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Marshal (also spelled marshall, esp. in British English)[1][2] is a term used in several official titles in various branches of society. As marshals became trusted members of the courts of Medieval Europe, the title grew in reputation. During the last few centuries, it has been used for elevated offices, such as in military rank and civilian law enforcement.


"Marshal" is an ancient loanword from Old (Norman) French (cf. modern French maréchal), which in turn is borrowed from Old Frankish *marhskalk (="stable boy, keeper, servant"), being still evident in Middle Dutch maerscalc, marscal, and in modern Dutch maarschalk (="military chief commander"; the meaning influenced by the French use).

It is cognate with Old High German mar(ah)-scalc "id.", modern German (Feld-)Marschall (="military chief commander"; again, the meaning influenced by the French use).[3]

It originally and literally meant "horse servant", from Germanic *marha- "horse" (cf. English mare and modern German Mähre, meaning "horse of bad quality") and skalk- "servant" (cf. Old Engl. scealc "servant, soldier" and outdated German Schalk, meaning "high-ranking servant").[4] This "horse servant" origin is retained in the current French name for farrier: maréchal-ferrant.

The late Roman and Byzantine title of comes stabuli ("count of the stables") was adopted as a Latin analogue, which has become the French connétable and, derived from the French, the English word constable.


In many countries, the rank of marshal, cf. field marshal, is the highest army rank, outranking other general officers. The equivalent navy rank is often admiral of the fleet.

Marshals are typically, but not exclusively, appointed only in wartime. In many countries, especially in Europe, the special symbol of a marshal is a baton, and their insignia often incorporate batons.

In some countries, the term "marshal" is used instead of "general" in the higher air force ranks. The four highest Royal Air Force ranks are marshal of the Royal Air Force, air chief marshal, air marshal and air vice marshal (although the first named, which has generally been suspended as a peacetime rank, is the only one which can properly be considered a marshal). The five-star rank of marshal of the Air Force is used by some Commonwealth and Middle Eastern air forces.

In the French Army and most National Armies modeled upon the French system, maréchal des logis ("marshal-of-lodgings") is a cavalry term equivalent to sergeant.

Some historical rulers have used special "marshal" titles to reward certain subjects. Though not strictly military ranks, these honorary titles have been exclusively bestowed upon successful military leaders, such as the famous grand marshal of Ayacucho Antonio José de Sucre. Most famous are the Marshals of France (Maréchaux de France), not least under Napoléon I. Another such title was that of Reichsmarschall, bestowed upon Hermann Goering by Adolf Hitler, although it was never a regular title as it had been "invented" for Goering who was the only titleholder in history. In England during the First Barons' War the title "Marshal of the Army of God" was bestowed upon Robert Fitzwalter by election.

Both the Soviet Union and Russia have army general as well as "marshal" in their rank system, the latter being largely an honorary rank.

Marshal ranks by country

The following articles discuss the rank of marshal as used by specific countries:

See also:

Marshal equivalents

These ranks are considered the equivalent to a marshal:

Military police

The name is also applied to the leader of military police organizations.

Ceremonial / Protocol

  • Usually in monarchies, one or several of the senior dignitaries wear the title of Marshal or a compound such as Court Marshal (not related to court martial, therefore usually called Marshal of the Court to prevent confusion) or more rarely Grand Marshal.

The function of the Marshal of the Court varies according to national tradition, but frequently he is the Chief of Staff of the Monarch's Household (= the palace and other domains). Often, the charge includes also the honorary privilege as chief of the protocoll to announce formally the arrival of VIP guests at audiences, state dinners, conferences in the monarch's premisses etc. This prestigious office was often made hereditary in the high nobility, e.g., the English Earl Marshal, or the Scots Earl Marischal.


