A seneschal was an officer in the houses of important nobles in the Middle Ages. In the French administrative system of the Middle Ages, the sénéchal was also a royal officer in charge of justice and control of the administration in southern provinces, equivalent to the northern French "bailli".


The word is recorded in English since 1393, deriving via Old French seneschal, from Frankish Latin "siniscalcus", itself from Proto-Germanic roots "sini-" 'senior' and "skalk" 'servant' (as in marshal etc.)

The seneschal in noble houses

The most basic function of a seneschal was to supervise feasts and domestic ceremonies; in this respect, they were equivalent to stewards and majordomos. Sometimes, seneschals were given additional responsibilities, including the dispensing of justice and high military command.

The term is probably of Gothic origin. In the Holy Roman Empire this officer had the title Drussard, or Truchsess (from Old High German "truhtsâzo"; "sitting in front of" the "truht", the "Tross"; Latin "Dapifer", French "Écuyer de cuisine", Dutch "Drossaard, Drost, Baljuw", Swedish "Drots").

The British scholar H.S. Bennett described the seneschal's role by saying that "the seneschal must know the size and needs of every manor; how many acres should be ploughed and how much seed will be needed. He must know all his bailiffs and reeves, how they conduct the lord's business and how they treat the peasants. He must know exactly how many penny loaves can be made from a quarter of corn, or how many cattle each pasture should support. He must for ever be on the alert lest any of the lord's franchises lapse or are usurped by others. He must think of the lord's needs, both of money and of kind, and see that they are constantly supplied. In short, he must be all-knowing and he is all-powerful".

The administrative sénéchal in France

Under the Ancien Régime in southern France, the sénéchal, who held office in the sénéchaussée, was the king's representative charged with the application of justice and control of the administration. In northern France, the terms used were "bailli" and "bailliage" (bailiwick). According to historian Henry Hallam, the first sénéchaux to receive judicial functions did so by an edict of Philip II of France in 1190, and "acted as the king's lieutenants in his domains", or a sort of roving ambassadors/ministers for the throne. See Bailli for more information.

* William de Gometz was Seneschal of France circa 1000 AD ref:

ources and references

* [ EtymologyOnline]
*"This entry is in part from Webster's Dictionary (1913)"

ee also

*Grand maître de France - the Great Officer of the Crown of France in charge of the Royal Household (the "Maison du Roi")

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • seneschal — SENESCHAL. s. m. Officier qui dans un certain ressort est chef de la justice, & qui est aussi chef de la noblesse, quand elle est convoquée pour l arriereban. La pluspart ne rendent plus la justice que par des Lieutenans de robe longue. Le… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • Seneschal — Sen es*chal, n. [OF. seneschal, LL. seniscalcus, of Teutonic origin; cf. Goth. sineigs old, skalks, OHG. scalch, AS. scealc. Cf. {Senior}, {Marshal}.] An officer in the houses of princes and dignitaries, in the Middle Ages, who had the… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • seneschal — late 14c., from O.Fr. seneschal, from Frankish Latin siniscalcus, from P.Gmc. *sini skalk senior servant; first element cognate with L. senex old (see SENILE (Cf. senile)); second element from P.Gmc. *skalkoz servant (Cf. Goth. skalks, O.H.G.… …   Etymology dictionary

  • Seneschal — Variante de Sénéchal (voir ce nom) portée dans le Nord Pas de Calais, où on trouve aussi les formes Seneschael et Senesael. Avec le même sens, mais dans le Sud : Senescail, Senescal (11, 81, 34), Senescau, Senescat (65, 33) …   Noms de famille

  • seneschal — [sen′ə shəl] n. [OFr < Frank siniskalk, oldest servant < * sini, old (for IE base see SENATE) + skalk, servant (for IE base see MARSHAL)] a steward or major domo in the household of a medieval noble …   English World dictionary

  • Seneschal — Recorded in a very wide range of spellings including Senecall, Seneschall, Senecaut, Senecaux, Senechault, and the English dialectals Seneogles and Zeongles, this is a surname of pre 8th century Anglo Saxon and French origins, but is ultimately… …   Surnames reference

  • seneschal — /sen euh sheuhl/, n. an officer having full charge of domestic arrangements, ceremonies, the administration of justice, etc., in the household of a medieval prince or dignitary; steward. [1350 1400; ME < MF < Frankish; cf. ML seniscalcus senior… …   Universalium

  • Seneschal — Steward or major domo of a great estate; the official responsible for the estate s daily functioning, including sometimes responsibility for justice within the household. An AS seneschal was known as a *discthegn, i.e. a dish thegn. [< Germ.… …   Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases

  • Seneschal — Lord’s representative in the administration of an estate, presiding at manorial courts, auditing accounts, conduct inquests, and the like. Within the SCA, the seneschal is the chief administrative officer for a shire or college. In a barony or… …   Medieval glossary

  • seneschal — noun Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo French, of Germanic origin; akin to Gothic sineigs old and to Old High German scalc servant more at senior Date: 14th century an agent or steward in charge of a lord s estate in feudal times …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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