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Provost (through O. Fr.[?] prevost, mod. prévôt, Lat. pracpositus, set over, from praeponere, to place in front), a title attached to various ecclesiastical and secular offices.

In ecclesiastical usage the word praepositus was at first applied by the Church fathers to any ecclesiastical ruler or dignitary. It early, however, gained a more specific sense as applied to the official next in dignity to the abbot of a monastery, or to the superior of a single cell. Thus in the rule of St Benedict the provost (praepositus) is the superior of the monastery immediately subordinate to the abbot, the dean (decanus) being associated with him. From the Benedictine rule this arrangement was taken over by Chrodegang of Metz[?] when he introduced the monastic organization of cathedral chapters. In these the provostship (praepositura) was normally held by the archdeacon, while the office of dean fell to the archpriest. In many cathedrals the temporal duties of the archdeacons made it impossible for them to fulfil those of the provostship, and the headship of the chapter thus fell to the dean.

In England the title "provost" has thus everywhere given way to that of "dean"; in Germany, on the Other hand, "Probst" is still the style of the heads of certain chapters. The title has also been preserved in certain dioceses of the German Evangelical Church as the equivalent of Superintendent, and both the Roman Catholic and Protestant chaplainsgeneral of the forces have sometimes, e.g. as was the case in Prussia, the title Feldprobst. The heads of Augustinian and Dominican friaries are termed "provost or prior" (praepositus vel prior), those of Cistercian monasteries "provost or warden." (praepositus vel custos). Finally the name praepositus was sometimes used for the secular advocatus of a monastery. With the ecclesiastical use of the title is connected its English application to the heads of certain colleges; "provost" is still the style of the principals of Queen's, Oriel and Worcester Colleges at Oxford, of King's College at Cambridge, of Trinity College at Dublin and of Eton College.

As a secular title praepositus is also very old; we need only instance the praepositus sacri cubiculi of the late Roman Empire, and the praepositus palatii of the Carolingian court. The important developments of the title in France are dealt with below. From France the title found its way into Scotland, where it survives in the style (provost) of the principal magistrates of the royal boroughs ("lord provost" in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Perth and Dundee), and into England, where it is applied to certain officers charged with the maiiitenance of military discipline. A provost-marshal is an officer of the army appointed when troops are on service abroad for the prompt repression of all offences. He may at any time arrest and detain for trial persons subject to military law committing offences, and may also carry into execution any punishments to be inflicted in pursuance of a court martial (Army Act 1881, § 74). A provost-sergeant is an officer responsible for the maintenance of order when soldiers are in the United Kingdom. A provostsergeant may be either garrison or regimental, and he has under his superintendence the garrison or regimental police.

The Provost in France

The word prévôt (provost) in old French law had many applications. In conformity with its etymology (praepositus) it could be applied to any person placed at the head of a branch of the public service, a position which, according to the old principles, habitually carried with it a right of jurisdiction. It is thus that there was at Paris the "provost of Paris," who was a royal judge, and the "provost of the merchants" (prévôt des marchands), the head of the Paris municipality. There were besides--to mention only the principal provosts--the "provosts of the marshals of France" (prévôts des marichaux de France), of whom more below; the "provost of the royal palace" (prévôt de l'hôtel du roi) or "grand provost of France" (grand prévôt de France), and the "provost general" (prévôt général) or "grand provost of the mint" (grand prévôt des monnaies). But the most important and best known provosts, who formed part of a general and comprehensive organization, were the "royal provosts" (prévôts royaux), the lower category of the royal judges. It must be borne in mind, however, that the magistrates belonging to the inferior category of royal judges (juges subalternes) had different designations in many parts of France. In Normandy and Burgundy they were called châtelains, and elsewhere--especially in the south--viguiers. These were titles which had established themselves in the great fiefs before their reunion with the Crown and had survived this. The royal provosts, on the other hand, were a creation of the Capetian monarchy.

