AskDefine | Define beadle

Dictionary Definition



1 a minor parish official who serves as an usher and preserves order at services
2 United States biologist who discovered how hereditary characteristics are transmitted by genes (1903-1989) [syn: George Beadle, George Wells Beadle]

User Contributed Dictionary

see Beadle



From bidellus generalis



  1. a parish constable
  2. In the context of "Scottish English|ecclesiastic": an attendant to the minister
  3. a warrant officer


Twas on a holy Thursday, their innocent faces clean,
The children walking two and two in red and blue and green:
Grey-headed beadles walked before, with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Paul's they like Thames waters flow. - William Blake, "Holy Thursday" (1789)
  • 1929, Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own, Penguin Books, paperback edition, page 8
    His face expressed horror and indignation. Instinct rather than reason came to my help; he was a Beadle; I was a woman.


a parish constable
an attendant to the minister
a warrant officer

Extensive Definition

Beadle, sometimes spelled "bedel" is derived from the Latin "bidellus" or "bedellus," rooted in words for "herald."
The term moved into Old English as a title given to a Saxon officer who summoned householders to council.

Religious beadles

In England, the word came to refer to a parish constable of the Anglican Church, one often charged with duties of charity. A famous fictional constabulary beadle is Mr Bumble from Charles Dickens' classic Oliver Twist, who oversees the parish workhouse and orphanage.
In the Church of Scotland, the title is used for one who attends the minister during divine service as an assistant.
In Judaism, the term "beadle" (in Hebrew: shammash or "sexton") is sometimes used for the gabbai, the caretaker or "man of all work," in a synagogue. Moshe the Beadle, the caretaker of a synagogue in Sighet in the 1940s, is an important character in Night by Elie Wiesel.

Beadles in education

In the medieval universities beadles were students chosen by instructors to act as assistants, carrying books, taking attendance, and assisting in classroom management.
In the collegiate universities in the United Kingdom (for example Cambridge, Oxford, Durham, and the University of London), the post of beadle still exists. The beadle has varying duties, always relating to management or security (never instruction), and often represents the college to outsiders through wearing a uniform and providing information.
The ancient universities in Scotland have a ceremonial Bedellus, who is also sometimes given the designation of head janitor. Officially, they are responsible for administration of the buildings of the university. They are most notable for being responsible for carrying the University mace in academic processions.
Jesuit secondary schools maintained the post of beadle - some still do. In each classroom, a student designated as beadle reports attendance to the teacher, acts as messenger should one be necessary, assists in distributing materials, etc.

Popular references

John McLaughlin, the host of The McLaughlin Group, used to call former panelist Fred Barnes "The Beadle". McLaughlin's use of the term may well derive from his experiences when he was a Jesuit student or priest (see above).
In Stephen Sondheim's musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, later adapted into a film by Tim Burton, the cruel and corrupt Judge Turpin is served by an unctuous deputy known as Beadle Bamford. "Beadle" also makes an appearance in the list of professions running through one of the show's songs, "A Little Priest."
Charles Dickens' character from Oliver Twist, Mr Bumble is the parish Beadle and leader of the orphanage. He's officious, corrupt, a chronic mangler of the King's English, and a great source of comic relief.
Ellie Wiesel's character from Night, Moshe the Beadle is an escaptived captive from one of the camps who returns to warn the Jews.


beadle in Dutch: Kerkbaljuw
beadle in Simple English: Beadle

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Bible clerk, Bible reader, G-man, MP, acolyte, almoner, anagnost, bailiff, beagle, bedral, bound bailiff, capitular, capitulary, captain, catchpole, chief of police, choir chaplain, churchwarden, clerk, commissioner, constable, deacon, deaconess, deputy, deputy sheriff, detective, elder, elderman, fed, federal, flic, gendarme, government man, inspector, lay elder, lay reader, lector, lecturer, lictor, lieutenant, mace-bearer, marshal, mounted policeman, narc, officer, parish clerk, patrolman, peace officer, police captain, police commissioner, police constable, police inspector, police matron, police officer, police sergeant, policeman, policewoman, portreeve, precentor, reader, reeve, roundsman, ruling elder, sacrist, sacristan, sergeant, sergeant at arms, sexton, shames, sheriff, sidesman, succentor, suisse, superintendent, teaching elder, thurifer, tipstaff, tipstaves, trooper, verger, vergeress
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