AskDefine | Define governorship

Dictionary Definition

governorship n : the office of governor

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  1. The office, or the term of a governor.

Extensive Definition

A governor or governour (archaic) is a governing official that is in the leglislative branch usually the executive (at least nominally, to different degrees also politically and administratively) of a non-sovereign level of government, ranking under the Head of state. The title also applies to officials with a similar mandate as representatives of a chartered company which has been granted exercise of sovereignty in a colonial area, such as the British HEIC or the Dutch VOC. These companies operate as a major state within a state with its own armed forces. In assotiations, a governor can be the title of each appointed or (as in the US) elected politician who governs a constitutive state. Most countries in the world have some sort of official known or rendered as "governor," though in some countries the heads of the constitutive states, provinces, communities and regions may have a different title. This is particularly common in European nations and many of their former colonies, with titles such as President of the Regional Council in France and minister-president in Germany. Other countries using different titles for sub-national units include Spain, Italy and Switzerland.
There can also be non-political governors: high ranking officials in private or similar governance such as commercial and non-profit management, styled governor(s), who simply govern an institution, such as a corporation or a bank. For example, in the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries there are prison governors ("warden" in the United States), school governors and bank governors.

Pre-Roman empires

Although the legal and administrative framework of provinces, each administrated by a governor, was created by the Romans, the term governor has been a convenient term for historians to use in describing similar systems in antiquity. Indeed, many regions of the pre-Roman antiquity were ultimately replaced by Roman 'standardized' provincial governments after their conquest by Rome.


  • In Pharaonic times, the governors of each of dozens of provinces in the kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt (called "nomes" by the Greeks, and whose names often alluded to local patterns of religious worship) are usually known by the Greek word Nomarch.
  • The whole (or most) of Egypt was repeatedly reduced to the status of province of a larger empire under foreign conquerors, notably under an Achaemenid satrap (see below).This info is not 100% corrcet

Mesopotamia and beyond

Assyria, a ruthless conqueror of a large empire, ...
  • shaknu
  • bel pihati

Pre- & Hellenistic satraps

  • Media and Achaemenid Persia introduced the satrapy, probably inspired by the Assyrian / Babylonian examples
  • Alexander the Great and equally Hellenistic diadoch kingdoms, mainly Seleucids (greater Syria) and Lagids ('Ptolemies' in Hellenistic Egypt)
  • in later Persia, again under Iranian dynasties:
    • Parthia
    • the Sassanid dynasty dispensed with the office after Shapur I (who had still 7 of them), replacing them with petty vassal rulers, known as shahdars

Roman empires and legacy

In ancient Rome

From the creation of the earliest Roman subject provinces a governor was appointed each year to administer each of them. The core function of a Roman governor was as a magistrate or judge, and the management of taxation and public spending in their area.
Under the Republic and the early Empire, however, a governor also commanded military forces in his province. Republican governors were all men who had served in senior magistracies (the consulate or praetorship) in Rome in the previous year, and carried related titles as governor (proconsul or propraetor). The first Emperor, Octavianus Augustus (who acquired or settled a number of new territories; officially his style was republican: Princeps civitatis), divided the provinces into two categories; the traditionally prestigious governorships remained as before (in what have become known as "senatorial" provinces), while in a range of others he retained the formal governorships himself, delegating the actual task of administration to appointees (usually with the title legatus Augusti, although some small provinces received governors with other titles such as procurator). The infamous character of Pontius Pilate in the Christian Gospels is a governor of this sort.
A special case was Egypt, a rich 'private' domain and vital granary, where the Emperor almost inherited the theocratic status of a Pharaoh. The Emperor was represented there by a governor sui generis styled Praefectus Augustalis (the very title evokes the religious cult of the Emperor).
Emperors Diocletian (see Tetrarchy) and Constantine in the third and fourth centuries AD carried out a root and branch reorganisation of the administration with two main features:
  • Provinces were divided up and became much more numerous (Italy itself, before the 'colonizing homeland', was brought into the system for the first time); they were then grouped into dioceses, and the dioceses in turn into four praetorian prefectures (originally each under a residing co-emperor);
  • Military responsibilities were removed from governors and given to new officials called comes rei militaris (the committal title was also granted to many court and civilian administrative positions) or dux, later also Magister militum.
The prestige governorships of Africa and Asia remained with the title proconsul, and the special right to refer matters directly to the Emperor; the Praefectus Augustalis in Alexandria and the Comes Orientis in Antioch also retained special titles. Otherwise the governors of provinces had various titles without obvious logic, some known as consularis, some as corrector, some as praeses. Apart from Egypt and the East (Oriens - viz greater Syria), each diocese was directed by a governor known as a vicarius. The prefectures were directed by praefecti praetorio (a role transformed from a very different one in the early Empire).