The date of this creation is uncertain, but was without doubt some time in the 11th century. The provosts replaced the viscounts wherever the viscounty had not become a fief, and it is possible that in creating them the Crown was imitating the ecclesiastical organization in which the provost figured, notably in the chapters. The royal provosts had at first a double character. In the first place they fulfilled all the functions which answered locally to the royal power. They collected all the revenues of the domain and all the taxes and dues payable to the king within the limits of their jurisdiction. Doubtless, too, they had certain military functions, being charged with the duty of calling out certain contingents for the royal service; there survived until the end of the ancien régime certain military provosts prevots d'épée (provosts of the sword) who were replaced in the administration of justice by a lieutenant. Finally, the provosts administered justice, though certainly their competence in this matter was restricted. They had no jurisdiction over noblemen, or over feudal tenants (hommes de fief) ,who claimed the jurisdiction of the court of their over-lord, where they were judged by their peers--the other vassals of the same lord. Neither had they jurisdiction over the open country, the pies pays, where this belonged to local seigneurs; and even in the towns over which they were set their jurisdiction was often limited by that of the municipal courts established for the benefit of the burgesses. The second characteristic of the old provosts was that their office was farmed for a limited time to the highest bidder. It was simply an application of the system of farming the taxes. The provost thus received the speculative right to collect the revenues of the royal domain in the district under his jurisdiction; this was his principal concern, and his judicial functions were merely accessory. By these short appointments the Crown guaranteed itself against another dan.gçr: the possible conversion by the functionary of the function into a property. Very early, however, certain provostships were bestowed en garde, i.e. the provost had to account to the king for all he collected. The prevotes en ferme were naturally a source of abuses and oppression, the former seeking to make the west of the concession he had bought. Naturally, too, the people complained. From Joinville we learn how under St Louis the provostship of Paris became a prévéte en garde. At the death of Louis XI the prevétes en ferme were still numerous and provoked a remonstrance from the States-general of 1484. Their suppression was promised by Charles VIII in 1493, but they are again referred to in the grande ordonnance of 1498. They disappeared in the 16th century, by which time the provosts become regular officials, their office being purchasable.

Other transformations had previously taken place. The creation of the royal baillis reduced the provosts to a subaltern rank. Each bailli had in his district a certain number of provosts, who became his inferiors in the official hierarchy. When appeals were instituted (and this was one of the earliest instances of their introduction) the provost, the sphere of whose competency was limited, was subject to an appeal to the bailli, though his judgment had hitherto been without appeal. Moreover, in the 14th century they had ceased to collect the revenues of the royal domain, except where the prévôté was en ferme, and royal collectors (receveurs royaux) had been appointed for this purpose. The summoning of the feudal contingents, the ban and arrière-ban, had passed into the hands of the baillis. Thus the provosts were left for their sole function as inferior judges for non-nobles, the appeals from their sentences going to the baillis, who also had jurisdiction in the first instance over actions brought against nobles and in cases reserved for the crown judges (cas royaux). This corresponded to a principle which had also applied in the chief feudal Courts in the 13th and 14th centuries, where a distinction was made between judicial acts which could be performed en prévété, and those which had to be performed in a solemn assize (assise); this did not, however, always imply the existence of a superior and an inferior official, a provost and a bailli.

The provost in the exercise of his legal functiops sat alone as judge, and he alone exercised the judicial authority at his tribunal; but he had to consult with certain lawyers (avocats or procureurs) chosen by himself, whom, to use the technical phrase, he "summoned to his council" (appelail a son conseil). In 1578 official counsellors (conseillers-magistrats) were created, but were suppressed by the ordonnance of Blois of 1579. The office was restored in 1609 by a simple decree of the royal council, but it was opposed by the parlements, and it seems to have been conferred in but few cases.

The "provosts of the marshals of France," mentioned above, were non-legal officials (offlciers de Ia robe courte) forming part of the body of the maréchaussée which was under the ancien régime what the gendarmerie was after the Revolution. Their original function was to judge offences committed by persons following the army, but in the course of the 14th and 15th centuries they acquired the right of judging certain crimes and misdemeanours, by whomsoever committed. They became stationary, with fixed spheres of authority, and the offences falling within their competency came to be called cas prévôtaux. These were, the worst crimes of violence, and all crimes and misdemeanours committed by old offenders (repris de justice), who were familiarly known as the gibier des prévôts des maréchaux (gaol-birds). Theirs was really a kind of military jurisdiction, from which there was no appeal; but the provost was bound to associate with himself a certain number of ordinary judges or graduates in law. The provost of the marshals did not himself judge what was a cas prévótal; this had in each case to be decided by the nearest bailliage or presidial court. The presidial judges also dealt with cas prévôtaux in concurrence with the provosts of the marshals.

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.

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