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A gendarmerie or gendarmery (pronounced /dʒɛnˈdɑrməri/ or /ˌʒɑːndɑrməˈriː/) is a uniformed national police force, part of the military. The members of such a body are called gendarmes. The term maréchaussée (or marshalcy) may also be used (e.g., Royal Marechaussee) but is now uncommon.

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Etymology

French Gendarmerie on parade: French Republican Guard cavalry

The word gendarme comes from Old French gens d'armes, meaning men-at-arms. Historically, during the Late Medieval to the Early Modern period, the term referred to a heavily armoured cavalryman of noble birth, primarily serving in the French army (see Gendarme (historical)). The word gained policing connotations after the French Revolution when the Maréchaussée of the Ancien Régime was renamed the Gendarmerie.

In the United Kingdom, there is a body called Her Majesty's Bodyguard of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms. Gentlemen at Arms is a near etymological equivalent to the term gendarme. This body is, however, purely ceremonial and is not considered a gendarmerie.

Historically the spelling in English is gendarmery, but the French spelling gendarmerie is now more common. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) still uses gendarmery as the principal spelling while Merriam-Webster uses gendarmerie as the principal spelling.

The English word constabulary (also derived from French) has been used in a British colonial context for centralized armed police services, such as the Royal Irish Constabulary, Royal Ulster Constabulary, Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and Jamaica Constabulary Force.

Title and status

Members of Italy's gendarmerie, the Carabinieri, on public order duties in Florence
India's Corps of Military Police personnel patrolling the Wagah border crossing in Punjab.

These forces are normally titled “gendarmerie”, but gendarmeries may bear other titles, for instance the Carabinieri in Italy or Guardia Civil in Spain.

Some forces which are no longer considered military retain the title “gendarmerie” for reasons of tradition. For instance, the French language title of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is Gendarmerie royale du Canada (GRC) (i.e., Royal Gendarmerie of Canada) because it was traditionally a military force (although never part of the army) and because it retained an honorific status of a military unit. The Argentine Gendarmerie is a military force (in terms of training, identity and public perception, and it was involved in combat in the Falklands War), but for legal purposes is a "security force", not an "armed force", because this is necessary under Argentine law in order to allow jurisdiction over the civilian population.

Since every country uses institutional terms such as “gendarmerie” as it wishes, there are cases in which the term may become confusing. For instance, in the French speaking Cantons of Switzerland the “gendarmeries” are the uniformed civil police. In Chile, confusingly, the word “gendarmerie” can for historic reasons be used to refer to the prison service, while as previously mentioned the actual gendarmerie force is called the "carabineros".

As a result of their duties within the civilian population, gendarmeries are sometimes described as "para-military" rather than "military" forces (essentially in the English-speaking world where policing is rarely associated with military forces) although this description rarely corresponds to their official status and capabilities. Gendarmes are often deployed in military situations, sometimes in their own country, and often in humanitarian deployments abroad.

A gendarmerie may come under the authority of a ministry of defence (e.g., Italy) or a ministry of the interior (e.g., Argentina and Romania), or even both at once (e.g., India, Chile, France and Italy). Generally there is some coordination between a ministry of defence and a ministry of the interior over the use of gendarmes.

"Militari" of the "Corpo Militare della Guardia di Finanza"

Gendarmeries are police services, but in many countries (e.g., France) the word "police" normally implies civilian police. Gendarmeries are military police, however the term "military police" can be misleading, since in English it carries strong implications of policing within the military ("provost" policing), which is not the basic purpose of a gendarmerie (although in many countries - e.g., Italy - it is a task which gendarmes carry out). In countries where the gendarmerie and civilian police co-exist there may exist rivalries and tensions between the forces. There may also be different reputations, gendarmeries are often more appreciated by the population than civilian polices.

In some cases, a police service's military links are ambiguous and it can be unclear whether a force should be defined as a gendarmerie or not, (e.g., Mexico's Policia Federal, Brazilian Polícia Militar, or the former South African Police until 1994). Services such as the Italian Guardia di Finanza would not normally be defined as a gendarmerie (but at times might be) since the service is both of ambiguous military status and does not have general policing duties in the civilian population. In Russia, the Interior Troops are military units with quasi-police duties.

