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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
(M. Eng. and Anglo-Fr. canceler, chanceler, Fr. chancelier, Lat. cancellarius), an official title used by most of the peoples whose civilization has arisen directly or indirectly out of the Roman empire. At different times and in different countries it has stood and stands for very various duties, and has been, and is, borne by officers of various degrees of dignity. The original chancellors were the cancellarii of Roman courts of justice, ushers who sat at the cancelli or lattice work screens of a "basilica" or law court, which separated the judge and counsel from the audience (see Chancel). In the later Eastern empire the cancellarii were promoted at first to notarial duties. The barbarian kingdoms which arose on the ruin of the empire in the West copied more or less intelligently the Roman model in all their judicial and financial administration. Under the Frankish kings of the Merovingian dynasty the cancellarii were subordinates of the great officer of state called the referendarius, who was the predecessor of the more modern chancellor. The office became established under the form archi-cancellarius, or chief of the cancellarii. Stubbs says that the Carolingian chancellor was the royal notary and the arch-chancellor keeper of the royal seal. His functions would naturally be discharged by a cleric in times when book learning was mainly confined to the clergy. From the reign of Louis the Pious the post was held by a bishop. By an equally natural process he became the chief secretary of the king and of the queen,who also had her chancellor. Such an office possessed an obvious capacity for developing on the judicial as well as the administrative side. Appeals and petitions of aggrieved persons would pass through the chancellor's hands, as well as the political correspondence of the king. Nor was the king the only man who had need of a chancellor. Great officers and corporations also had occasion to employ an agent to do secretarial, notarial and judicial work for them, and called him by the convenient name of chancellor. The history of the office in its many adaptations to public and private service is the history of its development on judicial, administrative, political, secretarial and notarial lines.
The model of the Carolingian court was followed by the medieval states of Western Europe. In England the office of chancellor dates back to the reign of Edward the Confessor, the first English king to use the Norman practice of sealing instead of signing documents; and from the Norman Conquest onwards the succession of chancellors is continuous. The chancellor was originally, and long continued to be, an ecclesiastic, who combined the functions of the most dignified of the royal chaplains, the king's secretary in secular matters, and keeper of the royal seal. From the first, then, though at the outset overshadowed by that of the justiciar, the office of chancellor was one of great influence and importance. As chaplain the chancellor was keeper of the king's conscience; as secretary he enjoyed the royal confidence in secular affairs; as keeper of the seal he was necessary to all formal expressions of the royal will. By him and his staff of chaplains the whole secretarial work of the royal household was conducted, the accounts were kept under the justiciar and treasurer, writs were drawn up and sealed, and the royal correspondence was carried on. He was, in fact, as Stubbs puts it, a sort of secretary of state for all departments. "This is he," wrote John of Salisbury (d. i 80), "who cancels (cancellat) the evil laws of the realm, and makes equitable (aequa) the commands of a pious prince," a curious anticipation of the chancellor's later equitable jurisdiction. Under Henry II., indeed, the chancellor was already largely employed in judicial work, either in attendance on the king or in provincial visitations; though the peculiar jurisdiction of the chancery was of later growth. By this time, however, the chancellor was "great alike in Curia and Exchequer"; he was secundus a rege, i.e. took precedence immediately after the justiciar, and nothing was done either in the Curia or the exchequer without his consent. So great was his office that William FitzStephen, the biographer of Becket, tells us that it was not purchasable (emenda non est), a statement which requires modification, since it was in fact more than once sold under Henry I., Stephen, Richard and John (Stubbs, Const. Hist. i. pp. 384-497; Gneist, Const. Hist. of England, p. 219), an evil precedent which was, however, not long followed.
