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From the Latin sin cura, without care. Any office or place, to which a salary or dignity but only nominal duties are attached. The British civil service and royal household were loaded with innumerable offices which by lapse of time had become sinecures and were only kept as the reward of political services or to secure voting power in Parliament. They were gradually abolished in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

As a term of ecclesiastical law, a sinecure is a benefice without the cure of souls. In the English Church such sinecures arose when the rector has no cure of souls and did not reside in the parish. Such were abolished by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners Act 1840.

Proliferation of sinecures was a particular problem in pre-revolutionary France. The abbés so frequently mentioned in French history and literature were ecclesiastical sinecures. By the Concordat of Bologna in 1516, the French crown acquired the right to nominate abbés commendataires of certain monasteries. These persons received a large proportion of the revenues, but had no share in the government of their respective houses. Likewise the Royal Court abounded with sinecures. The Royal Kitchen alone had 295 officers, most of which served no actual function. The creation and sale of sinecure offices was a familiar means of raising money when the treasury was exhausted, a problem exacerbated by France's weak institutional mechanisms of collection.

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