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An earl or jarl is a member of the nobility among some of the early Norsemen, though they were properly pronounced as jarl. The earl/jarl is usually seen as a chieftain of a particular territory.


In Scandinavia, a jarl was set to rule a territory in a king's stead. The word became obsolete in the Middle Ages and was replaced by duke. After the Norman Conquest, it became the equivalent of the continental count, and in England in the earlier period it was more akin to a duke. Before this time, a jarl in Scandinavia could also mean a sovereign prince. For example, the rulers of several of the petty kingdoms of Norway had the title of jarl and in many cases they had no less power than their neighbors who had the title of king.

The rank of earl is equivalent with the Anglo-Saxon term ealdorman. It was originally applied to a man of high status, including some of royal birth, whose authority was independent of the king. It evolved in meaning, and in the eighth century was sometimes applied to the former kings of territories which had submitted to great powers such as Mercia. In Wessex in the second half of the ninth century it meant the leaders of individual shires appointed by the king. Ealdormen would lead in battle, preside over courts, and levy taxation.

Known Earls