1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Beadle

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Beadle, also Bedel or Bedell (from A.S. bydel, from beodan, to bid), originally a subordinate officer of a court or deliberative assembly, who summoned persons to appear and answer charges against them (see Du Cange, supra tit. Bedelli). As such, the beadle goes back to early Teutonic times; he was probably attached to the moot as its messenger or summoner, being under the direction of the reeve or constable of the leet. After the Norman Conquest, the beadle seems to have diminished in importance, becoming merely the crier in the manor and forest courts, and sometimes executing processes. He was also employed as the messenger of the parish, and thus became, to a certain extent, an ecclesiastical officer, but in reality acted more as a constable by keeping order in the church and churchyard during service. He also attended upon the clergy, the churchwardens and the vestry. He was appointed by the parishioners in vestry, and his wages were payable out of the church rate. From the Poor Law Act of 1601 till the act of 1834 by which poor-law administration was transferred to guardians, the beadle in England was an officer of much importance in his capacity of agent for the overseers. In all medieval universities the bedel was an officer who exercised various executive and spectacular functions (H. Rashdall, Hist. of Universities in the Middle Ages, i. 193). He still survives in many universities on the continent of Europe and in those of Oxford and Cambridge, but he is now shorn of much of his importance. At Oxford there are four bedels, representing the faculties of law, medicine, arts and divinity. Their duties are chiefly processional, the junior or sub-bedel being the official attendant on the vice-chancellor, before whom he bears a silver mace. At Cambridge there are two, termed esquire-bedels, who both walk before the vice chancellor, bearing maces.