1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mayor

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MAYOR (Lat. major, greater), in modern times the title of a municipal officer who discharges judicial and administrative functions. The French form of the word is maire. In Germany the corresponding title is Bürgermeister, in Italy sindico, and in Spain alcalde. “Mayor” had originally a much wider significance. Among the nations which arose on the ruins of the Roman empire of the West, and which made use of the Latin spoken by their “Roman” subjects as their official and legal language, major and the Low Latin feminine majorissa were found to be very convenient terms to describe important officials of both sexes who had the superintendence of others. Any female servant or slave in the household of a barbarian, whose business it was to overlook other female servants or slaves, would be quite naturally called a majorissa. So the male officer who governed the king’s household would be the major domus. In the households of the Frankish kings of the Merovingian line, the major domus, who was also variously known as the gubernator, rector, moderator or praefectus palatii, was so great an officer that he ended by evicting his master. He was the “mayor of the palace” (q.v.). The fact that his office became hereditary in the family of Pippin of Heristal made the fortune of the Carolingian line. But besides the major domus (the major-domo), there were other officers who were majores, the major cubiculi, mayor of the bedchamber, and major equorum, mayor of the horse. In fact a word which could be applied so easily and with accuracy in so many circumstances was certain to be widely used by itself, or in its derivatives. The post-Augustine majorinus, “one of the larger kind,” was the origin of the medieval Spanish merinus, who in Castillian is the merino, and sometimes the merino mayor, or chief merino. He was a judicial and administrative officer of the king’s. The gregum merinus was the superintendent of the flocks of the corporation of sheep-owners called the mesta. From him the sheep, and then the wool, have come to be known as merinos—a word identical in origin with the municipal title of mayor. The latter came directly from the heads of gilds, and other associations of freemen, who had their banner and formed a group on the populations of the towns, the majores baneriae or vexilli.

In England the major is the modern representative of the lord’s bailiff or reeve (see Borough). We find the chief magistrate of London bearing the title of portreeve for considerably more than a century after the Conquest. This official was elected by popular choice, a privilege secured from king John. By the beginning of the 11th century the title of portreeve[1] gave way to that of mayor as the designation of the chief officer of London,[2] and the adoption of the title by other boroughs followed at various intervals.

A mayor is now in England and America the official head of a municipal government. In the United Kingdom the Municipal Corporations Act, 1882, s. 15, regulates the election of mayors. He is to be a fit person elected annually on the 9th of November by the council of the borough from among the aldermen or councillors or persons qualified to be such. His term of office is one year, but he is eligible for re-election. He may appoint a deputy to act during illness or absence, and such deputy must be either an alderman or councillor. A mayor who is absent from the borough for more than two months becomes disqualified and vacates his office. A mayor is ex officio during his year of office and the next year a justice of the peace for the borough. He receives such remuneration as the council thinks reasonable. The office of mayor in an English borough does not entail any important administrative duties. It is generally regarded as an honour conferred for past services. The mayor is expected to devote much of his time to ornamental functions and to preside over meetings which have for their object the advancement of the public welfare. His administrative duties are merely to act as returning officer at municipal elections, and as chairman of the meetings of the council.

The position and power of an English mayor contrast very strongly with those of the similar official in the United States. The latter is elected directly by the voters within the city, usually for several years; and he has extensive administrative powers.

The English method of selecting a mayor by the council is followed for the corresponding functionaries in France (except Paris), the more important cities of Italy, and in Germany, where, however, the central government must confirm the choice of the council. Direct appointment by the central government exists in Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the smaller towns of Italy and Spain. As a rule, too, the term of office is longer in other countries than in the United Kingdom. In France election is for four years, in Holland for six, in Belgium for an indefinite period, and in Germany usually for twelve years, but in some cases for life. In Germany the post may be said to be a professional one, the burgomaster being the head of the city magistracy, and requiring, in order to be eligible, a training in administration. German burgomasters are most frequently elected by promotion from another city. In France the maire, and a number of experienced members termed “adjuncts,” who assist him as an executive committee, are elected directly by the municipal council from among their own number. Most of the administrative work is left in the hands of the maire and his adjuncts, the full council meeting comparatively seldom. The maire and the adjuncts receive no salary.

Further information will be found in the sections on local government in the articles on the various countries; see also A. Shaw, Municipal Government in Continental Europe; J. A. Fairlie, Municipal Administration; S. and B. Webb, English Local Government; Redlich and Hirst, Local Government in England; A. L. Lowell, The Government of England.

  1. If a place was of mercantile importance it was called a port (from porta, the city gate), and the reeve or bailiff, a “portreeve.”
  2. The mayors of certain cities in the United Kingdom (London, York, Dublin) have acquired by prescription the prefix of “lord.” In the case of London it seems to date from 1540. It has also been conferred during the closing years of the 19th century by letters patent on other cities—Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, Sheffield, Leeds, Cardiff, Bradford, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Belfast, Cork. In 1910 it was granted to Norwich. Lord mayors are entitled to be addressed as “right honourable.”