Latin, dapifer.

Despite the menial origin of the office itself, the steward was an honourable officer in the royal household, or in the households of the higher nobility; stewards were normally high-ranking nobles in their own right.

Like most household offices, that of steward ultimately derives from the Carolingian court; their recorded history in England goes back to the mid-tenth century, though the office itself was probably older than that. Domesday Book names over 20 stewards, and it has been shown that they were probably the most ubiquitous of baronial officials. They could also be the most distinguished. On the eve of the Conquest, William the Conqueror's steward was William fitz Osbern, his most trusted lieutenant.

For further information, see L.M. Larson, The king's Household in England before the Norman Conquest (1904); J.O. Prestwich, 'The military household of the Norman kings', English Historical Review, vol. 96 (1981), pages 1-35; and J.F.A Mason, 'Barons and their officials in the later eleventh century', Anglo-Norman Studies, vol. 13 (1991), pages 243-62.