The Constable of France (French: Connétable de France, from Latin comes stabuli for 'count of the stables') was lieutenant to the King of France, the first of the original five Great Officers of the Crown (along with seneschal, chamberlain, butler, and chancellor) and the commander-in-chief of the Royal Army. He was, at least on paper, the highest-ranking member of the French nobility.

2 October 1369: Charles V of France presents the sword Joyeuse to the Constable Bertrand du Guesclin; miniature by Jean Fouquet.

The Connétable de France was also responsible for military justice and served to regulate the Chivalry. His jurisdiction was called the Constabulary (connestablie; or in modern French orthography which sticks closer to the correct pronunciation: connétablie).

The office was established by King Philip I in 1060 AD, with Alberic becoming the first Constable. The office was abolished in 1627, with an edict, by Cardinal Richelieu, upon the death of François de Bonne, duc de Lesdiguières, in order to strengthen the immediate authority of the King over his army.

The position was officially replaced by the purely ceremonial title "Dean of Marshals" (Doyen des maréchaux), who was in fact the most senior "Marshal of France" (Maréchal de France); as the word doyen is used in French mainly in the sense of "the eldest".[1]

The later title Marshal General of France or more precisely "Marshal General of the King's camps and armies" (Maréchal général des camps et armées du Roi) was bestowed on the most outstanding military leaders. The recipient had command authority over all the French armies and garrisons who were engaged in war, and was senior to the Maréchaux de France, but had none of the extended political powers of the earlier "Constable of France".

Badge of office edit

Constable of France sword, on display at the Musée de l'Armée at Les Invalides, Paris

The badge of office was a highly elaborate sword called Joyeuse, after the legendary sword of Charlemagne. Joyeuse was a sword made with fragments of different swords and used in the Sacre of the French Kings since at least 1271. It was contained in a blue scabbard embellished with royal symbol, the fleur-de-lis, in column order from hilt to point. Traditionally, the constable was presented with the sword on taking his office by the King himself.[2]

Authority edit

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 ceremonial precedence immediately after the peers. He had the position of Lieutenant-general of the King within the kingdom. The constable had under his command all military officers, including the powerful maréchaux; he was also responsible for the financing of the army, and administering military justice. The official name of the jurisdiction was la connétablie (the constabulary), which he exercised with the assistance of the Maréchaux de France (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.[3]

Persons subordinate to the Constable of France edit

  • Marshal of France (Maréchal de France). However, during exceptional times the Marshal of France could be senior to the Constable, depending on the decisions of the King
  • Colonel-general – a special category of general in the Royal French army, commanding all the regiments of the same branch of service (i.e. Cavalry, Dragoons, Infantry et al.)
  • General
  • Lieutenant-general – the highest regular general officer rank of the French army to which a career army officer could be promoted on the basis of seniority and merit, and not noble blood
  • Maréchal de camp (literally (Military) Camp Marshal), not to be confused with Field Marshal) – the lowest general officer rank, in later times renamed Major-général and equivalent to the present-day général de brigade (brigadier-general)
  • Porte-Oriflamme – a prestigious honorary position, not an army rank, which gave the right to carry the King's royal banner (called Oriflamme) into battle
  • Grand Master of Crossbowmen (Grand-Maître des Arbalétriers du Roi) who was in charge of all archers in the army
  • Grand Master of Artillery (Grand-Maître de l'Artillerie royale). From the beginning of the 17th century, the Grand Master of the Artillery became a Great Officer of the Crown an immediate subordinate of the King and was no longer under the command of the Constable.


  • The title "Lieutenant-general of the Realm" (Lieutenant général du royaume) was not a military rank, but a royal appointment. It was bestowed by the King of France during times of crisis (civil war, a severe illness of the King, war with other realms such as England etc.) on a royal prince of the blood of his choice; who thus became the Commanding general of the entire kingdom, in effect, with supreme command over the civil service, the army and even the Connétable de France, until the moment the King chose to take back the supreme authority in his own hands.[4]

Constables of France edit

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 edit

The Capétien Dynasty

The Valois Dynasty

The Valois Angoulême Dynasty

The Bourbons

First French Empire edit

During the Consulate regime (1799–1804), the deposed Bourbon dynasty, through the Comte d'Artois, allegedly offered Napoléon Bonaparte, at that time First Consul of the Republic, the title of "Constable of France" if he would restore the Bourbons as Kings of France. Bonaparte declined the offer. However, in 1808, Emperor Napoléon I (since 1804) did himself appoint the Grand Dignitaries of the French Empire (Grands Dignitaires de l'Empire Français), among them his younger brother Louis Bonaparte, (in 1806 King of Holland by decision of his brother) as Constable, and Marshal of the Empire Louis Alexandre Berthier, the French Army Chief of Staff and Prince of Neuchâtel as Vice-Constable. Both titles were of a purely honorific nature, and disappeared with the Napoleonic regime's fall.

Movies edit

If I Were King, 1938, with François Villon (played by Ronald Colman), who was appointed by Louis XI, King of France (played by Basil Rathbone) to be Constable of France for one week.

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.

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ Le petit Larousse 2013, p361
  2. ^ p172, Slater, Stephen, The Complete Book of Heraldry (Lorenz, 2002), ISBN 0-7548-1062-3
  3. ^ "Great Officers of the Crown".
  4. ^ Le petit Larousse 2013, p629
  5. ^ a b Edgeworth, Daniel (2020). Domesday DNA. Fayetteville, NC: Domesday DNA. pp. 32–35.
  6. ^ Richard Vaughan, Charles the Bold, (Boydell Press, 2002) 250–251.

External links edit