The judicial duties of the chancellor grew out of the fact that all petitions addressed to the king passed through his hands. The number and variety of these became so great that in 1280, under Edward I., an ordinance was issued directing the chancellor and the justices to deal with the greater number of them; those which involved the use of the great seal being specially referred to the chancellor. The chancellor and justices were to determine which of them were "so great, and of grace, that the chancellor and others would not despatch them without the king," and these the chancellor and other chief ministers were to carry in person to the king (Stubbs ii. 263, note, and p. 268). At this period the chancellor, though employed in equity, had ministerial functions only; but when, in the reign of Edward III., the chancellor ceased to follow the court, his tribunal acquired a more definite character, and petitions for grace and favour began to be addressed primarily to him, instead of being merely examined and passed on by him to the king; and in the twenty-second year of this reign matters which were of grace were definitely committed to the chancellor for decision. This is the starting-point of the equitable jurisdiction of the chancellor, whence developed that immense body of rules, supplementing the deficiencies or modifying the harshness of the common law, which is known as Equity (q.v.).
The position of the chancellor as speaker or prolocutor of the House of Lords dates from the time when the ministers of the royal Curia formed ex officio a part of the commune concilium and parliament. The chancellor originally attended with the other officials, and he continued to attend ex officio after they had ceased to do so. If he chanced to be a bishop, he was summoned regularly qua bishop; otherwise he attended without summons. When not a peer the chancellor had no place in parliament except as chancellor, and the act of 31 Henry VIII. cap. 10 (1539) laid down that, if not a peer, he had "no interest to give any assent or dissent in the House." Yet Sir Robert Bourchier (d. 1349), the first lay chancellor, had protested in 1341 against the first statute of 15 Edward III. (on trial by peers, &c.), on the ground that it had not received his assent and was contrary to the laws of the realm. From the time, however, of William, Lord Cowper (first lord high chancellor of Great Britain in 1705, created Baron Cowper in 1706), all chancellors have been made peers on their elevation to the woolsack. Sometimes the custody of the great seal has been transferred from the chancellor to a special official, the lord keeper of the great seal (see Lord Keeper); this was notably the case under Queen Elizabeth (cf. the French garde des sceaux, below). Sometimes it is put into commission, being affixed by lords commissioners of the great seal. By the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 it was enacted that none of these offices could be held by a Roman Catholic (see further under Lord High Chancellor). The office of lord chancellor of Ireland, and that of chancellor of Scotland (who ceased to be appointed after the Act of Union of 1705) followed the same lines of development.
The title of chancellor, without the predicates "high" or "lord," is also applied in the United Kingdom to a number of other officials and functionaries of varying rank and importance. Of these the most important is the C chancellor of the exchequer, an office which originated in the separation of the chancery from the exchequer in the reign of Henry III. (1216-1272). His duties consisted originally in the custody and employment of the seal of the exchequer, in the keeping of a counter-roll to check the roll kept by the treasurer, and in the discharge of certain judicial functions in the exchequer of account. So long as the treasury board was in active working, the chancellorship of the exchequer was an office of small importance, and even during a great part of the 19th century was not necessarily a cabinet office, unless held in conjunction with that of first lord of the treasury. At the present time the chancellor of the exchequer is minister of finance, and therefore always of cabinet rank (see Exchequer).
The chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster is the representative of the crown in the management of its lands and the control of its courts in the duchy of Lancaster, the property of which is scattered over several counties. These lands and privileges, though their inheritance has always been vested in the king and his heirs, have always been kept distinct from the hereditary revenues of the sovereign, whose palatine rights as duke of Lancaster were distinct from his rights as king. The Judicature Act of 1873 left only the chancery court of the duchy, but the chancellor can appoint and dismiss the county court judges within the limits of the duchy; he is responsible also for the land revenues of the duchy, which are the private property of the sovereign, and keeps the seal of the duchy. His appointment is by letters patent, and his salary is derived from the revenue of the duchy. As the judicial and estate work is done by subordinate officials, the office is practically a sinecure and is usually given to a minister whose assistance is necessary to a government, but who for one reason or another cannot undertake the duties of an important department. John Bright described him as the maid-of-all-work of the cabinet.
