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MMD > Archives > December 1997 > 1997.12.11 > 02Prev  Next

"Garde champetre" - The Village Constable
By Jan Kijlstra

Robbie suggested that "Rustic constable" could be a good translation
for "Garde champetre", and he wondered why a "parish constable" would
beat the drum.

So do I.  My French dictionary gives as a translation for "Garde
champetre" into the Dutch "veldwachter".  My English dictionary
translates this into "village constable".

 [ I like that!  Taken word-by-word it's "rustic/rural constable",
 [ but, as a phrase, "village constable" seems much better in English!
 [ -- Robbie

Since police forces originate from the same source as the army, I was
wondering if there might be a connection.

Amongst other things military music also has my interest.  Reading the
message, I checked my bookshelf.

In the past, musical instruments were used for musical purposes as well
as for giving signals or orders.  In fact, all musical instruments,
including our voice, are meant for communication purposes in the very
first place.

Amongst these instruments the drum is very important.  Both in the
cities as in the army the instrument was used for signaling.  In a book
on military music, that starts in the middle ages, it is said that in
those days two instruments were by far the most important ones in
military music: the trumpet and the drum.

I do know of city-guards, like gate-keepers, who also used drums and/or
the trumpet to warn the citizens in case of danger, or at the closing
time.  Another, very often instrument, is the church-bell.

But I do not know of, nor can I find any information on, village
constables using a drum.

What purpose could it have?  Warning is good, but one must be able to
find shelter.  A city (and a castle) can close its gates, but in a
village, out there in the country, there was no way to hide behind
defensible walls.  Maybe, however, the French constables did?

(Philippe: any additional information at hand?  What was the size of
the drum?  Can it be used to attract the attention of people in market
places or fairs?  Or was it just a toy?)

A possible solution might be: night watchman in cities often used a
rattle.  They even sang a song, indicating the hour-time.  This can be
explained: as long as the sound of the night watchman is heard, nothing
is supposedly wrong.  However, if the sound is no longer heard, a
problem may be waiting just around the corner.

Compare it to living next to a railroad: you do not hear the trains
anymore, but if the trains do not pass by regularly, you will notice it
for sure!

So maybe this mechanized drum was used instead of a rattle, maybe
because the city grew so big that more sound had to be produced in
order to cover a bigger area without employing more night watchmen?  The
link between a night watchman and a constable is at hand: both were
policemen.  So it could be understood that the auctioneers spoke
about "garde champetre", meaning "garde de nuit" or night watchman,
instead of "village constable".

By the way: I visited Chartres twice.  I do admit: the cathedral is
outstanding!  And the stained-glass windows are a miracle.

But I never was able to find, together with these windows, any good
French cooking in this cathedral <grin!>.

Bye, Jan

 [ Ah, Jan, you should ask the parish priest.  _He_ knows the
 [ fine cooks of the neighborhood !  -- Robbie

(Message sent Thu 11 Dec 1997, 13:39:11 GMT, from time zone GMT.)

Key Words in Subject:  champetre, Constable, Garde, Village

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