This article is about a title. For other meanings, see marshal (disambiguation). For the rank of field marshal, see field marshal.
NaviesArmiesAir forces
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Marshal or
Field marshal
Marshal of
the air force
AdmiralGeneralAir chief marshal
Vice admiralLieutenant generalAir marshal
Rear admiralMajor generalAir vice-marshal
CommodoreBrigadier or
Brigadier general
Air commodore
CaptainColonelGroup captain
CommanderLieutenant colonelWing commander
Major or
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LieutenantCaptainFlight lieutenant
Sub-lieutenantLieutenant or
First lieutenant
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Enlisted grades
Warrant officer or
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Leading seamanCorporalCorporal

Marshal (also spelled marshall)[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 scealc "servant, soldier" and outdated German Schalk, meaning "high-ranking servant").[4] This "horse servant" origin is retained in the current French name for farrier: maréchal-ferrant.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. Finally, in Byzantium a marshal with elevated authority, notably a borderlands military command, is also known as an Exarch.


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 and 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 (meaning the palace and other domains). Often, the charge includes also the honorary privilege as chief of the protocol to announce formally the arrival of VIP guests at audiences, state dinners, and conferences in the monarch's premises. This office was often made hereditary in the high nobility, e.g., the English Earl Marshal, or the Scots Earl Marischal.



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:

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


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

United Kingdom


Further information: Earl Marshal and Knight Marshal
City Marshal of the City of London, on duty at the Lord Mayor's Show

The hereditary title of "marshal" at one time designated the head of household security for the King of England. William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, served four kings in this office, ultimately becoming one of the most powerful men in Europe; by the time he died in 1219 people throughout Europe (not just England) referred to William Marshal simply as "the marshal". The office of hereditary Marshal (or Earl Marshal) thus evolved into that of a Great Officer of State.

The task of maintaining law and order within the King's Court then devolved upon the office of Knight Marshal (established in 1236). Together with his officers, the King's (or Queen's) Marshalmen, the Knight Marshal continued to have restricted powers of arrest within a 12-mile radius of the sovereign's palace until 1846, when the office was abolished.

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).


Further information: Earl Marischal and Knight Marischal

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 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 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.
  2. 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.
  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)
  7. "Town vs. City - The Town of Clarksville, Indiana". Retrieved 2 April 2016.
  8. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on September 15, 2008. Retrieved March 2, 2008.
  9. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on June 14, 2008. Retrieved March 2, 2008.
  10. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 6, 2008. Retrieved March 2, 2008.
  12. "Deputy City Marshals (Official City of Las Vegas Web Site)". Retrieved 2 April 2016.
  13. "About Us". Retrieved 2 April 2016.
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