The Constable of France (French language: Connétable de France, from Latin comes stabuli for 'count of the stables'), as the First Officer of the Crown, was one of the original five Great Officers of the Crown of France (along with seneschal, chamberlain, butler, and chancellor) and Commander in Chief of the army. He, theoretically, as Lieutenant-general of the King, outranked all the nobles and was second-in-command only to the King. The Connétable de France was also responsible for military justice and served to regulate the Chivalry. His jurisdiction was called the connestablie. The office was established by King Philip I in 1060 with Alberic becoming the first Constable. The office was abolished in 1627 in accordance with the Edict of January 1627 by Cardinal Richelieu, upon the death of François de Bonne, duc de Lesdiguières, after his conversion from Protestantism to Catholicism in 1622. The position was replaced by the Dean of Marshals (Doyen des maréchaux), in reality the most senior Marshal of France in a strictly ceremonial role. A few constables died in battle or were executed for treason, mostly for political intrigue.
Badge of Office
The badge of office was a highly elaborate sword called the 'Royal Sword' (Fr. 'de Charlemagne') surnamed 'Joyous'. This sword dated from the 14th century and was contained in a blue scabbard embellished with fleur-de-lis in column from hilt to point. Traditionally, the constable was presented with the sword on taking his office.
After the abolition of the office of Sénéchal in 1191, the Connétable became the most important officer in the army, and as First Officer of the Crown, he ranked in precedence immediately after the peers. He had the position of Lieutenant-General of the King, both within and without the kingdom. The constable had under his command all military officers, including the marechaux; he was also responsible for the financing of the army, administering military justice within the host (the name of the jurisdiction was the connétablie), which he exercised with the assistance of the maréchaux (marshals) of France. This paralleled the Court of the Lord Constable, later called curia militaris of Court of Chivalry, which existed in England at that time.
Persons Subordinate to the Constable of France
- Marshal of France (Maréchal de France) At times the Marshal of France was senior to the Constable.
- Colonel-general - a special position in the French army, which commands all the regiments of the same branch of service (i.e. infantry, cavalry, Dragoons,...)
- Lieutenant-general - the highest general rank of the French army
- Maréchal de camp (not to be confused with Field Marshal) - the lowest general rank, equal to later général de brigade.
- Porte-Oriflamme - a very prestigious position, though unofficial, which carries the royal banner in battle.
- Grand Master of Archers (Grand-Maître des Arbalétriers - commander of the crossbow-men)
- Grand Master of Artillery (Grand-Maître de l'artillerie). From the beginning of the 17th century, the Grand Master of the Artillery became a Great Officer of the Crown and was no longer subordinate to the Constable.
- Lieutenant-general of the Realm - Occasionally appointed and served as a pseudo-viceroy to oversee royal business in a region and served directly under the King. As first officer he outranked all other Lieutenant Generals.
Constables of France
Note that there are gaps in the dates as the position was not always filled following the demise of its occupant.
Constables of the Kings of France
The Capétien Dynasty
- Alberic, 1060–1065
- Balberic, 1065–1069
- Gauthier, 1069–1071
- Adelelme, 1071–1075
- Adam, 1075–1085
- Thibaut, Seigneur de Montmorency, 1085–1107
- Gaston de Chanmont, 1107–1108
- Hugues le Borgne de Chanmont, 1108–1135
- Mathieu de Montmorency (died 1160), 1138–?
- Simon de Neauphle-le-Chateau, 1165–?
- Raoul I de Clermont (died 1191), 1174–1191
- Dreux IV de Mello (1148–1218), 1194–1218
- Mathieu I le Grand, Baron de Montmorency (died 1231), 1218–1231
- Amaury VI de Montfort (died 1241), 1231–1240
- Humbert V de Beaujeu (died 1250), 1240–1248
- Gilles II de Trasignies (died 1275), 1248–1277
- Humbert VI de Beaujeu (died 1285), 1277
- Raoul II de Clermont (died 1302), 1277–1307
- Gaucher de Châtillon (1249–1329), 1307–1329
The Valois Dynasty
- Raoul I of Brienne, Count of Eu and Guînes (d. 1344), 1329–1344
- Raoul II of Brienne, Count of Eu and Guînes (died 1350), 1344–1350
- Charles de la Cerda (died 1354), 1350–1354
- Jacques de Bourbon, Count of La Marche, (1319–1362) 1354–1356
- Walter VI of Brienne (c. 1304–1356), 1356
- Robert Morean de Fiennes (1308–1372), 1356–1370
- Bertrand du Guesclin (1320–1380), 1370–1380
- Olivier IV de Clisson (1336–1407), 1380–1392
- Philip of Artois, Count of Eu (1358–1397), 1392–1397
- Louis de Sancerre (1341–1402), 1397–1402
- Charles d'Albret, Comte de Dreux (died 1415), 1402–1411
- Waleran, Count of Saint Pol (died 1413), 1411–1413
- Charles d'Albret, Comte de Dreux (died 1415), 1413–1415
- Bernard VII, Count of Armagnac (died 1418), 1415–1418
- Charles II, Duke of Lorraine (1365–1431), 1418–1424
- John Stewart, 2nd Earl of Buchan (c. 1381–1424), 1424
- Arthur III, Duke of Brittany (1393–1458), 1425–?
- John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury (1384/1390–1453), 1445–1453 (appointed by Henry VI of England in his position as King of France)
- Louis de Luxembourg, Count of Saint-Pol (1418–1475), 1465–?
- John II, Duke of Bourbon (1426–1488), 1483–1488
The Valois Angoulême Dynasty
- Charles III, Duke of Bourbon (1490–1527), 1518–1523
- Anne de Montmorency, Grand Maitre de France (1492–1567), 1538–1567
- Henri I de Montmorency (1570–1621), 1593–1621
- Charles d'Albert, duc de Luynes (1621), 1621
- François de Bonne, duc de Lesdiguières (1543–1636), 1622–1626
During the Consulate, the Bourbon family, through the Comte d'Artois, allegedly offered Napoleon Bonaparte, as First Consul, the title of Constable of France if he would restore the Bourbons as kings of France. However, in 1808, Napoleon also appointed the Grand Dignitaries of the French Empire (Grands dignitaires de l'Empire Français). In doing this he appointed as Constable his younger brother Louis Bonaparte, King of Holland, and as Vice-Constable, Marshal of the Empire Louis Alexandre Berthier, the French Army Chief of staff and Prince of Neuchâtel. Both titles were strictly honorific.
Various versions of Shakespeare's play Henry V depict Constable Charles d'Albret, Comte de Dreux, who was appointed by Charles VI of France and was killed in the Battle of Agincourt (1415). He is played by Leo Genn in the 1944 film, by Richard Easton in the 1989 film, and by Maxime Lefrancois in the 2012 film. In the 1944 film he dies in personal combat with King Henry. In the 1989 film he is depicted as falling from his horse into the mud (historical tradition holds he was drowned in the mud due to the weight of his armour, disabled by having his horse fall on him). In the 2012 film he is shot by a longbowman after stabbing the Duke of York in the back in woodland away from the main battle.
- Lord High Constable
- Joan of Arc - Believed by some to have been appointed Constable of France by Charles VII
- p172, Slater, Stephen, The Complete Book of Heraldry (Lorenz, 2002), ISBN 0-7548-1062-3
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