A Dictionary of the English Language
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Constable

View Scan · View Transcription · from page 457

View Scan · View Transcription · from page 457

Cónstable. n.s. [comes stabuli, as it is supposed.]

  1. Lord high constable is an ancient officer of the crown, long disused in England, but lately subsisting in France; where the constable commanded the mareschals, and was the first officer of the army. The function of the constable of England consisted in the care of the common peace of the land in deeds of arms, and in matters of war. To the court of the constable and marshal belonged the cognizance of contracts, deeds of arms without the realm, and combats and blasonry of arms within it. The first constable of England was created by the Conqueror, and the office continued hereditary 'till the thirteenth of Henry VIII. when it was laid aside, as being so powerful as to become troublesome to the king. From these mighty magistrates are derived the inferiour constables of hundreds and franchises; two of whom were ordained, in the thirteenth of Edward I. to be chosen in every hundred for the conservation of peace, and view of armour. These are now called high constables, because continuance of time, and increase both of people and offences, have occasioned others in every town of like nature, but inferiour authority, called petty constables. Besides these, we have constables denominated from particular places; as constable of the Tower, of Dover castle, of the castle of Carnarvon; but these are properly castellani, or governours of castles. Cowel. Chambers.

    When I came hither, I was lord high constable,
    And duke of Buckingham; now poor Edward Bohun.
    Shak.

    The knave constable had set me i' th' stocks, i' th' common stocks, for a witch. Shakesp. Merry Wives of Windsor.

    The constable being a sober man, and known to be an enemy to those acts of sedition, went among them, to observe what they did. Clarendon.

  2. To over-run the Constable. [Perhaps from conte stable, Fr. the settled, firm and stated account.] To spend more than what a man knows himself to be worth: a low phrase.

Sources: Clarendon, Edward (73) · Shakespeare's Henry VIII (62) · Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor (95)

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Cite this page: Johnson, Samuel. "Constable." A Dictionary of the English Language: A Digital Edition of the 1755 Classic by Samuel Johnson. Edited by Brandi Besalke. Last modified: November 4, 2012. http://johnsonsdictionaryonline.com/?p=2047.


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