Marshal (also sometimes spelled marshall in American English, but not in British English) is a word used in several official titles of various branches of society. The word derives from Old High German marah "horse" and schalh "servant", and originally meant "stable keeper". As marshals became trusted members of the courts of Medieval Europe, the title grew in reputation. During the last few centuries, it has been used for the most elevated offices. The American English spelling of the name ("Marshall") is often confused with the spelling of the title ("Marshal"). It is approximate to the position of Constable, of similar etymology.


In many countries, the rank of Marshal is the highest Army rank, outranking other General Officers. Typically the equivalent navy rank is Admiral of the Fleet.

Marshals are typically appointed only in war-time (although this need not be the case). In many countries, especially in Europe, the special symbol of a Marshal is a baton, and so their insignia often incorporate batons. In some countries, the word Marshal is also used instead of General in the higher Air force ranks. The four highest Royal Air Force ranks are Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Air Chief Marshal, Air Marshal and Air Vice Marshal (although the first, which has generally been suspended as a peacetime rank, is the only one which can properly be considered a marshal). The 5 star rank of Marshal of the Air Force is used by some Commonwealth air forces.

In the French army and some armies based on the French army, Maréchal des logis (Marshal-of-Lodgings ) is a cavalry term equivalent to sergeant.

Some historical rulers have used special Marshal titles to reward certain subjects. Though not strictly military ranks, these honorary titles have been exclusively bestowed upon successful military leaders, such as the famous Grand Marshal of Ayacucho Antonio Jose de Sucre. Most famous are the Marshals of France (Maréchaux de France), not least under Napoleon I. Another such title was that of Reich Marshal (Reichsmarschall), that was bestowed upon Hermann Göring by Adolf Hitler, although it was never a regular title. In England during the First Barons' War the title Marshal of the Army of God was bestowed upon Robert Fitzwalter by election.

Soviet Union and Russia have both General of the Army and Marshal in their rank system, which leaves the latter as a largely honorary rank.

Marshal ranks by country

The following articles deal with the rank of Marshal as used by specific countries:

These non-European ranks are considered the equivalent to a Marshal


  • In feudal times, at many courts one or more of the major dignitaries were styled marshal or a compound such as court marshal (not related to court martial) or grand marshal; their functions varied, also in time, but frequently included formally announcing guests at audiences, balls, dinners, etc. Such prestigious office was often made hereditary in the high nobility, e.g. the English Earl Marshal, or the Scots Earl Marischal.
  • The term is still used in modern pageantry; for example, the grand marshal of a parade is often an honored guest or dignitary
  • In the United States, many colleges and universities have marshals. In some cases there is a single "faculty marshal," appointed to the post on a more or less stable basis. In others, there are one or several faculty marshals, and often one or several student marshals appointed for a single occasion. In all cases the post is one of honor given to a senior faculty member or outstanding students, and the functions are generally exclusively involved with the leading of processions or parts of processions during commencement exercises, academic convocations and similar events. Often, they carry maces, staffs or wands of office.

Law enforcement

The word Marechaussee seems to derive from the old French name Marecheaux given to an ancient court of justice in Paris called the "Tribunal of Constables and Marshals of France". These constables and marshals were to become members of the Gendarmerie which served as a model for the police forces of both Belgium and the Netherlands. The term Marechaussee was also used for the Continental Army's military police during the American Revolution. In the Netherlands today, the Koninklijke Marechaussee is a national military police service similar to the French Gendarmerie.

United States

Particularly in the United States, marshal is used for various kinds of law enforcement officers.

Federal Marshals

The federal court system in the United States is organized into 94 federal judicial districts, each with a court (and one or several judges), a United States Attorney with assistants as prosecutors and government lawyers, and one marshal, appointed by the president, in charge of federal law enforcement. The courts are part of the independent judicial branch of the government, while the marshals and US attorneys are part of the executive branch Department of Justice.

In actual practice, the US marshal for the district mainly oversees court security, and has a unit of appointed deputies (other law enforcement operations and the federal prison system are handled by a variety of federal police agencies) and Special Deputies.

The United States Marshals Service is a professional, civil service unit of federal police, part of the system of marshals explained above but made up of career law enforcement personnel rather than the appointed district marshals. The US Marshals Service assists with court security and prisoner transport, serves arrest warrants and seeks fugitives.

Federal Air Marshal Service is a separate, armed federal law enforcement service employed to protect commercial airliners from the threat of Skyjacking. (Though called Air Marshals, they are completely unrelated to the military rank mentioned above, and are not to be confused with it.) These officers, like the above marshals, work for the executive branch of the US government.