  • The term is also used in more profane contexts, such as modern pageantry; for example, the grand marshal of a parade is often an honored guest or dignitary.
  • In the United States, many colleges and universities have marshals. In some cases, there is a single "faculty marshal," appointed to the post on a more or less permanent basis. In other cases, there are one or several faculty marshals, and often one or several student marshals appointed for a single occasion. In all cases, the post is one of honor given to a senior faculty member or outstanding student, and the functions are generally limited to leading processions or parts of processions during commencement exercises, academic convocations, encaenia and similar events. These marshals often carry maces, staffs or wands of office.
  • A chief usher at a large wedding is sometimes called a wedding marshal. In addition to coordinating other ushers in attending guests, the wedding marshal may be a messenger between parties to signal the impending start of the service or communicate delays. In a church wedding, particularly a nuptial mass, these functions may be assumed by a verger. The wedding marshal is a position of honor and trust, often filled by a close friend or relative.


Dignitaries of Poland

For other historical uses of the word, see marszałek

Apart from its military uses, the Polish word marszałek (marshal) also refers to certain political offices:

  • Marszałek Sejmu and Marszałek Senatu: the respective speakers of the lower house (Sejm) and upper house (Senate) of Poland's parliament, usually nominated by the governing party or coalition;
  • Marszałek Województwa (voivodeship marshal): since 1999, the leader of the executive of a voivodeship (one of Poland's 16 provinces), elected by the regional assembly (sejmik), and co-existing with the government-appointed voivode (governor).

Demonstration marshal

Demonstration marshals, also called stewards, are used by the organizers of large or controversial demonstrations, rallies and protests, to help ensure the safety of the participants.[5][6] They are especially important for preventing infiltration by agents provocateurs.


Racing and other competitions


  • The marshal is the highest playing piece in the board game Stratego.

Law enforcement

The word Maréchaussée derives from the French word Maréchal (plural Maréchaux), which was the second highest military charge in feudal France after Connétable (Constable), the military Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Armed Forces until 1627, when the charge of Constable was abolished. The Constable and the Marshals had also jurisdictional powers, at first only over members of the armed forces. The additional conferring of police powers led to the creation of the "Corps of the Maréchaussée" ("Marshalcy"; the forerunner of the modern Gendarmerie) and to an Ancien Régime Court of Justice called the "Tribunal of the Constable and the Marshals of France" which was competent for judging military personnel and civilians alike in cases of petty violations of the law.

The term Maréchaussée was also used for the Continental Army's military police during the American Revolution.

In the present-day Netherlands, the Koninklijke Marechaussee ("Royal Marshalcy") is a national military police force with civilian competences, similar to the French Gendarmerie nationale.

United States

In the United States, marshal is used particularly for various types of law enforcement officers.

Federal marshals

The federal court system in the United States is organized into 94 federal judicial districts, each with a court (and one or several judges), a United States Attorney with assistants such as prosecutors and government lawyers, and one marshal, appointed by the president, in charge of federal law enforcement. The courts are part of the independent judicial branch of the government, while the marshals and U.S. attorneys are part of the Department of Justice in the executive branch.

In actual practice, the U.S. marshal for the district primarily oversees court security, and has a unit of appointed deputies and special deputies. (Other law enforcement operations and the federal prison system are handled by a variety of federal police agencies.)

The United States Marshals Service is a professional, civil service unit of federal police, part of the system of marshals, made up of career law enforcement personnel rather than the appointed district marshals. The U.S. Marshals Service assists with court security and prisoner transport, asset forfeiture, serves arrest warrants and seeks fugitives.

The Federal Air Marshal Service is a separate armed federal law enforcement service employed to protect commercial airliners from the threat of aircraft hijacking. These air marshals work for the Transportation Security Administration of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The U.S. Supreme Court maintains its own, separate Marshal of the United States Supreme Court, who also controls the U.S. Supreme Court Police, a security police service answerable to the court itself, rather than to the president or attorney general. It handles security for the Supreme Court building and for the justices personally, and undertakes whatever other missions the court may require or assign.

