The Office of High Sheriff is the oldest secular Office in the United Kingdom after the Crown and dates from Saxon times.
The exact date of origin is unknown but the Office has certainly existed for over 1,000 years since the Shires were formed.
The origins of the Office date back to Saxon times, when the ‘Shire Reeve’ was responsible to the Sovereign for the maintenance of law and order within the shire or county and for the collection and return of taxes due to the Crown. Written records are scarce but there are references to Reeves by King Beorhtric who reigned over Wessex from 786 to 802. Even in 669 it is recorded that King Egbert of Kent sent his Reeve Redrid on an errand to Paris.
During the 11th and 12th centuries a High Sheriff’s powers were very extensive. For example, they judged cases in the monthly court of the hundred (a sub-unit of the Shire); they had law enforcement powers and could raise the ‘hue and cry’ in pursuit of felons within their Shire; they could summon and command the ‘posse comitatus’ – the full power of the Shire in the service of the Sovereign; they collected taxes and levies and all dues on Crown lands on behalf of the Crown and were in charge of Crown property in the Shire. In short, High Sheriffs were the principal representatives and agents for the Crown and were thus very powerful within the Shire.
Copyright 2023 © High Sheriff of Northamptonshire.