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A steward (from Old English stíweard, stiȝweard, from stiȝ "hall, household" + weard "wikt:warden, keeper"; corresponding to Dutch: stadhouder, German Statthalter "place holder", a Germanic parallel to French lieutenant), means an official who is appointed by the legal ruling monarch to represent him or her in a country, and may have a mandate to govern it in his or her name; in the latter case, it roughly corresponds with the position of governor or deputy (the Roman rector, praefectus or vicarius).


The Old English term stiȝweard is attested from the 11th century. Its first element is most probably stiȝ- "house, hall" (attested only in composition; its cognate stiȝu is the ancestor of Modern English sty).Old Frensh estuard and Old Norse stívarðr are adopted from the Old English.

The German and Dutch term (MHG stat-halter) is a parallel but independent formation (a calque of lieutenant) corresponding to obsolete English stead holder (stede haldare 1456; also stedys beryng (1460), sted-haldande (1375) steadward, steadsman).

In medieval times, the steward was initially a servant who supervised both the lord's estates and his household. However over the course of the next century, other household posts expanded and involved more responsibilities. This meant that in the 13th century, there were commonly two stewards in each house- one who managed the estates and the other to manage domestic routine. Stewards commonly earned up to 3 to 4 pounds per year. Stewards took care of their Lord's Castles when they were away. Also, stewards checked on the taxes of the serfs on his Lord's manor.


The Lord High Steward of England held a position of power in the 12th to 14th centuries, and the Lord Steward is the first dignitary of the court. The Stewart family traces its appellation to the office of the High Steward of Scotland. Lord High Steward of Ireland is a hereditary office held since the 15th century.

Low Countries

In the Netherlands, it developed into a rare type of de facto hereditary head of state of the thus crowned Dutch Republic.

Stadtholders were appointed by feudal lords to govern parts of their territory. Stadtholders could be appointed for the whole or parts of their territory by the local rulers of the independent province in the Low Countries, e.g. the Duke of Gelre appointed a stadtholder to represent him in Groningenmarker.In the Low Countries (which included present-day Netherlandsmarker, Belgiummarker and Luxembourgmarker) from the Middle Ages to the 18th century, this was originally an essentially honorary title awarded by the Spanish Habsburg kings to major noblemen in each province. But its nature changed drastically.

Northern Europe

Danish Statholder

  • In Denmark, a ministerial high office of royal governor in the capital, at Copenhagen castle
  • During the personal union of Denmarkmarker (the dominant partner) and Norway, the Danish King appointed a Governor-general in Norway styled Statholder: 1536- 4 November 1814

Swedish Stattholder

During the personal union of Swedenmarker (the dominant partner) and Norway, the Swedish king appointed a Governor-general in Norway styled Stattholder (or in full Rigsstatholder in Norwegian or Riksståthållare in Swedish, i.e. Lieutenant of the Realm): 4 November 1814 - 21 July 1873; several were noblemen, five even Swedish Crown Princes, who were then styled Visekonge, i.e. Viceroy.

Eastern Europe

The Russian equivalent of "stadtholder" is posadnik; the term sometimes occurs as "stadtholder" in English-language literature. Although there were such legendary posadniks as Gostomysl (9th century), the term first appeared in the Primary Chronicle under the year of 997 to denote the most senior official of an Eastern Slavic town. The earliest posadniks of the city of Novgorodmarker (Holmgard) include a dynasty composed of Dobrynya, his son Konstantin Dobrynich and Ostromir.

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