Chancellor, a law officer known to the polity of several countries. The derivation of the title is uncertain. It has been derived by Coke from the right of cancellation of patents and other royal grants, inherent in this officer, for misrepresentation of facts or on other grounds. But the word chancel would point to a more ancient derivation. The cancellarius of the Roman courts was simply a doorkeeper, or usher, to keep back the people who pressed rudely forward to the cancelli, or railings. The doorkeeper afterward became chief scribe, an official which the Roman church borrowed from the Roman empire, and still retains in the bishop's chancellor. The function of the chancellor of Great Britain is thus described by Blackstone: "When the modern kingdoms of Europe were established upon the ruins of the empire, almost every state preserved its chancellor, with different jurisdictions and dignities, according to the different constitutions.
But in nil of them he seems to have had the supervision of all charters, letters, and such other public instruments of the crown as were authenticated in the most solemn manner, and therefore, when seals came into use, he had always the custody of the king's great seal; so that the office of chancellor, or lord keeper, whose authority by the statute of Elizabeth is declared to be exactly the same, is with us created by the mere delivery of the king's great seal into his custody, whereby he becomes, without writ or patent, an officer of the greatest weight and power of any now subsisting in the kingdom, and superior in point of precedency to every temporal lord. He is a privy councillor by his office, and prolocutor of the house of lords by prescription. To him belongs the appointment of all justices of the peace throughout the kingdom. Being formerly an ecclesiastic, for none else were then ca-pable of an office so conversant in writing, and presiding over the king's chapel, he became keeper of the king's conscience, visitor in right of the king of all royal hospitals and colleges, and patron of all the king's livings under the value of 20 marks (or £20) per annum.
He is the general guardian of all infants, idiots, and lunatics, and has the general superintendence of all charitable uses in the kingdom, and all this jover and above the vast and extensive jurisdiction which he exercises in his judicial capacity in the court of chancery." The chancellor of England is a member of the cabinet, and as such retires on a change of ministry. This union of judicial and political functions was always an impediment to justice, and, as the public business takes precedence, gave rise to great inconvenience in the business of the court. By act of parliament passed in 1851, the chancellor was relieved of a considerable part of his judicial duties by the appointment of two lords justices, who together with the chancellor constituted a court of appeals for the review of cases brought from the vice chancellors and master of the rolls, all causes being heard in the first instance by the officers last named, or any two of them. The iurisdiction of the several courts of chancery is now transferred to and merged in that of the supreme court of England, created by act of Aug. 5, 1873. (See Chancery.) The chancellors of England have usually been distinguished for great legal attainments as well as political weight.
Lords Eldon, Brougham, Cottenham, and St. Leonards have been the most distinguished of the present century. The last named chancellor (formerly known as Sir Edward Sugden) had an important part in the measures for the reform and improvement of the court of chancery. During a temporary vacancy in the office of chancellor, or when the chancellor is incapacitated from the performance of his duties, the great seal is put in commission; that is, intrusted to commissioners, who perform the duties of the office. The legal style of the chancellor is lord high chancellor of Great Britain, and he takes precedence next to the archbishop of Canterbury, and above all dukes not of the blood royal, He has a salary of £10,000, with a retiring pension of £5,000. The office of chancellor of Scotland was abolished on the union of the two kingdoms. The lord high chancellor of Ireland has an authority within that kingdom corresponding in most respects to that of the lord high chancellor of Great Britain. His salary is £8,000, with a retiring pension of £3,692. The chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster has local equity jurisdiction. - The chancellor of the exchequer in Great Britain is under treasurer and the principal minister of finance. As such he is a member of the cabinet.
Formerly he had judicial duties in connection with the court of exchequer, but these are now nominal. The chancellor of Oxford or Cambridge is the chief officer of those collegiate bodies. He is elected, and his office is honorary, the duties being discharged by the vice chancellor. The chancellor of a bishop sits in the consistorial court, and is theoretically the bishop's assessor and legal adviser. Various orders of knighthood have an officer called chancellor, and there is also the chancellor of a cathedral, who superintends the regularity of religious services. - In continental Europe there are various political as well as ecclesiastical officials styled chancellors. The chancellor of France was one of the highest officials of the old monarchy. The office was closely analogous to that of England. The chancellor was president of the great council and of the parliaments, drew up ordinances and letters patent, and held the royal seals. It is connected with the illustrious names of Duprat, Del'Hopital, Birague, Maupeou, Males-herbes, and other distinguished jurists.
Louis XV. held the seals himself for a time; and in 1757, the censorship having been associated with the other duties of the office, the virtuous Malesherbes, deeming executive and police duties incompatible with the purity of the judicial office, resigned. It was abolished in 1790, and revived for a short time by Napoleon, merely that his court might be graced with the title, for the functions were not restored. Revived under the restoration, it was finally abolished in 1838. - Only a few of the United States ever established the office of chancellor. In New York it existed until 1848, and was filled by able jurists, of whom James Kent is most celebrated. In some of the other states the office was also filled with marked ability, but it is retained now only in New Jersey and Delaware, though in Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee there are district chancellors, chosen by popular vote. The duties of the office where it exists in the United States are purely judicial.