CHAMBERLAIN (O. Fr. chamberlain, chamberlenc, Mod. Fr. chambellan, from O. H. Ger. Chamarling, Chamarlinc, whence also the Med. Lat. cambellanus, camerlingus, camerlengus; Ital. camerlingo; Span. camerlengo, compounded of O. H. Ger. Chamara, Kamara [Lat. camera, “chamber”], and the Ger. suffix -ling), etymologically, and also to a large extent historically, an officer charged with the superintendence of domestic affairs. Such were the chamberlains of monasteries or cathedrals, who had charge of the finances, gave notice of chapter meetings, and provided the materials necessary for the various services. In these cases, as in that of the apostolic chamberlain of the Roman see, the title was borrowed from the usage of the courts of the western secular princes. A royal chamberlain is now a court official whose function is in general to attend on the person of the sovereign and to regulate the etiquette of the palace. He is the representative of the medieval camberlanus, cambellanus, or cubicularius, whose office was modelled on that of the praefectus sacri cubiculi or cubicularius of the Roman emperors. But at the outset there was another class of chamberlains, the camerarii, i.e. high officials charged with the administration of the royal treasury (camera). The camerarius of the Carolingian emperors was the equivalent of the hordere or thesaurarius (treasurer) of the Anglo-Saxon kings; he develops into the Erzkämmerer (archicamerarius) of the Holy Roman Empire, an office held by the margraves of Brandenburg, and the grand chambrier of France, who held his chamberie as a fief. Similarly in England after the Norman conquest the hordere becomes the chamberlain. This office was of great importance. Before the Conquest he had been, with the marshal, the principal officer of the king’s court; and under the Norman sovereigns his functions were manifold. As he had charge of the administration of the royal household, his office was of financial importance, for a portion of the royal revenue was paid, not into the exchequer, but in camera regis. In course of time the office became hereditary and titular, but the complexities of the duties necessitated a division of the work, and the office was split up into three: the hereditary and sinecure office of magister camerarius or lord great chamberlain (see Lord Great Chamberlain), the more important domestic office of camerarius regis, king’s chamberlain or lord chamberlain (see Lord Chamberlain), and the chamberlains (camerarii) of the exchequer, two in number, who were originally representatives of the chamberlain at the exchequer, and afterwards in conjunction with the treasurer presided over that department. In 1826 the last of these officials died, when by an act passed forty-four years earlier they disappeared.
In France the office of grand chambrier was early overshadowed by the chamberlains (cubicularii, cambellani, but sometimes also camerarii), officials in close personal attendance on the king, men at first of low rank, but of great and ever-increasing influence. As the office of grand chambrier, held by great feudal nobles seldom at court, became more and more honorary, the chamberlains grew in power, in numbers and in rank, until, in the 13th century, one of them emerges as a great officer of state, the chambellan de France or grand chambellan (also magister cambellanorum, mestre chamberlenc), who at times shares with the grand chambrier the revenues derived from certain trades in the city of Paris (see Regestum Memoralium Camerae computorum, quoted in du Cange, s. Camerarius). The honorary office of grand chambrier survived till the time of Henry II., who was himself the last to hold it before his accession; that of grand chambellan, which in its turn soon became purely honorary, survived till the Revolution. Among the prerogatives of the grand chambellan which survived to the last not the least valued was the right to hand the king his shirt at the ceremonial levée. The offices of grand chambellan, premier chambellan, and chambellan were revived by Napoleon, continued under the Restoration, abolished by Louis Philippe, and again restored by Napoleon III.
In the papal Curia the apostolic chamberlain (Lat. camerarius, Ital. camerlingo) occupies a very important position. He is at the head of the treasury (camera thesauraria) and, in the days of the temporal power, not only administered the papal finances but possessed an extensive civil and criminal jurisdiction. During a vacancy of the Holy See he is at the head of the administration of the Roman Church. The office dates from the 11th century, when it superseded that of archdeacon of the Roman Church, and the close personal relations of the camerarius with the pope, together with the fact that he is the official guardian of the ceremonial vestments and treasures, point to the fact that he is also the representative of the former vestararius and vice-dominus, whose functions were merged in the new office, of which the idea and title were probably borrowed from the usage of the secular courts of the West (Hinschius, Kirchenrecht, i. 405, &c.). There are also attached to the papal household (famiglia pontificia) a large number of chamberlains whose functions are more or less ornamental. These are divided into several categories: privy chamberlains (camerieri segreti), chamberlains, assistant and honorary chamberlains. These are gentlemen of rank and belong to the highest class of the household (famiglia nobile).
In England the modern representatives of the cubicularii are the gentlemen and grooms of the bed-chamber, in Germany the Kammerherr (Kämmerer, from camerarius, in Bavaria and Austria) and Kammerjunker. The insignia of their office is a gold key attached to their coats behind.
Many corporations appoint a chamberlain. The most important in England is the chamberlain of the corporation of the city of London, who is treasurer of the corporation, admits persons entitled to the freedom of the city, and, in the chamberlain’s court, of which he and the vice-chamberlain are judges, exercises concurrent jurisdiction with the police court in determining disputes between masters and apprentices. Formerly nominated by the crown, since 1688 he has been elected annually by the liverymen. He has a salary of £2000 a year. Similarly in Germany the administration of the finances of a city is called the Kämmerei and the official in charge of it the Kämmerer.
See also State, Great Officers of; Household, Royal; Du Cange, Glossarium, s. “Camerarius” and “Cambellanus”; Père Anselme (Pierre de Guibours), Hist. généalogique et chronologique de la maison royale de France, &c. (9 vols., 3rd ed., 1726–1733); A. Luchaire, Manuel des institutions françaises (Paris, 1892); W. R. Anson, Law and Custom of the Constitution (Oxford, 1896); Hinschius, Kirchenrecht, i. 405 (Berlin, 1869).