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A provost (introduced into Scots from French) is the ceremonial head of Scottish local authorities, and under the name prévôt (French pronunciation: [pʁeˈvoː]) was a governmental position of varying importance in Ancien Régime France.
Most of Scotland's 32 modern unitary council areas elect a Provost, who alongside ceremonial duties similar to mayors in other countries, also act as convener of the council. In the cities and council areas of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee, the alternative title of Lord Provost is used.
As a secular title, praepositus is also very old, dating to the praepositus sacri cubiculi of the late Roman Empire, and the praepositus palatii of the Carolingian court. The title developed in France from where it found its way into Scots, where in Scotland it became the style (as provost) of the principal magistrates of the Royal Burghs (roughly speaking, the equivalent of "mayor" in other countries) ("Lord Provost" in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee), and into England, where it is applied to certain officers charged with the maintenance of military discipline. A Provost Marshal is an officer of the army originally appointed when troops are on service abroad (and now in the United Kingdom as well) for the prompt repression of all offenses. He may at any time arrest and detain for trial persons subject to military law committing offences, and may also carry into execution any punishments to be inflicted in pursuance of a court martial (Army Act 1881, § 74). A provost sergeant is in charge of the garrison police or regimental police. The 'Provost' also refers to the military police in general. The British Army pronunciation is 'Prov-oh', though the U.S. Army pronunciation is 'Pro-vost' as written.
Historically the provost was the chief magistrate or convener of a Scottish burgh council, the equivalent of a mayor in other parts of the English-speaking world. Previous to the enactment of the Town Councils (Scotland) Act 1900 various titles were used in different burghs, but the legislation standardised the name of the governing body as “the provost, magistrates, and councillors” of the burgh. After the re-organisation of local government in Scotland in 1975, the title of Lord Provost was reserved to Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow, while other district councils could choose the title to be used by the convener; in 1994 twenty-two councils had provosts.
Similar provisions were included in the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994 which established the 32 modern unitary council areas in 1996. Members of each local government area elect a councillor as Provost, who alongside ceremonial duties similar to mayors in other countries, also act as convener of the council. Some community councils which include former burghs also use the style for their chairmen.
In the Cadfael series of historical detective novels by Ellis Peters, taking place in 12th-century Shrewsbury, England, an important role is played by the town's Provost – who in addition to this position is a prominent shoemaker.