The chancellor of a diocese is the official who presides over the bishop's court and exercises jurisdiction in his name. This use of the word is comparatively modern, and, though v. 27 employed in acts of parliament, is not mentioned in the commission, having apparently been adopted on the analogy of the Icclesilike title in the state. The chancellor was originally astical the keeper of the archbishop or bishop's seals; but the office, as now understood, includes two other celdors. offices distinguished in the commission by the titles of vicar-general and official principal (see Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction). The chancellor of a diocese must be distinguished from the chancellor of a cathedral, whose office is the same as that of the ancient scholasticus (see Cathedral).
The chancellor of an order of knighthood discharges notarial duties and keeps the seal. The chancellor of a university is an official of medieval origin. The appointment was Academic, originallymade b the popes, and the office from the &c. by P P first was one of great dignity and originally of great power. The chancellor was, as he remains, the head of the university; he had the general superintendence of its studies and of its discipline, could make and unmake laws, try and punish offences, appoint to professorial chairs and admit students to the various degrees (see Du Cange, s. "Cancellarii Academiarum"). In England the chancellorship of the universities is now a more or less ornamental office and is conferred on noblemen or statesmen of distinction, whose principal function is to look after the general interests of the university, especially in its relations with the government. The chancellor is represented in the university by a vice-chancellor, who performs the administrative and judicial functions of the office. In the United States the heads of certain educational establishments have the title of chancellor. In Scotland the foreman of a jury is called its chancellor. In the United States the chancellors are judges of the chancery courts of the states, e.g. Delaware and New Jersey, where these courts are still maintained as distinct from the courts of common law. In other states, e. g. New York since 1847, the title has been abolished, and there is no federal chancellor.
In diplomacy generally the chancellor of an embassy or legation is an official attached to the suite of an ambassador or minister. He performs the functions of a secretary, archivist, notary and the like, and is at the head of the chancery, or chancellery (Fr. chancellerie), of the mission. The functions of this office are the transcribing and registering of official despatches and other documents, and generally the transaction of all the minor business, e.g. marriages, passports and the like, connected with the duties of a diplomatic agent towards his nationals in a foreign country. The dignified connotation of the title chancellor has given to this office a prestige which in itself it does not deserve; and "chancery" or "chancellery" is commonly used as though it were synonymous with embassy, while diplomatic style is sometimes called style de chancellerie, though as a matter of fact the chanceries have nothing to do with it.
The country in which the office of chancellor followed most closely the same lines as in England is France. He had become a great officer under the Carolingians, and he grew still greater under the Capetian sovereigns. The great chancellor, summus cancellarius or archi-cancellarius, was a dignitary who had indeed little real power. The post was commonly filled by the archbishop of Reims, or the bishop of Paris. The cancellarius, who formed part of the royal court and administration, was officially known as the sub-cancellarius in relation to the summus cancellarius, but as proto-cancellarius in regard to his subordinate cancellarii. He was a very great officer, an ecclesiastic who was the chief of the king's chaplains or king's clerks, who administered all ecclesiastical affairs; he had judicial powers, and from the 12th century had the general control of foreign affairs. The chancellor in fact became so great that the Capetian kings, who did not forget the mayor of the palace, grew afraid of him. Few of the early ecclesiastical chancellors failed to come into collision with the king, or parted with him on good terms. Philip Augustus suspended the chancellorship throughout the whole of his reign, and appointed a keeper of the seals (garde des sceaux). The office was revived under Louis VIII., but the ecclesiastical chancellorship was finally suppressed in 1227. The king of the 13th century employed only keepers of the seal. Under the reign of Philip IV. le Bel lay chancellors were first appointed. From the reign of Charles V. to that of Louis XI. the French chancelier was elected by the royal council. In the 16th century he became irremovable, a distinction more honourable than effective, for though the king could not dismiss him from office he could, and on some occasions did, deprive him of the right to exercise his functions, and entrusted them to a keeper of the seal. The chancelier from the 13th century downwards was the head of the law, and performed the duties which are now entrusted to the minister of justice. His office was abolished when in 1790 the whole judicial system of France was swept away by the Revolution. The smaller chanceliers of the provincial parlements and royal courts disappeared at the same time. But when Napoleon was organizing the empire he created an archchancellor, an office which was imitated rather from the ErzKanzler of the Holy Roman Empire than from the old French chancelier. At the Restoration the office of chancellor of France was restored, the chancellor being president of the House of Peers, but it was finally abolished at the revolution. of 1848. The administration of the Legion of Honour is presided over by a grand chancelier, who is a grand cross of the order, and who advises the head of the state in matters concerning the affairs of the order. The title of chancelier continues also to be used in France for the large class of officials who discharge notarial duties in some public offices, in embassies and consulates. They draw up diplomas and prepare all formal documents, and have charge of the registration and preservation of the archives.
