1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Serjeant

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SERJEANT. or Sergeant (from Lat. serviens, servire, to serve, through O. Fr. sergant, serjant, mod. Fr. sergent), the title (1) of a non-commissioned officer in the army and of a sub-ordinate officer of police; (2) of certain officials of the royal household (see Serjeants-at-arms, below). (3) The name was also given formerly to the highest rank of barristers in England and Ireland (see Serjeant-at-Law). In the middle ages serviens had a variety of applications all connoting the sense of service, from the serviens de pane et mensa, the domestic servant of a monastery, to the serviettes de armis, the serjeants-at-arms (Fr. sergeans d'armes) of monarchs, the servientes (sergeans) who were the apparitors of the French king, and vassals who held by a special service (serjeanty, q.v.). The serjeants (fratres servientes) formed also an important division of the great military orders (see Saint John of Jerusalem, Knights of the Order of, and Templars). Du Cange (Glossarium, s.v. “Serviens”) gives many other instances.

1. Military Title.—In its early military uses the word implied a subordinate, and it is not clear how it came to be used for a minor commander. The “serjeants” of ordinary medieval armies were the heavy-armed (generally mercenary) cavalry or men-at-arms. In the 15th century it became usual to subdivide troops of all sorts into groups of dissimilar combatants, graded amongst themselves according to military or social importance. Thus a “lance,” or group, might consist of a heavy-armed lancer (man-at-arms), a mounted and a foot archer and an armed valet, and the “serjeant” would be its most important member. But the general evolution of armies led to their being classed by arms and grouped in more homogeneous regiments. Under such an organization the title of the group-leader lost its cavalry significance and became specifically the designation of an infantry rank. From the cavalry it disappeared altogether, the titles “corporal of horse,” “maréchal des logis,” &c., taking its place. In 16th and 17th century armies the title serjeant is found amongst the highest ranks of an army. With a partial return to the old meaning it signifies, in all its forms, an expert professional soldier, the serjeant of a company, the serjeant-major of a regiment and the serjeant-major-general of the army (these last the originals of the modern ranks, major and major-general) being charged with all duties pertaining to the arraying, camping and drill of their units.

In modern armies the word serjeant is used of a non-commissioned officer ranking between corporal and serjeant-major. A “lance-serjeant” is a corporal holding the appointment and performing the duties, but not having the rank of serjeant. The serjeant-major in the British service is a “warrant-officer,” although in the cavalry and artillery the ranks of “troop,” “squadron” or “battery serjeant-major” are non-commissioned and correspond to the “colour-serjeant” of infantry. This last officer is the senior non-commissioned officer of a company, and has, besides his duties in the colour-party, the pay and accounting work of his unit. The former “corporal of horse” and “corporal-major” still survive in the British Household Cavalry. In Germany, Austria and Russia the regimental serjeant-majors of infantry and cavalry are styled Feldwebel and Wachtmeister respectively, while in France the titles are adjuaant and maréchal des logis or maréchal des logis chef.

2. Serjeants-at-Arms.—In the British royal household there are eight serjeants-at-arms, whose duties are ceremonial; they have to be in attendance only at drawing-rooms, levees, state balls and state concerts. There are also two other serjeants-at-arms to whom special duties are assigned, the one attending the Speaker of the House of Commons and the other the lord chancellor in the House of Lords, carrying their maces and executing their orders. The Speaker's serjeant-at-arms is the disciplinary officer of the House of Commons, whose duty it is to expel members at the order of the Speaker and to arrest and keep in custody those persons condemned to this punishment by the authority of the House. The serjeants-at-arms have no special uniform. At court they wear any naval, military or civil uniform to which they may be entitled, or the court dress of those holding legal appointments, but not entitled to wear robes, i.e. a suit of black cloth, with knee-breeches, lace bands and ruffles, a black silk cocked hat with rosette and steel loop and a sword. A silver collar of office is worn on special occasions. This costume, with the chain, is that worn by the serjeants-at-arms in the House of Lords and the House of Commons always.