A seneschal was an officer in the houses of important nobles in the Middle Ages. In the French administrative system of the Middle Ages, the sénéchal was also a royal officer in charge of justice and control of the administration in southern provinces, equivalent to the northern French bailli. It is equivalent to Slavic stolnik.
The word is recorded in English since 1393, deriving via Old French seneschal, from Frankish Latin siniscalcus, itself from Proto-Germanic roots sini- ‘senior’ and skalk ‘servant’ as in marshal.
The most basic function of a seneschal was to supervise feasts and domestic ceremonies; in this respect, they were equivalent to stewards and majordomos. Sometimes, seneschals were given additional responsibilities, including the dispensing of justice and high military command.
Under the Ancien Régime in southern France, the sénéchal was the king’s representative charged with the application of justice and control of administration in the sénéchaussée – administrative district. In northern France, the terms used were bailli and bailliage – bailiwick.
According to historian Henry Hallam, the first sénéchaux to receive judicial functions did so by an edict of Philip II of France in 1190, and “acted as the king’s lieutenants in his domains”, or a sort of roving ambassadors or ministers for the throne.