In Spain the office of chancellor, canciller, was introduced by Alphonso VII. (1126-1157), who adopted it from the court of his cousins of the Capetian dynasty of France. The canciller did not in Spain go beyond being the king's notary. The chancellor of the privy seal, canciller del sello de la puridad (literally the secret seal), was the king's secretary, and sealed all papers other than diplomas and charters. The office was abolished in 1496, and its functions were transferred to the royal secretaries. The cancelario was the chancellor of a university. The canciller succeeded the maesescuela or scholasticus of a church or monastery. Canciller mayor de Castilla is an honorary title of the archbishops of Toledo. The gran canciller de las Indias, high chancellor of the Indies, held the seal used for the American dominions of Spain, and presided at the council in the absence of the president. The office disappeared with the loss of Spain's empire in America.
Italy, Germany, &c. - In central and northern Europe, and in Italy, the office had different fortunes. In southern Italy, where Naples and Sicily were feudally organized, the chancellors of the Norman kings, who followed Anglo-Norman precedents very closely, and, at least in Sicily, employed Englishmen, were such officers as were known in the West. The similarity is somewhat concealed by the fact that these sovereigns also adopted names and offices from the imperial court at Constantinople. Their chancellor was officially known as Protonotary and Logothete, and their example was followed by the German princes of the Hohenstaufen family, who acquired the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily. The papal or apostolic chancery is dealt with in the article on the Curia Romana. It may be pointed out here, however, that the close connexion of the papacy with the Holy Roman Empire is illustrated by the fact that the archbishop of Cologne, who by right of his see was the emperor's archchancellor (Erz-Kanzler) for Italy, was confirmed as papal archchancellor by a bull of Leo IX. in 1052. The origin and duration of this connexion are, however, obscure; it appears to have ceased before 1187. The last record of a papal chancellor in the middle ages dates from 1212, from which time onward, for reasons much disputed, the head of the papal chancery bore the title vice-chancellor (Hinschius i. 439), until the office of chancellor was restored by the constitution Sapientius of Pius X. in 1908.
The title of arch-chancellor (Erz-Kanzler) was borne by three great ecclesiastical dignitaries of the Holy Roman Empire.
The archbishop of Mainz was arch-chancellor for Germany. The archbishop of Cologne held the dignity for Italy, and the archbishop of Trier for Gaul and the kingdom of Arles. The second and third of these dignities became purely formal with the decline of the Empire in the 13th century. But the archchancellorship of Germany remained to some extent a reality till the Empire was finally dissolved in 1806. The office continued to be attached to the archbishopric of Mainz, which was an electorate. Karl von Dalberg, the last holder of the office, and the first prince primate of the Confederation of the Rhine, continued to act in show at least as chancellor of that body, and was after a fashion the predecessor of the Bundes Kaanzler, or chancellor of the North German Confederation. The duties imposed on the imperial chancery by the very complicated constitution of the Empire were, however, discharged by a vicechancellor who was attached to the court of the emperor. The abbot of Fulda was chancellor to the empress.