State and local marshals

  • In many U.S. states, marshals can be found acting at the state, local or municipal court level; marshals can be court bailiffs and/or process servers, or even full police officers. Although some may be sworn peace officers, their job is, in certain cases, entirely civil rather than criminal law enforcement. Some communities maintain a town marshal who is responsible for general law enforcement as well as court duties, while others are strictly court officers. This is especially true in communities with both police and marshals. At least one local railroad servicing company's part-time public safety staff, which are both fire and police trained, is supervised by a chief marshal.
    • American Old West (for example, Arizona Territory and Texas of the 1880s): Marshals, usually called "town marshals" or "city marshals" (since the larger cities were often punctilious about their titles), were appointed or elected police officers of small communities, with powers and duties similar to those of a police chief; these powers generally ended at the border of the community. By contrast, federal marshals (U.S. marshals) worked in a larger territory, especially in pioneer country, and this area could potentially overlap with the state or territorial office of county sheriff (who then, as now, policed communities, as well as areas between communities). The word "marshal" is still used in this sense, especially in the American Southwest. (See List of Western lawmen.) Town or city marshal is still the name for the head officer of some community police forces.
    • Arizona: Cities, towns and villages decide whether to appoint or elect a marshal, or have the board/council/city manager hire a Chief of Police as the top criminal law enforcement official for their jurisdiction (as in the town of Tombstone). Marshals are elected by the trustees to serve a fixed term, and chiefs of police can be fired at will by whomever hired them, just like any other employee.
    • California: Several urban counties (including Los Angeles, San Bernardino County, California, and San Diego) once maintained separate county marshal's offices, which served as court officers similar to U.S. marshals, but mainly for the municipal court system. This system was abolished by state law in 2000, when the sheriffs of those counties announced that those counties' marshals would be absorbed into their departments. Therefore, many have been merged into or taken over by the local county sheriff's office, with the exceptions of San Benito County, south of the San Francisco Bay Area, Shasta County and Trinity County both located in Northern California. California also has fire marshals and deputy fire marshals, who may work for the State of California Fire Marshal's Office, or various county, city or special districts throughout the state. Fire marshals and deputy fire marshals are full-time sworn peace officers throughout the state, with powers of arrest statewide under section 830.37 of the California Penal Code. Their responsibilities include fire and arson investigation, bomb and explosives investigation, general law enforcement, as well as enforcement of the fire code.
    • Colorado: Cities, towns and villages decide whether to appoint or elect a marshal, or have the board/council/city manager hire a chief of police as the top criminal law enforcement for their jurisdiction. Marshals are elected by the trustees to serve a fixed term, and chiefs of police can be fired at will by whomever hired them, just like any other employee.
    • Connecticut: Marshals serve as court officers and replaced county sheriffs in Connecticut in 2000. There are two classes: state marshals are charged with service of process, and judicial marshals perform court security and transport detainees to and from court.
    • Georgia: The marshal is a commissioned armed and uniformed law enforcement officer of the county state courts which have jurisdiction over civil matters and state ordinances. In the Atlanta metro counties, marshal's offices enforce evictions, foreclosures, subpoenas, civil forfeitures, judgements, seizure, liens, repossession, and garnishment. With a few exceptions, elsewhere in Georgia, the sheriff's office is responsible for enforcement of these duties, with some sheriffs' offices having an assigned unit or personnel for these duties.
    • Indiana: Many towns still utilize the town marshal system. In Indiana, a town is managed by a council without an elected mayor, where a city has a mayor and, thus, a city police department.[7] Marshals are responsible for law enforcement in a town, and their primary duties are the enforcement of local and state ordinances and code enforcement. The town marshal may also be the town's humane law enforcement officer. Town marshals have general law enforcement authority throughout the state; therefore, it is not at all uncommon for town marshals to be seen outside of their town's jurisdiction assisting other police agencies. Some town marshal agencies in Indiana can be quite large, with up to 50 paid officers. Any town marshal can appoint any number of unpaid deputy town marshals or reserve officers who may exercise full police powers in the state. Under Indiana Code IC36-5-7 the marshal is described as "the chief police officer of the town and has the powers of other law enforcement officers in executing the orders of the legislative body and enforcing laws. The marshal or his deputy:
      1. shall serve all process directed to him by the town court or legislative body;
      2. shall arrest without process all persons who commit an offense within his view, take them before a court having jurisdiction, and detain them in custody until the cause of the arrest has been investigated;
      3. shall suppress breaches of the peace;
      4. may, if necessary, call the power of the town to his aid;
      5. may execute search warrants and arrest warrants; and
      6. may pursue and jail persons who commit an offense."
