); Manuel des institutions franfaises (Paris, 1892); Paul Viollet, Droit publique Hist, des institutions politiques et administralives de la France (Paris, 1890-1898).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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