The house of Austria in their hereditary dominions, and in those of their possessions which they treated as hereditary, even where the sovereignty was in theory elective, made a large and peculiar use of the title chancellor. The officers so called were of course distinct from the arch-chancellor and vicechancellor of the Empire, although the imperial crown became in practice hereditary in the house of Habsburg. In the family states their administration was, to use a phrase familiar to the French, "polysynodic." As it was when fully developed, and as it remained until the March revolution of 1848, it was conducted through boards presided over by a chancellor. There were three aulic chancellorships for the internal affairs of their dominions, "a united aulic chancellorship for all parts of the empire (i.e. of Austria, not the Holy Roman) not belonging to Hungary or Transylvania, and a separate chancellorship for each of those last-mentioned provinces" (Hartig, Genesis of the Revolution in Austria). There were also a house, a court, and a state chancellor for the business of the imperial household and foreign affairs, who were not, however, the presidents of a board. These "aulic" (i.e. court) officers were in fact secretaries of the sovereign, and administrative or political rather than judicial in character, though the boards over which they presided controlled judicial as well as administrative affairs. In the case of such statesmen as Kaunitz and Metternich, who were house, court, and state chancellors as well as "united aulic" chancellors, the combination of offices made them in practice prime ministers, or rather lieutenants-general, of the sovereign. The system was subject to modifications, and in the end it broke down under its own complications. We are not dealing here with the confusing history of the Austrian administration, and these details are only quoted to show how it happened that in Austria the title chancellor came to mean a political officer and minister. There is obviously a vast difference between such an official as Kaunitz, who as house, court, and state chancellor was minister of foreign affairs, and as "united aulic" chancellor had a general superiority over the whole machinery of government., and the lord high chancellor in England, the chancelier in France, or the canciller mayor in Castile, though the title was the same. The development of the office in Austria must be understood in order to explain the position and functions of the imperial chancellor (Reichs Kanzler) of the modern German empire. Although the present empire is sometimes rhetorically and absurdly spoken of as a revival of the medieval Empire, it is in reality an adaptation of the Austrian empire, which was a continuation under a new name of the hereditary Habsburg monarchy. The Reichs Kanzler is the immediate successor of the Bundes Kanzler, or chancellor of the North German Confederation (Bund). But the Bundes Kanzler, who bore no sort of resemblance except in mere name to the Erz-Kanzler of the old Empire, was in a position not perhaps actually like that of Prince Kaunitz, but capable of becoming much the same thing. When the German empire was established in 1871 Prince Bismarck, who was Bundes Kanzler and became Reichs Kanzler, took care that his position should be as like as possible to that of Prince Kaunitz or Prince Metternich. The constitution of the German empire is separately dealt with, but it may be pointed out here that the Reichs Kanzler is the federal minister of the empire, the ciiiet of the federal officials, and a great political officer, who directs the foreign affairs, and superintends the internal affairs, of the empire.
In these German states the title of chancellor is also given as in France to government and diplomatic officials who do notarial duties and have charge of archives. The title of chancellor has naturally been widely used in the German and Scandinavian states, and in Russia since the reign of Peter the Great. It has there as elsewhere wavered between being a political and a judicial office. Frederick the Great of Prussia created a Gross Kanzler for judicial duties in 1746. But there was in Prussia a state chancellorship on the Austrian model. It was allowed to lapse on the death of Hardenberg in 1822. The Prussian chancellor after his time was one of the four court ministries (Hofciniter) of the Prussian monarchy.
Authorities.-Du Cange, Glossarium, s.v. "Cancellarius"; W. Stubbs, Const. Hist. of England (1874-1878); Rudolph Gneist, Hist. of the English Constitution (Eng. trans., London, 1891); L. O. Pike, Const. Hist. of the House of Lords (London, 18 94); Sir William R. Anson, The Law and Custom of the Constitution, vol. ii. part i. (Oxford, 1907); A. Luchaire, Manuel des institutions francaises (Paris, 1892); K. F. Stumpf, Die Reichs Kanzler (3 vols., Innsbruck, 1865-1873); G. Seeliger, Erzkanzler and Reichskanzleien (ib. 1889); P. Hinschius, Kirchenrecht (Berlin, 1869); Sir R. J. Phillimore, Eccles. Law (London, 1895); P. Pradier-Fodere, Cours de droit diplomatique, ii. 542 (Paris, 1899).
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Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Chancellor'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/bri/c/chancellor.html. 1910.