    • Maine: The State Marshal Service provides physical security and law enforcement duties to the judicial system, as well as protection of all state judges. Deputy marshals are fully sworn state law enforcement officers with statewide authority.
    • Missouri: There are two types of marshal:
      • State marshals provides physical security and law enforcement duties to the judicial system, as well as protection of all state judges. Deputy marshals are fully sworn state law enforcement officers with statewide authority.
      • City marshals, at the local level in the State of Missouri, are elected chief law enforcement officers of a city. They have the same police powers as a regular police officer within the city limits. The amount of training to be a city marshal is far less than a regular municipal police officer; as such, a marshal's jurisdiction is strictly limited to the city limits of the city to which they are elected. Even if they witness a violation of the law in their city, they cannot pursue a person who flees beyond the city limits. The position of city marshal is rare in the state of Missouri and is only found in very small rural cities that do not have the budget to maintain a police department.[8][9][10]
    • Nevada
      • City marshals and deputy city marshals have, by law, the same authority as a municipal (village, town, or city) police officer. However, those municipalities, such as Las Vegas, that have both a police force as well as a city marshal's office, often utilize the police as the general law enforcement agency of the municipality, while court security and process service is provided by the city marshal's office. In municipalities that do not have a police department, the city marshal's office sometimes serves as the agency that provides general law enforcement services to residents.
        • Las Vegas has two types of marshals:
          • Municipal court marshals who serve the municipal court by serving warrants and subpoenas and to make arrests for offenses under the jurisdiction of the municipal court; and to maintain order in the court and escort personnel to court and jail.[11]
          • City marshals who provide law enforcement services to city employees, residents and tourists utilizing city facilities located within the city limits, specifically those located on property owned, leased, operated or otherwise under the control of the city of Las Vegas. Conduct special operations aimed at reducing certain criminal activity in specific areas of the city, for example, traffic enforcement in neighborhoods, abatement of illegal solicitors at intersections and the removal of abandoned vehicles. Conducting security and safety evaluations requested by city departments at various facilities, buildings and workplaces.[12]
    • New York: There are two levels of marshals:
      • City marshals, are the elected chief law enforcement officers of a city or town. They have the same police powers as a regular police officer within the city limits. The amount of training to be a city marshal is far less than for a regular municipal police officer; as such a marshal's jurisdiction is strictly limited to the city limits of the city to which they are elected. Even if they witness a violation of the law in their city, they cannot pursue a person who flees beyond the city limits. The position of city marshal is rare in the State of New York and is now only found in very small rural cities that do not have the budget to maintain a police department.
      • New York City Marshals are appointed by the Mayor of New York City to five-year terms, but receive no salary from the city. The city's statutes specify that no more than 83 city marshals shall be appointed by a mayor. Marshals primarily enforce orders from civil court cases, including collecting on judgments, towing, seizing utility meters and carrying out evictions. Marshals collectively perform approximately 25,000 evictions per year. They are regulated by the NYC Department of Investigation but, unlike the city sheriff, they are not city employees. Marshals collect fees, which are set by statute, from private litigants when they are called on to enforce judgments, and they also retain five percent of any money they collect on judgments. City marshals may, depending on the court order brought to them by the winning litigant, seize money, movable property (for instance, inventory from a business), vehicles; as is the case with unpaid parking tickets, and return possession of rental premises to the landlord, (also known as eviction), and more. On an annual basis city marshals must pay the City of New York $1,500 plus 4.5 percent of the fees they receive for collecting judgments.
    • Ohio: The term village marshal has been used for the same function, often filled without colleagues, directly under the mayor.
    • Texas: City marshals and deputy city marshals have, by law, the same authority as a municipal (village, town, or city) police officer. However, municipalities (like Fort Worth), that have both a police force as well as a city marshal's office, often utilize the police as the general law enforcement agency of the municipality, while court security and process service is provided by the city marshal's office. In municipalities that do not have a police department, the city marshal's office sometimes serves as the agency that provides general law enforcement services to residents.
    • Washington State: The city of Seattle employs marshals in their municipal court, with the senior officer holding the title of chief marshal and the subordinate officers known as deputy marshals. The King County Sheriff's Office (county seat in Seattle) also employs court marshals, which is a unit under the sheriff's office. In the Old-West themed town of Winthrop, WA, the municipal police force is headed by a town marshal, consistent with the Old West restoration of the buildings and tourist attractions.[13]
    • Wisconsin: The duty of a marshal, that he or she generally speaking, occupies the same relation to the governmental affairs of the municipality as the sheriff does to the county.

