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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.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
References in classic literature ?
The Council declined interference with the course of the ordinary justice of the county, (which was completely under the said Earl of Cassilis' control,) and only enacted, that he should forbear molestation of the unfortunate Comendator, under the surety of two thousand pounds Scots.
I am the Earl of Leicester, and thou seest, Dost thou not?
-- this may not be!(clutches his sword and staggers towards POLITIAN, but his purpose is changed before reaching him, and he falls upon his knee at the feet of the Earl)
For in the fight I will not raise a hand Against thee, Earl of Leicester.
"Practically, we should rise to the ceiling," said the Earl. "The inevitable result of which would be concussion of brain."
"Which, I think, is quite nonsense enough for one while!" said the Earl. "What news does this gentleman bring us from the great world of London?"
"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.
And thus, amid feasting and rejoicing and kingly favor, Robin Hood, the new Earl of Huntingdon, and his bride began their wedded life.
'Ah, yes, the dragon,' said Earl Dorm, 'I was forgetting the dragon.
No, probably it was only the Earl's unfortunate manner.
But they resolved also to hide the truth from the Earl.