Schout

Schout

In Dutch-speaking areas, a "schout" was a local official appointed to carry out administrative, law enforcement and prosecutorial tasks. The office was abolished with the introduction of administrative reforms during the Napoleonic period.

Functions

The exact nature of the office varied from place to place and changed over the course of time. In general, a "schout" was appointed by the lord ("heer") of a domain ("heerlijkheid") and acted in the lord's name in the local day-to-day administration of the domain, especially the administration of justice. A "schout" had three main functions: administration, law enforcement and criminal prosecution. [As a specific example of how a "schout" functioned in a specific town, see the description of the office of "schout" in Leiden in R.C.J. van Maanen, ed., "Leiden tot 1574", p. 75 (written in Dutch)]

First, the "schout" was responsible for many local administrative matters in the town or heerlijkheid. The "schout" presided in the meetings of the "schepenen". Together, the "schout" and "schepenen" made up what we would call the "town council" today. He ensured decrees were published. He sometimes represented the town or heerlijkheid in business matters or in negotiations with other towns. In these functions, a "schout" was somewhat like a modern-day mayor.

The phrase "schout en schepenen" appears in many legal documents from before the Napoleonic period, including the civil registration of marriages. Depending on the context and in what capacity they were acting, this phrase could mean something like the "mayor and aldermen" (i.e. the town council) or it could mean "the sheriff and magistrates". Second, the "schout" was responsible for public order and policing. He was responsible for investigating a crime, apprehending a criminal and presenting the criminal to the court of magistrates ("schepenen") for judgment. He or his men checked the drinking houses, carried out conscription orders, made sure taxes were paid and enforced the law. After a criminal verdict was given, the "schout" was responsible for carrying out the sentence. In these functions, he was somewhat like a modern-day chief of police.

Third, a "schout" prosecuted suspected criminals and presided over the sessions of the magistrates ("schepenen") when they sat as a court. The "schout" was not the judge, but directed the court proceedings. In this function, he was somewhat like a modern-day prosecutor.

New Amsterdam

The office was brought with the Dutch to the American colony of New Netherland. The first "schout" in New Amsterdam was Cornelis van Tienhoven.

The origins of the American public prosecutor (attorney general) have been traced to the "schout" in New Amsterdam. [cite journal|journal=The Prosecutor|url=http://www.mcaa-mn.org/docs/2005/AmericanProsecutorHistoricalContext52705.pdf|title=The American Prosecutor in Historical Context|author=Joan E. Jacoby|date= May/June 1997|accessdate=2008-02-25 ]

Related titles

"Schout" is the word usually used in Dutch, but there were a number of other terms used for this or similar offices in Dutch-speaking lands. The terms used included"schout", "baljuw", "drost", "drossaard", "amman" and "meier". Perhaps the most common alternative name for this office in Dutch was "baljuw". [I.M. Calisch and N.S. Calisch, "Nieuw Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal", 1864] "Baljuw" is usually translated into English as "bailiff".cite book|author=Van Dale|title=Groot Woordenboek Nederlands-Engels]

The word "schout" does not translate easily into English. The office was not that different from the old office of "shire reeve" in early England. "Schout" is usually translated as "bailiff" or "sheriff". Of these two, "sheriff" seems to be the most accepted translation. [For example, see Simon Schama, "The Embarrassment of Riches".] However, "sheriff" and "bailiff", especially as these words are used today, are not direct equivalents of the office of "schout" and may not necessarily serve as accurate equivalents. As a result, the Dutch word is sometimes used in English (even though "schout" is not actually a word in English). [For example, see Russell Shorto, "The Island at the Centre of the World" and David Nicholas, "Medieval Flanders".] In Dutch, the plural of "schout" is "schouten".

The Dutch word "schout" is indirectly related to the German expression "Schuld heissen". German equivalents are "Schult", "Schulte", "Schultheiss".

The office was occasionally referred to in Latin as "sculetus".

Notes

ee also

*Schout-bij-nacht

Further reading

*cite conference|title=The "Schout" in Rensselaerswijck: A Conflict of Interests|author=Stefan Bielinski|url=http://www.nnp.org/nnp/publications/ABAFB/1.1.pdf|booktitle=A Beautiful and Fruitful Place: Selected Rensselaerwijck Seminar Papers|year=1979|month=April|accessdate=2007-07-11|publisher=New Netherland Project

External links

* [http://jdwhitlock.net/gene/swartout.htm Biography of a New Netherland schout]


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