United Kingdom


City Marshal of the City of London, on duty at the Lord Mayor's Show

William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, rose from obscurity due to his courage and skill as a knight, and he served four kings, ultimately becoming one of the most powerful men in Europe. Before him, the hereditary title of "marshal" designated the head of household security for the King of England; however, by the time he died in 1219, people throughout Europe (not just England) referred to William Marshal simply as "the marshal".

In 1595, Queen Elizabeth I issued letters patent giving powers to a marshal to maintain order within the City of London. Later, an under-marshal and six city marshalmen were appointed to assist the marshal in his duties. As a result of the Police Acts of 1829 and 1839, the marshal's role changed significantly. There is still one city marshal (As of 2009), currently Colonel Billy King-Harman, CBE, who acts as peacekeeper to the Lord Mayor of London, leading processions and representing the Lord Mayor at all Entries of Troops (challenging and then escorting those few regiments entitled to march though the City of London).


The office of "marischal of Scotland" (marascallus Scotie or marscallus Scotie) had been held heritably by the senior member of the Keith family since Hervey de Keith, who held the office of marischal under Malcolm IV and William I. The descendant of Herveus, Sir Robert de Keith (d. 1332), was confirmed in the office of "Great Marischal of Scotland" by Robert Bruce around 1324.

Robert de Keith's great-grandson, William, was raised to the peerage as Earl Marischal by James II in about 1458. The peerage died out when George Keith, the 10th Earl, forfeited it by joining the Jacobite Rising of 1715.

The marischal was to serve as custodian of the Royal Regalia of Scotland, and protect the king's person when attending parliament. The former duty was fulfilled by the 7th Earl during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, who hid the Royal Regalia at Dunnottar Castle. The role of regulation of heraldry carried out by the English Earl Marshal is carried out in Scotland by the Lord Lyon King of Arms.

The separate office of Knight Marischal was first created for the Scottish coronation of Charles I in 1633. The office is not heritable, although it has been held by members of the Keith family.


Marshal Foch, circa 1920.

In France, the Maréchaussée ("Marshalcy") was the forerunner of the French Gendarmerie. A military corps having such duties was first created in 1337, placed under the command of the Constable of France (the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Armed Forces), and named the Connétablie. In 1627 after the abolition of the title of Connétable, it was put under the command of the "Marshals of France," and renamed the Maréchaussée. Its main mission was to protect the roads from highwaymen.

The family of Levis-Mirepoix holds the unique prestigious title of « Maréchal de la Foi » ("Marshal of the Faith"). It dates back to the very cruel Crusade against the Albigensian "heretics" in southern France in the thirteenth century. The marshal's office, managing all the military affairs of the Crusader army as Chief commander, was granted to Lord Guy I de Levis, who bequeathed the title to his descendants.

The Maréchaussée was a mounted military police force organised and equipped along military lines. The force wore uniforms similar to those of the dragoons of the regular army and carried the same muskets and sabres. While its existence ensured the relative safety of French rural districts and roads, the Maréchaussée was regarded in contemporary England (which had no effective police force of any nature) as a symbol of foreign tyranny.

In 1789, on the eve of the French Revolution, the Maréchaussée numbered 3,660 men divided into small detachments called brigades. By law dated 16 February 1791, this force was renamed the Gendarmerie Nationale, though at first its personnel remained unchanged. Later many of them died under the guillotine, especially the members of the nobility.

