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sheriffs

sheriffs. Reeves were Anglo-Saxon officials, and the king's reeves had special duties to keep order and collect royal dues. By the 11th cent. English kings put each shire under a scirgerefa (‘shire-reeve’, sheriff) who administered justice and collected revenues. Their powers and duties were greatly increased by the Normans, and they became notorious for high-handedness. Henry II was driven to hold an Inquest of Sheriffs into their activities, and to remove many from office (1170), but complaints of their maladministration long continued: the sheriff of Nottingham in the Robin Hood ballads represents the type. The crown's long-term solution was to spread the exercise of local administration and justice, especially, from the 14th cent., through justices of the peace; since the 16th cent. sheriffs have been largely county figureheads. In Scotland, where sheriffs were introduced in the 12th cent., they have been chief judges of sheriffdoms: and in those English towns taken out of county administration, sheriffs are elected urban officials responsible to the mayor. The sheriffs of American counties kept up, in the 19th cent., something of the role of earlier English sheriffs; and the ‘posse’ of the Wild West is the posse comitatus (force of the county) which medieval sheriffs could summon to pursue suspects and repress riots.

David M. Palliser

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