This system survived with few significant changes until the collapse of the empire in the West, and in the East the breakdown of order with the Persian and Arab invasions of the seventh century. At that stage a new kind of governor emerged, the Strategos a role leading the themes which replaced provinces at this point, and involving a return to the amalgamation of civil and military office which had been the practice under the Republic and the early Empire.


While the Roman administration in the West was largely destroyed in the barbarian invasions, its model was remembered, and would again be very influential through two particular vehicles: Roman law and the Christian Church.

Holy Roman/ Habsburg Empires and successor states

Turkish rule

In the Ottoman empire, all Pashas (generals) administered a province of the Great Sultan's vast empire, with specific titles (such as Mutessaryf; Vali = Wali was often maintained or even revived in oriental successor states; cfr. Beilerbei (rendered as Governor-general, as he is appointed above several provinces under individual governors) and Dey)

British Empire and Commonwealth of Nations

In the British Empire a governor was originally an official appointed by the British monarch (or in fact the cabinet) to oversee one of his colonies and was the (sometimes notional) head of the colonial administration. A governor's power could diminish as the colony gained more responsible government vested in such institutions as an Executive Council to help with the colony's administration, and in a further stage of self-government, a Legislative Councils and/or Assemblies, in which the Governor often had a role. Today crown colonies of the United Kingdom continue to be administered by a governor, who holds varying degrees of power. Because of the different constitutional histories of the former colonies of the United Kingdom, the term "Governor" now refers to officials with differing amounts of power.
Administrators, Commissioners and High Commissioners exercise similar powers to Governors. (Note: such High Commissioners are not to be confused with the High Commissioners who are the equivalent of Ambassadors between Commonwealth states).
Frequently the name 'Government House' is given to Governors' residences.
The term can also be used in a more generic sense, especially for compound titles which include it: Governor-General and Lieutenant-Governor.

Vice-Regal Governors

United Kingdom overseas territories

In the United Kingdom's remaining overseas territories the governor is normally a direct appointee of the British Government and plays an active role in governing and lawmaking (though usually with the advice of elected local representatives). The Governor's chief responsibility is for the Defence and External Affairs of the colony.
In some minor overseas territories, instead of a Governor, there is an Administrator or Commissioner, or the job is ex officio done by a High Commissioner.


In Australia, each state has the governor as its formal representative of the Queen as head of the state government. It is not a political office but a ceremonial office. Each state governor is appointed by the Queen of Australia on the advice of the Premier who is the political chief executive of the state government (until 1986, they were appointed by the Queen of the United Kingdom on the advice of the British Government). State Governors have emergency reserve powers but these are rarely used. The Territories of Australia other than the ACT have Administrators instead of governors, who are appointed formally by the Governor-General. The Governor-General is the representative of and appointed by the Queen of Australia at a federal level on the advice of the Prime Minister of Australia.
As with the Governors-General of Australia and other Commonwealth Realms, State Governors usually exercise their power only on the advice of a government minister.

New Zealand

The Governor-General of New Zealand is always Governor of the Ross Dependency, an Antarctic sector which is claimed by the Realm of New Zealand.

Northern Ireland

There was a position of Governor of Northern Ireland from 1922 until the suspension of Stormont in 1973.

