CONSTABLE. This word is sup posed by Ducange, Spelman, Cowell, and other legal writers, to be corrupted from comes stabuli, which was another name for the tribunus stabuli, or praepositus equorum, a kind of master of the horse, frequently mentioned as an officer of state in the middle ages. (Ducange, Glossary, ad vocem Comes Stabuli.) Sir Edward Coke, Selden, and several other writers, insist upon another etymology—from two Saxon words, honing, a king, and stapel or stabel, a stay or cola men regis. Both these derivations are equally remote from the description of the office of our modern constable ; but the former appears to be far the more probable ; and, in accordance with it, the Constable of France was an important officer of the highest rank in that country, who had the chief command of the army, and had cognizance of military offences : it was also his duty to regulate all mat ters of chivalry, such as tilts, tourna ments, and feats of arms. This office was suppressed in France by an edict in the year 1607: it was revived by Napo leon, and constituted one of the six grand dignities under the French empire ; and was finally abolished upon the restora tion of the Bourbon dynasty, in 1814. Immediately after the Norman con quest we find in England an officer of the crown called the lord high constable, whose duties, powers, and jurisdiction were in most respects like those of the Constable of France. The office was one of great dignity and power, both in war and peace, the constable having the com mand of the army and the regulation of all military affairs. He was the supreme judge of the court of chivalry, in which character his encroachments upon other courts were so heavy a grievance, that the stat. 13 Rich. II. c. 2, was passed to restrict his jurisdiction to " contracts and deeds of arms and things which touch war, and which cannot be discussed or determined by the common law." The office, for several centuries after the Con quest, passed by inheritance in the line of the Bohuns, earls of Hereford and Essex, and afterwards in the line of their heirs-general, the Staffords, dukes of Buck ingham, in right of certain manors held by them by the, feudal service of being constables of England. The fees of the office were extremely burdensome to the crown ; and the possession by a subject of the hereditary right to command the militia of the realm, independently of any royal appointment, was an unusual and frequently a dangerous power ; and on this account Henry VIII., in the early part of his reign (1514), consulted the judges respecting the means of abolishing the tenure. He was advised by them, that as the individuals holding the ma nors were only compellable to exercise the office ad voluntatem regis, he had the power of discharging the feudal service altogether ; and acting upon this opinion, the king abolished the office, by disclaim ing to have the services any longer ex ecuted. (Dyer, Reports, p. 285 b.) The effect of this was, that Edward Stanley, the last duke of Buckingham in that line, the hereditary high constable of England at the time of this resolution, held the manors after this period discharged of the service of being constable. All doubt
which might have been suggested re specting the legal extinction of the office by this means was removed eight years afterwards by the attainder of the duke of Buckingham for high treason, upon which even the manors in Question were foe feited to the crown. Since that time the office of high constable has never been granted to any subject, excepting for some special occasion, such as the king's coronation or trials of peers.
" Out of this high office," says Lam bard, in his Duties of Constables,' " the lower constableship was first drawn and fetched, and is (as it were) a verie finger of that hand ; for the statute of Winches ter, which was made in the time of Ed ward I., and by which the lower con stables of hundreds and franchises were first ordained, cloth, amongst other things, appoint that, for the better keeping of the peace, two constables in every hun dred and franchise should make the view of armour." He then concludes, in justi fication of his etymology of the term, that " the name of a constable in a hun dred or franchise doth mean that he is an officer that supporteth the king's majesty in the maintenance of his peace." This derivation of the office of a common con stable seems very improbable, especially as it is the better opinion that these offi cers were known to the common law be fore the statute of Winchester. (Haw kins, Please the Crown, book ii. cap. 10.) Chief Justice Fineux, in the reign of Henry VII., gives a more reasonable ac count of the matter. He says that when the superintendence of the peace of u county was found too great a task for the sheriff, hundreds were formed, and a con servator of the peace, under the sheriff, appointed in each, who was called a con stable. This was the high constable, or constable of the hundred. As population increased and owns sprung up, it was found expedient to make a further sub division for the preservation of the peace, and accordingly conservators were ap pointed for manors, wills, and tithings, who were then called petty constables. ( 12 Henry VII. pl. 18.) Constables, in the usual acceptation of the term at the present day, are of two kinds : constables of hundreds, who are still called high constables ; and consta bles of villa or tithings, who are called either petty constables or tithingmen. Both high and petty constables were for merly chosen by the jury at a court legit, and were sworn in and admitted there by the lord or his steward ; but until recently the high constables were usually chosen by the magistrates at quarter - sessions. The petty constables are still often chosen by the homage at the court-leet ; but by the stet. 13 & 14 Car. II. c. 12, § 15, it is enacted, that if any constable shall die or go out of the parish, any two justices shall make and swear a new constable, until the lord of the manor shall hold a court, or until the next quarter-sessions, who shall approve of them or appoint others. By virtue of this statute, and by reason of the frequent disuse of courts-leet in modern times, the duty of nominating and swearing the constables is now generally discharged by the justices of the peace.