The US Supreme Court maintains its own, separate Marshal of the Supreme Court who also controls the US Supreme Court Police, a security police service answerable to the court itself rather than to the president or attorney general. It handles security for the Supreme Court building, for the justices personally, and undertakes whatever other missions the court may require.

State and Local

  • In many American States marshals could be found acting at the state, local or municipal court level, marshals could be court bailiffs and/or serving process or even full police officers. Although some may be sworn peace officers their job is, in certain cases entirely civil rather than criminal law enforcement. Some communities maintain a Town Marshal who is responsible for general law enforcement as well as court duties, while others are strictly court officers. This is especially true in communities with both police and marshals.
    • In the American Old West (example, Arizona Territory of the 1880s), marshals, usually called the "Town Marshal", or "City Marshal" (since the larger cities were often punctilious about their titles) were appointed or elected police officers of small communities, with similar powers and duties to that of a police chief, generally with powers ending at the border of the community. By contrast, federal marshals (U.S. marshals) would work in a larger, possibly overlapping area, especially in pioneering country, in an area overlapping with the state or territorial office of county sheriff (who then, as now, policed communities as well as areas between communities). The word is still used in this sense, especially in the Southwest United States. (See List of Western lawmen). Town or City Marshal is still the name for the head officer of some community police forces.
    • In California, several counties once maintained separate county marshal's Offices which served as court officers similar to US Marshals. Many have been merged into or taken over by the local County Sheriff's Office but not all. California also has Fire Marshals and Deputy Fire Marshals. These individuals may work for the State of California Fire Marshal's Office, or various county, city or special districts throughout the state. Fire Marshals and Deputy Fire Marshals are full-time sworn peace officers throughout the state, with powers of arrest state wide under section 830.37 of the California Penal Code. Responsibilities include fire and arson investigation, bomb and explosives investigation, general law enforcement as well as enforcement of the Fire Code.
    • In Connecticut, marshals serve as court officers and replaced county sheriff's in connecticut in the year 2000. They are separated into two classes: State Marshals are charged with service of process, and Judicial Marshals perform court security and transport detainees to and from court.
    • In Georgia, the Marshal is a civil law enforcement officer in some counties and may have some patrol duties.
    • In Indiana, In towns which still have them, Marshals are responsible for law enforcement in a town. His usual duties are the enforcement of local ordinances and code enforcement. He may also be the town's humane officer.
    • In Maine the State Marshal Service provides physical security and law enforcement duties to the judicial system as well as protection of all state judges. Deputy Marshals are fully sworn state law enforcement officers with statewide authority.
    • In Missouri the State Marshals provides physical security and law enforcement duties to the judicial system as well as protection of all state judges. Deputy Marshals are fully sworn state law enforcement officers with statewide authority.
    • At the local level in the State of Missouri, City Marshals are elected Chief Law Enforcement Officers of the city. They have the same police powers as a regular Police Officer within the City limits of their city. The amount of training to be a city Marshal is far less then a regular municipal police officer, as such a Marshal's jurisdiction is strictly limited to the city limits of the city they are elected from. Even if they witness a violation of the Law in their city, they can not pursue a person if they flee beyond the city limits. The position of City Marshal is rare in the State of Missouri and is only found in very small rural cities that do not have the budget to maintain a Police Department.
    • In California Each county maintains a Marshal's Office for duties of general county court security, bailiff and process of civil service including evictions.
    • In Colorado Cities, towns and villages decide whether to appoint a Marshal, elect a Sheriff or have the board/council/city manager hire a Chief of Police as the top criminal law enforcement for their jurisdiction. Marshals are elected by the trustees to serve a fixed term, sheriffs are elected by the citizens for a fixed term, chiefs of police can be fired at will by whoever hired them just like any other employee.
    • In New York City, New York, City Marshals are appointed by the Mayor to 5-year terms, but receive no salary from the city. Instead, the Marshal pays New York City a percentage of the fees he receives for collecting to the judgments. As Public Officials, City marshals may, depending on the court order brought to them by the winning litigant, seize money, moveable property (for instance, inventory from a business), vehicles (as with defaulted car loans), real property return possession of rental premises to the landlord, (they can evict tenants), and so on. Marshals are overseen by the Department of Investigation, a mayoral department.
    • In Ohio the term village marshal has been used for the same, often without any colleague, directly under the Mayor.
    • In Texas, city marshals and deputy city marshals have, by law, the same authority as a municipal (village, town, or city) police officer. However, municipalities that have both a police force as well as a city marshal's office often utilize the police as the general law enforcement agency of the municipality, while court security and process service is provided by the city marshal's office. In municipalities that do not have a police department, the city marshal's office sometimes serves as the agency that provides general law enforcement services to residents.
    • In Washington, the City of Seattle employs Marshals in their Municipal Court, with the senior officer holding the title of Chief Marshal and the subordinate officers being Deputy Marshals.