Elsewhere in the Commonwealth


In India each state has a ceremonial Governor appointed by the President of India. These Governors are different from the Governors who controlled the British-controlled portions of the Indian Empire (as opposed to the princely states) prior to 1949. See Governors of India for more information.


In Malaysia the four non-monarchical states -Penang, Malacca, and the two on Borneo: Sabah and Sarawak- each have a ceremonial Governor styled Yang di-Pertua Negeri, appointed by the federal King Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia, with a seat but no vote in the federal majlis Raja-raja (council of rulers). These states have a separate head of government who is the Chief Minister or Ketua Menteri.
All other states have royalty as head of state, no governor: a raja in Perlis, a Yang di-pertuan besar (elected from local rulers) in Negeri Sembilan, or a Sultan in the states of Selangor, Pahang, Johore, Perak, Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah.


In Nigeria (once a colony governed by a single British Governor before independence), the leaders of the regions, which in 1967 were divided into states, have been known as governors since 1954. Following a military coup in November 1993, President Sani Abacha suspended all the governors, and appointed administrators. When democracy was restored in 1999, the office of governor was revived and new governors were elected. The president of Nigeria can suspend state governors in a state of emergency and replace them with administrators. They are elected by popular vote.


In Pakistan, each of the four provinces has a Governor who is appointed by the Prime Minister

Papua New Guinea

In Papua New Guinea, the leaders of the provinces have been known as governors since August 1995. Previously they had been known as premiers.

Sri Lanka

The provinces of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon, a colony governed by a single British Governor before independence) are led by governors, as representatives of the President. These Governors are different from the Governor of Ceylon who controlled the British Ceylon prior to 1948.

Russia and former Soviet Union

A special case was the Chinese Eastern Railroad Zone, which was governed as a concession granted by Imperial China to the Russian 'Chinese Eastern Railroad Society' (in Russian Obshchestvo Kitayskoy Vostochnoy Zheleznoy Dorogi; established in 17 December 1896 in St. Petersburg, later moved to Vladivostok), which built 1,481 km of tracks (Tarskaya - Hilar - Harbin - Nikolsk-Ussuriski; 3 November 1901 traffic opened) and established on 16 May 1898 the new capital city, Harbin; in August 1898, the defense for Chinese Eastern Railroad (CER) across Manchuria was assumed by Russia (first under Priamur governor).
On 1 July 1903, the Chinese Eastern Railroad was opened and given authority of its own CER Administration (Russian: Upravleniye KVZhD), vested in the Directors of the Chinese Eastern Railroad, with the additional quality of Governors of the Chinese Eastern Railroad Zone (in Harbin; as such being 12 August 1903 - 1 July 1905 subordinated to the imperial Viceroyalty of the Far East, see Lüshunkou). The post continued to function despite various political changes until after World War II.
Currently, some of the administrative divisions of Russia are headed by governors, while others are headed by Presidents or heads of administration. From 1991 to 2005 they were elected by popular vote, but since 2005 they have been appointed by the federal president and confirmed by the province's legislature.

Other Colonial empires

  • Other European naval powers than the UK with colonies in Asia, Africa and other areas, which sometimes chartered companies to rule the colonies instead, gave or still give some, but not always all, of the top representatives of (or rather in) their colonies the title of governor.
The same goes for the Empire of Japan and the USA.

Other modern Asian countries


In Japan, the title refers to the highest ranking executive of a Prefectural Government. The Governor is elected by a direct vote from the people and had a fixed term of four years. He / she can be subjected to a recall referendum. In case of death, disability, or resignation, a government official known as Vice Governor would stand in as Governor or acting Governor.
See List of governors of Japan for a list of the current governors.

People's Republic of China

In the People's Republic of China, the title "Governor" (省长) refers to the highest ranking executive of a Provincial Government. The Governor is usually placed second in the provincial power hierarchy, below the Secretary of the provincial Communist Party of China (CPC) committee (省委书记), who serves as the highest ranking Party official in the Province. A Governor can be also used when referring to a County Governor (县长).


