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.