constable, or staller

Latin, stalrus, constabularius.

The constable was an honourable officer in the royal household, and later in the households of the higher nobility; he was normally a high-ranking noble in his own right.

Like most household offices, that of constable ultimately derives from the Carolingian court; but their recorded history in England has been the subject of debate. Some historians have argued that the Anglo-Saxon staller (stalrus) should be distinguished from the Anglo-Norman constable (constabularius), while others believe that the two are identical. According to the former view, the staller was a high-ranking Scandinavian officer, imported into England during the reign of King Canute. His nearest equivalent would have been the continental seneschal, not the constable. But the evidence for a Scandinavian origin is late and untrustworthy and the first certain references to stallers occur under Edward the Confessor, who may therefore have introduced them from Normandy. In that case, the staller was the equivalent of the Frankish 'count of the stable' (comes stabuli), or constable, one of the principal military officers of the royal household, with particular responsibility for the royal stud.

The Domesday evidence tends to support this latter view. One staller, Bondi (or Boding), is described alternatively as stalrus or constabularius (BKM 12.29. 17,9. 27,1-2. BDF 57,4); two others, Ansgar and Eadnoth, are known to have played important military roles; and a fourth, Robert son of Wymarc, owned a group of estates charged (unusually) with supplying large quantities of horse-fodder (LIN 12,43; 47-49). Domesday Book also reveals that the constables of late Anglo-Saxon England were among the wealthiest of the higher nobility. One was an earl, another the ancestor of the Mandevilles, earls of Essex in the following century.

Whatever the immediate origin of the title constable, however, the office itself must be older than the eleventh century; it may have developed from the 'king's horse thegns', first recorded in the reign of Alfred the Great.

For further detail, see L.M. Larson, The king's Household in England before the Norman Conquest (1904); Katharin Mack, 'The staller: administrative innovation in the reign of Edward the Confessor', Journal of Medieval History, vol. 12 (1986), pages 123-34; R.H.C. Davis, The medieval warhorse: origin, development and redevelopment (1989); John F.A. Mason, 'Barons and their officials in the later eleventh century', Anglo-Norman Studies, vol. 13 (1991), pages 243-62; and David Crouch, The image of aristocracy in Britain, 1000-1300 (1992).