1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Henchman

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HENCHMAN, originally, probably, one who attended on a horse, a groom, and hence, like groom (q.v.), a title of a subordinate official in royal or noble households. The first part of the word is the O. Eng. hengest, a horse, a word which occurs in many Teutonic languages, cf. Ger. and Dutch hengst. The word appears in the name, Hengest, of the Saxon chieftain (see Hengest and Horsa) and still survives in English in place and other names beginning with Hingst- or Hinx-. Henchmen, pages of honour or squires, rode or walked at the side of their master in processions and the like, and appear in the English royal household from the 14th century till Elizabeth abolished the royal henchmen, known also as the “children of honour.” The word was obsolete in English from the middle of the 17th century, and seems to have been revived through Sir Walter Scott, who took the word and its derivation, according to the New English Dictionary, from Edward Burt’s Letters from a Gentleman in the North of Scotland, together with its erroneous derivation from “haunch.” The word is, in this sense, used as synonymous with “gillie,” the faithful personal follower of a Highland chieftain, the man who stands at his master’s “haunch,” ready for any emergency. It is this sense that usually survives in modern usage of the word, where it is often used of an out-and-out adherent or partisan, ready to do anything.