Chamberlain (Fr. chambellan; Lat. camera-rius), an officer attached to royal courts, and to establishments of the great. The word means simply a person having care of apartments, and in its early acceptation was so employed. At present the duties of the office are nominal, or limited to such easy service as attending on the person of princes. Formerly the office had so many perquisites that it was sought by individuals of noble families, and finally became one of the grand offices of the crown. The title of grand or great was added to distinguish the chamberlains of sovereigns from those of lesser dignitaries. The earliest officer of this rank in France was appointed by Louis VII.; 39 chamberlains followed in succession till the time of Louis XIV., when the dignity was suffered to lapse. Napoleon I. revived the office. In Anglo-Saxon times the chamberlain was called the camerarius, and had charge of the king's treasure. Under the Norman kings the office of lord great chamberlain was hereditary, and by the statute of precedency, 31 Henry VIII., his place was next that of the lord privy seal, where it also is under the most recent statute on that subject.
The duties which devolve upon the office now are the dressing and attending on the sovereign at coronation; the care of the ancient palace at Westminster; the furnishing of the houses of parliament and Westminster hall for great occasions; and during the sitting of parliament he has charge of the house of lords. In consequence of descent to females, the office is now held jointly by the families of Cholinondeley and Willoughby d'Eresby, whose representatives discharge the duties alternately in each succeeding reign. - The office of lord chamberlain in Great Britain is distinct from this, is filled by appointment, and changes with the administration. He is the head of the royal household, and has control over all the officers and servants except those of the bedchamber, and the royal chaplains, physicians, surgeons, etc.; the royal tradesmen are also appointed by him. Theatres in towns in which a royal palace is situated are licensed by him, and he is also the licenser of plays, and has the regulation of the companies of actors at the royal theatres. He also issues the royal invitations to balls, parties, etc.; and applications for presentations at court must be made to him. A vice chamberlain perforins his duties in his absence.
There was also a chamberlain and vice chamberlain in the exchequer court of the county palatine of Chester; and many of the municipal corporations of England have an officer by this title, whose duties in general are to take charge of the property and finances of the corporation. The chamberlain of the city of New York is charged with similar functions. The chamberlain of London has also duties of a judicial nature, pertaining to masters and apprentices.