The new designation "Gendarmerie" was derived from the term gens d'armes (gentlemen/people at arms) who were originally heavy cavalry regiments (called at first Ordonnances royales) which were part of the King's household, the equivalent of the English "Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms".

The title "Marshal of France" is a Dignité d'État ("State Dignity") in the contemporary French Republic, not strictu sensu a military rank. It is granted to generals for exceptional achievements, especially in times of war or national crisis.

However, the Marshal of France was one of the Great Officers of the Crown of France during the Ancien Régime and Bourbon Restoration and one of the Great Dignitaries of the Empire during the First French Empire (when the title was not "Marshal of France" but "Marshal of the Empire")

A Marshal of France displays seven stars and is equivalent to a six star general in armies of other countries. The marshal also receives a baton, a blue cylinder with stars, formerly fleurs-de-lis during the monarchy and Eagles during the First French Empire. It has the Latin inscription: Terror belli, decus pacis, which means "terror in war, ornament in peace".

The position in the French Navy (Marine nationale) equivalent to the "Marshal of France" is called Amiral de France ("Admiral of France"). The title has not been conferred since 1869. Theoretically, the equivalent title in the French Air Force is Général de France ("General of France"), but it has never been conferred to anyone yet.

Six Marshals of France have been given the even more prestigious rank of "Marshal General of the King's Armies and Camps": Biron, Lesdiguières, Turenne, Villars, Saxe, and Soult. The rank resp. title does no longer exist in present-day republican France.


In the Netherlands, the Koninklijke Marechaussee are the gendarmerie force created by King William I to replace the French gendarmerie on October 26, 1814. The word gendarmerie had gained a negative connotation, so William called the new force "marechaussée" (an alternate French word for gendarmerie). At that time, the marechaussee was part of the army (landmacht). The marechaussee performed police duties for the army, as well as civilian police work as a part of the national police (rijkspolitie). The marechaussee formed the only police force in many small cities like Venlo, especially in the southern provinces of Limburg and North Brabant. As of 1998, the marechaussee is a separate branch of the Dutch military, and is assigned both military and civilian police tasks.


  • In the novel Starship Troopers, the rank of sky marshal is held by the Commander-in-Chief of the military.
  • Marshal is a military rank frequently found in the universe of Doctor Who where, more often than not, it is held by various villains who seek galactic domination through military force.
  • In the Riddick universe, the leader of the diabolic Necromonger army is called the Lord Marshal.
  • In the computer game StarCraft, the major character Jim Raynor is a Confederate Marshal at the story's outset.
  • In the Battletech universe, the British-themed Federated Suns uses the military rank of marshal for a commander of a Regimental Combat Team or a Polymorphous Defense Zone, and the rank of field marshal for top echelon military commanders, typically encompassing the March Lords and the Prince's Champion.
  • In Outland, Sean Connery plays Marshal William T. O'Niel who runs a police force for a mining colony on Io, one of Jupiter's moons.
  • In the Dresden Files, Talos is the Lord Marshal of the Summer Court. He is shown to have much influence and bearing in the Court.



In Mercedes Lackey's fictional country of Valdemar, one of the country's most important ranks is that of lord marshal.

See also


  1. Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language. New York: Gramercy Books. 1996. p. 879. ISBN 0-517-15141-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. [1] According to Merriam Webster's, marshall is "considered a spelling error by several commentators" and "In American English, especially, marshal is the better choice."
  3. Elmar Seebold, ed. (2002). Kluge, Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache (24th ed.). Berlin – New York: Walter de Gruyter. p. 1112. ISBN 978-3-11-017473-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Jacob und Wilhelm Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, Leipzig 1854–1960, Vol. 12 Col. 1673 Online-Version
  5. Belyaeva et al. (2007) Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, published by OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. Alternative version
  6. Bryan, Dominic The Anthropology of Ritual: Monitoring and Stewarding Demonstrations in Northern Ireland, Anthropology in Action, Volume 13, Numbers 1-2, January 2006, pp.22-31(10)
  8. [2]
  9. [3]
  10. [4]
  13. [5]