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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 ?
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.
this is the Earl Politian, Earl Of Leicester in Great Britain.
Most welcome To Rome and to our palace, Earl Politian
If you would speak to the Earl on such a subject, you insolent young puppy, you may save your breath," thundered an angry voice, and Simon de Montfort strode, scowling, into the room.
I do not forget," replied the Earl, "and it is because I remember, that my sword remains in its scabbard.
We may never meet again, for the Earl my father, is a mighty man, not easily turned from his decisions; therefore I shall say to you, Roger de Conde, what you forbid my saying, I love you, and be ye prince or scullion you may have me, if you can find the means to take me.
Dinner at Earl Dorm's was no lunch-counter scuffle.
Outside, the earl had seized his daughter by the wrist and was administering a paternal cross-examination.
If he wants to leave this castle,' said the earl, grimly, 'he'll have to.
Small-talk, it seemed, was not an art cultivated in any great measure by the lower orders in the employment of Earl Dorm.
But they resolved also to hide the truth from the Earl.