BRIEF HISTORY OF CONSTABLES IN THE ENGLISH SPEAKING WORLD
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centuries ago, in 438 A.D. the Roman Emperor Theodosius appointed the chief
of his royal stables comes stabuli -- "Master of the
Stable." This is the
origin of the word “constable” in the English language.
The office of constable was introduced into British common law
following the Norman invasion of the British Isle in 1066 A.D.
The constable was responsible for keeping the militia and armaments
of the king, and those of the individual villages, in a state of
preparedness for the protection of the village communities throughout
England. The office eventually
became an integral arm of the military throughout Britain.
During the reign of King Stephen, (1135-1154) the office of Lord High
Constable was established, and those who filled this position became the
King's representatives in all matters dealing with the military affairs of
Authority for local law-enforcement
derived primarily from the Statute of Winchester (1285), which, although
essentially a codification of much earlier measures, encompassed
instructions on the communities' obligations regarding the possession of
weapons and maintenance of the king's peace.
As a precaution against violent assaults, robberies and other unlawful acts,
there were provisions concerning watch keeping. The statute specifically
gave the power to constables and watchmen to arrest suspicious strangers,
who were to be kept under guard until further investigation by the eyre
justices or, as was the norm by the fourteenth century, at gaol delivery.
Two constables in each hundred (a subdivison of counties), who were
responsible to the county keepers of the peace, were entrusted with the
inspection of arms and on two occasions each year were to check that the
watchmen were armed according to their competence.
They held the titles of capitales constabularii et custodes pacis—“constable
of hundreds and keepers of peace.”
The enforcement responsibilities
accorded constables and bailiffs after the Black Death brought their duties
into the economic sphere. The
Ordinance (1349) and Statute of Labourers (1351) appointed them to control
the movement, conduct and service arrangements of labourers and servants
within their jurisdiction. Workers who left the village could be arrested.
(In nineteenth century Toronto, there remained a category of offence
known as “Deserting Employment” applicable to apprentices and servants.)