In the Republic of the Philippines, the title "Governor" refers to the highest ranking executive of a Provincial Government. The Governor is elected by a direct vote from the people and had a fixed term of three years. An incumbent Governor can only serve only up to three consecutive terms. He may however be suspended by either the Ombudsman or President (through the Secretary of Interior and Local Government). He may be removed by the President if he was found guilty of an administrative case or a criminal act during his incumbency. He can be subjected by a recall vote, but unlike a referendum, people would elect the governor of their choice. If in case of death, disability, resignation, forced removal or suspension, a government official known as Vice Governor would replace as Governor or acting Governor.
In the Autonomous Region on Muslim Mindanao, a Regional Governor and Regional Vice Governor is elected by a block vote similar to the United States President.

Other modern countries in North America

United States

seealso United States Governors
In the United States, the title governor refers to the chief executive of each state, not directly subordinate to the federal authorities, but the political and ceremonial head of the state.
The United States Constitution preserves the notion that the country is a federation of sovereign states, and that powers not specifically granted to the federal government are retained by the states - states are therefore not merely provinces or subdivisions of federal administration. State governments in the U.S. are therefore relatively powerful; each state has its own independent criminal and civil law codes, and each state manages its internal government.
The governor thus heads a powerful executive branch in each state and, depending on the state, may have considerable control over government budgeting, the power of appointment of many officials (including many judges) and a considerable role in legislation. The governor may also have additional roles, such as that of Commander-in-Chief of the state's National Guard (when not federalized), and in many states the governor has partial or absolute power to commute or pardon a criminal sentence. U.S. Governors serve four-year terms except those in New Hampshire and Vermont, who serve two-year terms.
In all states, the governor is directly elected, and in most cases has considerable practical powers, though this may be moderated by the state legislature and in some cases by other elected executive officials. They can veto state bills. In some cases legislatures can override a gubernatorial veto by a two-thirds vote, in others by three-fifths. In Tennessee and Kentucky, the governor's veto can be overridden by a simple majority vote, making it virtually useless, though they both have a line-item veto. The Governor of North Carolina had no veto power until a 1996 referendum. In most states, whenever there is a sudden vacancy of one of the state's U.S. Senate seats, that state's governor appoints someone to fill the vacancy until a special election is held, although the governors of Oregon, Massachusetts and Alaska no longer have this power.
A state governor may give an annual State of the State Address in order to satisfy a constitutional stipulation that a governor must report annually, or in older constitutions described as being "from time to time," on the state or condition of a U.S. state. Governors of states may also perform ceremonial roles, such as greeting dignitaries, conferring state decorations, issuing symbolic proclamations or attending the state fair. The governor may also have an official residence.
In colonial America, when the governor was the representative of the monarch who exercised executive power, many colonies originally indirectly elected their governors (that is, through assemblies and legislatures), but in the years leading up to the American Revolutionary War, the king began to appoint them directly. During the American Revolution, all royal governors were expelled (except one, see Jonathan Trumbull), but the name was retained to denote the new elected official.
Many of the fifty states were, before achieving statehood, territories. Administrated by the federal government, they had governors who were appointed by Washington, D.C., rather than elected by the resident population.


In the United Mexican States, governor refers to the elected chief and head of each of the the nation's thirty one Free and Sovereign States, and their official title in Spanish is Gobernador. Mexican governors are directly elected by the citizens of each state for six-year terms.

Other modern countries in South America

Many of the South American republics (such as Chile and Argentina) have provinces or states run by elected governors, with offices similar in nature to U.S. state governors.


Until the 1930 Revolution, the heads of the Brazilian Provinces then States were styled Presidents (presidentes), later governors (governadores) and intervators (interventores, appointed by the federal government) and finally in 1945 only governors.

