The Constable’s Corner: Of Kings and Constables

Corpus Christi, Flour Bluff, Front Page, Government and Politics, History

Welcome to the Constable’s Corner.  This is the first in what will be a series of articles from Mitchell Clark, the duly elected Constable, Pct. 2, Nueces County, Texas, on various topics of interest which relate to the constable operations in Precinct 2. 

King Alfred the Great successfully defended his kingdom against the Viking attempt at conquest, and by the time of his death had become the dominant ruler in England. He reigned from 871-899 A.D. and is credited with establishing the first constables in Wessex.

     For the past four years, television audiences have been captivated by Vikings, a made-for-television series on the History Channel. Viewers have “witnessed” the bloody battles between the Vikings and the European monarchs that played out during the 8th century.  As the fifth season begins, viewers will get a glimpse into the life of Alfred, son of Aethwulf and grandson of Egbert (both kings of Wessex), a man who would one day be called “Alfred the Great.” This mighty king of Wessex changed his country forever.

     According to the BBC History site, aside from successfully running the Vikings out of Wessex, he built up the defenses of his kingdom, reorganized his army, built a series of well-defended settlements across southern England, established a navy for use against the Danish raiders who continued to harass the coast, and advocated justice and order and established a code of laws and a reformed coinage. “He had a strong belief in the importance of education and learnt Latin in his late thirties. He then arranged, and himself took part in, the translation of books from Latin to Anglo-Saxon.”  In addition, Alfred the Great established the office of constable, an office that exists today in some fashion all over the world – even in Nueces County.

     Historically, the title “Constable” comes from the Latin stabuli , which means “attendant to the stables, literally count of the stable” and originated from the Roman Empire.  The constable was the officer responsible for keeping the horses of a lord or monarch. The West European term “constable” itself was adopted, via the Normans, as konostaulos (Grand Constable) in the Komnenian and Palaiologan periods, when it became a high military office of dignity. The title was imported to the monarchies of medieval Europe, and in many countries developed into a high military rank and great officer of state.  Such was the case of the Constable of France (Connétable de France) who was the commander-in-chief of all royal armed forces and second to the king until Prime Minister Cardinal Richelieu abolished the charge in 1627.

Historically, a constable could also refer to a castellan, the officer charged with the defense of a castle. Even today, there is a Constable of the Tower of London.

     Later Roman administrative titles were used by Charlemagne in developing his empire.  The position of Constable, along with the similar office of Marshal, spread throughout the emerging states of Western Europe during this period.  In most medieval nations, the constable was the highest-ranking officer of the army, and was responsible for the overseeing of martial law.  Following Alfred the Great’s lead, the office of the constable was introduced in England following the Norman Conquest of 1066 and was responsible for the keeping and maintenance of the king’s armaments and those of the villages as a measure of protecting individual settlements throughout the country.

     The system of policing by unpaid parish constables continued in England until the 19th century.  In the London metropolitan area, it was ended by the creation of the Metropolitan Police by the Metropolitan Police Act 1829 and by the County Police Constabularies outside London by the County Police Act 1839. Together these led to all counties having various constabularies of full-time professionals.

Early Constables in England serving a warrant
Early Constables in England serving a warrant

    Europe moved west, and the Constable became the keeper of the peace in Colonial America. David Johnson writes in his book, American Law Enforcement: A History, “More than 350 years ago, America’s first known system of law enforcement was established in Boston.  As soon as colonists had settled there in 1630, local ordinances had allowed for constables to be appointed. Soon after, in April 1631, the townspeople formed a “watch” made up of six watchmen, one constable, and several volunteers who patrolled at night, walking the rounds. 

     “Initially run by a combination of obligatory and voluntary participation, the 17th century watch typically reported fires, maintained order in the streets, raised the “hue and cry” (pursuing suspected criminals with loud cries to raise alarm), and captured and arrested lawbreakers. Constables had similar tasks, which included maintaining health and sanitation and bringing suspects and witnesses to court—frequently for such conduct as working on the Sabbath, cursing in public places, and failing to pen animals properly.”

Prohibition of Tobacco from The Code of 1650, Being a Compilation of the Earliest Laws and Orders of the General Court of Connecticut edited by Silas Andrus, 1830
Prohibition of Tobacco from The Code of 1650, Being a Compilation of the Earliest Laws and Orders of the General Court of Connecticut edited by Silas Andrus, 1830

     Interestingly, Constables can be found, even today, abroad in such places as Hong Kong, Denmark, Finland, Norway, United Kingdom, India, Channel Islands, Australia,  and Canada.

    In the United States, the role of a constable varied from state to state as the new nation formed.  Then, in 1823, the famous Texas Constable was born!

Up Next!……….Part Two

“The Texas Constable”

References:

  1.  Alastair, Bruce.  Keepers of the Kingdom. New York, NY: Vendome Press, 1999.
  2. “Constable,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 20 July 1998. www.britannica.com/topic/constable. Access date: March 6, 2017.
  3. “Constable.”  Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. www.en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Constable&oldid=767456104.  Access date: March 6, 2017.
  4. Johnson, David R. American Law Enforcement: A History. Wheeling, IL: Forum Press, 1981.
  5. Jones, A.H.M., ed. The Later Roman Empire 284-602. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 1964.
  6. Kazhdan, Alexander, ed. Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. Oxford University Press, 1991.
  7. Slater, Stephen. The Complete Book of Heraldry. London: Lorenz Books, 2002.

NOTE:  Nueces County Pct. 2 Constable Mitchell Clark can be contacted at the Nueces County Building in Flour Bluff, located at 10110 Compton Road, Corpus Christi, TX 78418.  361.937.6306    Constable Clark’s door is always open.  He is there to serve you!

Constable Clark is the duly elected official for the Pct. 2 Constable’s Office. He has been involved in the Nueces County Constable operations since 1981 and holds a Masters Peace Officers license from the State of Texas. He is a licensed attorney in Texas and Tennessee and in the U.S. Supreme Court. He is a former Marine with assignments as a military policeman with a specialty in corrections and as highly prestigious Marine Corps Drill Instructor @ MCRD San Diego. Constable Clark knows the law.
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