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EARL, Eng. law. A title of nobility next below a marquis and above a viscount.
     2. Earls were anciently called comites, because they were wont comitari regem, to wait upon the king for counsel and advice. He was also called shireman, because each earl had the civil government of a shire.
     3. After the Norman conquest they were called counts, whence the shires obtained the names of counties. They have now nothing to do with the government of counties, which has entirely devolved on the sheriff, the earl's deputy, or vice comes.

References in classic literature ?
he received him,'' answered the Earl, ``as if they had met after a hunting party; and, pointing to me and our men-at-arms, said, `Thou seest, brother, I have some angry men with me thou wert best go to our mother, carry her my duteous affection, and abide with her until men's minds are pacified.
Just,'' replied the Earl, ``as the man may be said to invite death, who undertakes to fight a combat, having a dangerous wound unhealed.
I forgive thee the jest, Lord Earl,'' said Ivanhoe;
And thus, amid feasting and rejoicing and kingly favor, Robin Hood, the new Earl of Huntingdon, and his bride began their wedded life.
Practically, we should rise to the ceiling," said the Earl.
Thou art my friend, Baldazzar, And I have not forgotten it- thou'lt do me A piece of service; wilt thou go back and say Unto this man, that I, the Earl of Leicester, Hold him a villain?
I am the Earl of Leicester, and thou seest, Dost thou not?
For in the fight I will not raise a hand Against thee, Earl of Leicester.
Ah, yes, the dragon,' said Earl Dorm, 'I was forgetting the dragon.
Dinner at Earl Dorm's was no lunch-counter scuffle.
But the people remained at peace, for the Earl ruled well and wisely.
And when Earl Godrich saw how fair and noble she became, he sighed and asked himself:--