A vedette of the French Maritime Gendarmerie in La Rochelle harbour

In comparison to civilian police forces, gendarmeries may provide a more disciplined force whose military capabilities (e.g., armored group in France with armored personnel carriers) make them more capable of dealing with armed groups and with all types of violence (e.g., India's Rapid Action Force specializes in riot control and counter-terrorism). On the other hand, the necessity of a more stringent selection process for military service, especially in terms of physical prowess and health, restricts the pool of potential recruits in comparison to those a civilian police force could select from.

Gendarmeries may also provide various military or police services. For instance in France, the gendarmerie is in charge of crowd and riot control (Gendarmerie Mobile, along with some corresponding units in the civilian police), counter-terrorism and hostage rescue (GIGN, again along with some corresponding units in the civilian police), maritime surveillance, police at sea and coast guard (Gendarmerie maritime), control and security at airports and air traffic police (Gendarmerie des transports aériens), official buildings guard, honorary services and protection of the President (Garde Républicaine), mountain rescue (Peloton de Gendarmerie de Haute Montagne) and security of nuclear weapons sites.

U.S. Coast Guard cutter on a law-enforcement patrol

The use of military organisations to police civilian populations is common to many time periods and cultures. Although it cannot be considered a French concept, the French gendarmerie has been the most influential model of such an organisation.

Many countries that were once under French influence have a gendarmerie. For instance, Belgium, Luxembourg and Austria had gendarmeries through Napoleonic influence, but all these gendarmeries, have merged with the civil police, in 2001, 2002 and 2005 respectively. Many former French colonies, especially in Africa, also have gendarmeries.

A common gendarmerie symbol is a flaming grenade, which was first used as a gendarmerie symbol by the French.

Role in modern conflict

Gendarmes play an important role re-establishing law and order in conflict areas, a task which is suited to their purpose, training and capabilities. Gendarmeries are widely used in peacekeeping operations, for instance in the former Yugoslavia.

See also


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

GENDARMERIE, originally a body of troops in France composed of gendarmes or men-at-arms. In the days of chivalry they were mounted and armed cap-a-pie, exactly as were the lords and knights,with whom they constituted the most important part of an army. They were attended each by five soldiers of inferior rank and more lightly armed. In the later middle ages the men-at-arms were furnished by owners of fiefs. But after the Hundred Years' War this feudal gendarmerie was replaced by the compagnies d'ordonnance which Charles VII. formed when the English were driven out of France, and which were distributed throughout the whole extent of the kingdom for preserving order and maintaining the king's authority. These companies, fifteen in number, were composed of Ioo lances or gendarmes fully equipped, each of whom was attended by at least three archers, one coutillier (soldier armed with a cutlass) and one varlet (soldier's servant). The states-general of Orleans (1439) had voted a yearly subsidy of 1,200,000 livres in perpetuity to keep up this national soldiery, which replaced, and in fact was recruited chiefly amongst, the bands of mercenaries who for about a century had made France their prey. The number and composition of the compagnies d'ordonnance were changed more than once before the reign of Louis XIV. This sovereign on his accession to the throne found only eight companies of gendarmes surviving out of an original total of more than one hundred, but after the victory of Fleurus (1690), which had been decided by their courage, he increased their number to sixteen. The four first companies (which were practically guard troops) were designated by the names of Gendarmes ecossais, Gendarmes anglais, Gendarmes bourguignons and Gendarmes flamands, from the nationality of the soldiers who had originally composed them; but at that time they consisted entirely of French soldiers and officers. These four companies had a captain-general, who was. the king. The fifth company was that of the queen; and the others bore the name of the princes who respectively commanded them. This organization was dissolved in 1788. The Revolution swept away all these institutions of the monarchy, and, with the exception of a short revival of the Gendarmes de la garde at the Restoration, henceforward the word "gendarmerie" possesses an altogether different significance - viz. military police.


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