Other European countries and empires

Benelux monarchies

  • In the Netherlands, the government-appointed heads of the provinces were known as Gouverneur from 1814 until 1850, when their title was changed to King's (or Queen's) Commissioner. In the southern province of Limburg, however, the commissioner is still informally called Governor.
  • In the Dutch crown's Caribbean Overseas territories, the style Governor is still used (alongside the political head of government) in the Netherlands Antilles as well as since 1986 on the neighbouring island of Aruba (separated from the former)
  • In Belgium, each of the ten provinces has a Governor, appointed by the regional government. He represents the central and regional governments in the province. He controls the local governments and is responsible for law and order, security and emergency action. The national capital of Brussels, who is not part of a province, also has a governor with nearly the same competences.


During the Ancien Régime in France, the representative of the king in his provinces and cities was the "gouverneur". Royal officers chosen from the highest nobility, provincial and city governors (oversight of provinces and cities was frequently combined) were predominantly military positions in charge of defense and policing. Provincial governors — also called "lieutenants généraux" — also had the ability of convoking provincial parlements, provincial estates and municipal bodies. The title "gouverneur" first appeared under Charles VI. The ordinance of Blois of 1579 reduced their number to 12, but an ordinance of 1779 increased their number to 39 (18 first-class governors, 21 second-class governors). Although in principle they were the king's representatives and their charges could be revoked at the king's will, some governors had installed themselves and their heirs as a provincial dynasty. The governors were at the height of their power from the middle of the 16th to the middle of the 17th century, but their role in provincial unrest during the civil wars led Cardinal Richelieu to create the more tractable positions of intendants of finance, policing and justice, and in the 18th century the role of provincial governors was greatly curtailed.


  • The essentially maritime empire of the Venetian republic, comprising Terra Ferma, other Adriatic (mainly Istria and Dalmatia) and further Mediterranean (mainly Greek) possessions, used different styles, such as (castelleno e) provveditore (generale), baile
  • In today's Italy, the official name of a head of a Regione (the Italian subnational entity) is Presidente della Giunta regionale (President of the regional executive council), but from 2000, when a constitutional reform decided the direct election of the president by the people, it's usual to call him governatore (governor).

Papal and Vatican particularity

  • In the various Italian provinces (former principalities and city-states) that became amalgamated as the Papal States, the Holy See exerted temporal power via its Legates and Delegates, including some Cardinals
  • Also in Avignon and the surrounding southern French Comté Venaissin, the home of the Popes during their 'Babylonian exile', and retained centuries after, but never incorporated into the Papal States, Legates and Vice-legates were appointed
  • The sovereign modern remnant of the formerly large Papal States, the tiny Vatican City State, is now a mere enclave in Rome, the capital of Italian Republic. As it is too small to have further administrative territorial divisions, it is the equivalent of a Prime Minister, Governor and Mayor all roled in to one post, styled the Governor of Vatican City.

Other modern African countries

Modern equivalents

As a GENERIC term, Governor is used for various 'equivalent' officers governing part of a state or empire, rendering other official titles such as:
And this also applies to non-western and/or antique cultures

Other meanings of the word

The word governor can also refer to an administrator and/or supervisor (individually or collectively, see Board of Governors) in the socio-economic spheres of life; the single Governor of a national emission bank often holds ministerial rank.

See also


governorship in Bulgarian: Губернатор
governorship in Catalan: Governador
governorship in Danish: Guvernør
governorship in German: Gouverneur
governorship in Estonian: Kuberner
governorship in Spanish: Gobernador
governorship in Esperanto: Guberniestro
governorship in French: Gouverneur
governorship in Indonesian: Gubernur
governorship in Italian: Governatore
governorship in Hebrew: מושל
governorship in Lithuanian: Gubernatorius
governorship in Hungarian: Kormányzó
governorship in Malay (macrolanguage): Gabenor
governorship in Dutch: Gouverneur
governorship in Japanese: 知事
governorship in Norwegian: Guvernør
governorship in Polish: Gubernator
governorship in Portuguese: Governador
governorship in Russian: Губернатор
governorship in Simple English: Governor
governorship in Finnish: Kuvernööri
governorship in Swedish: Guvernör
governorship in Turkish: Vali
governorship in Chinese: 省长
governorship in Chinese: 總督
governorship in Chinese: 知事
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