In France the Maréchaussée was the forerunner of the French Gendarmerie. A military corps having such duties was first created in 1337 and was placed under the command of the Constable of France, and therefore named the connétablie. In 1626 after the aboliton of the title of connétable, it was put under the command of the Maréchal of France, and renamed Maréchaussée. Its main mission was protecting the roads from highwaymen.

The gens d'armes were originally heavy cavalry in the king's household, the equivalent of the "Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms". In 1720 the maréchaussée was subordinated to the gendarmerie; after the French Revolution the maréchaussée was abolished and the gendarmerie took over its duties in 1791.

It was a mounted military police force organised and equipped along military lines. While its existence ensured the relative safety of French rural districts and roads, the marechaussee was regarded in contemporary England (which had no effective police force of any nature) as a symbol of foreign tyranny. In 1789, on the eve of the French Revolution, the marechaussee numbered 3,660 men divided into small detachments called brigades. By law dated 16 February 1791 this force was renamed the gendarmerie nationale. Its personnel and role remained unchanged.


In the Netherlands the Koninklijke Marechaussee are the gendarmerie force. Created by King William I to replace the French gendarmerie on October 26, 1814 . The word gendarmerie had gained a negative connotation, so William called the new force "marechaussée" (maréchaussée is an alternate French word for gendarmerie). At that time, the marechaussee was part of the army (landmacht). The marechaussee performed police duties for the army, as well as civilian police work as a part of the national police (rijkspolitie). The marechaussee would form the only police force in many small cities like Venlo, especially in the southern provinces of Limburg and North Brabant. As of 1998, the marechaussee is a separate branch of the Dutch military assigned with military and civilian police tasks.



Apart from its military uses, the Polish word marszałek (marshal) also refers to certain political offices:

  • Marszałek Sejmu and Marszałek Senatu: the respective speakers of the lower house (Sejm) and upper house (Senate) of Poland's parliament, usually nominated by the governing party or coalition;
  • marszałek województwa (voivodeship marshal): since 1999, the leader of the executive of a voivodeship (one of Poland's 16 provinces), elected by the regional assembly (sejmik), and co-existing with the government-appointed voivode (governor).

For other historical uses of the word, see marszałek.



The rank of Marshal has made frequent appearances in science fiction works, both live action productions and literature.

Star Wars

In the universe of Star Wars, the rank of Marshal is conjectured to be connected to the TIE fighter forces, being ranks held by senior TIE fighter commanders, equivalent to Imperial Navy Admirals. Several sources of the Star Wars Expanded Universe have conjectured the following Marshal ranks of the starfighter service.

  • Grand Marshal
  • High Marshal
  • Force Marshal
  • Chief Marshal
  • Marshal
  • Vice Marshal


  • The rank of Marshal can be found in the novel Starship Troopers where the rank of Sky Marshal is held by the Commander-in-Chief of the military.
  • Marshal is a military rank frequently found in the universe of Doctor Who where, more often than not, it is held by various villains who seek galactic domination through military force.
  • In the Riddick universe, the leader of the diabolic Necromonger army is called the Lord Marshal.
  • In the computer game StarCraft, the major character Jim Raynor holds the rank of Marshal at the story's outset.
  • In the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the Black Templars Space Marines chapter has Marshals.
  • In the Battletech universe, the British-themed Federated Suns uses the military rank of Marshal for a commander of a Regimental Combat Team or a Polymorphous Defense Zone, and the rank of Field Marshal for top echelon military commanders, typically encompassing the March Lords and the Prince's Champion.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Hide and Q" the entity Q took the appearance of a French marshal.
  • In Outland, Sean Connery plays Marshal William T. O'Niel who runs a police force for a mining colony on Io, one of Jupiter's moons.



In Mercedes Lackey's world of Valdemar, one of the country's most important ranks is that of Lord Marshal.


  • A university marshal often leads or guides graduates in a procession to the place where the graduation ceremony will take place.

Racing and other competitions


See also

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