County History

A Perspective from history

The Office of High Sheriff dates from Saxon Times, and is over a thousand years old. The name derives from the Anglo-Saxon “Scir-gerefa”, or “shire-reeve”. Under the Saxons, the “King’s Reeve” or the “High Reeve” had powers of arrest, raised armies, and collected taxes. He had extensive powers and presided over courts, dealt with traitors and supervised all that went on in the shire, on the King’s behalf. The Sheriff’s law enforcement actions included raising a “hue and Cry”, and under “posse comitatus” (in Latin: the power of the community), organising or conscripting any able bodied man to servein keeping the King’s peace and arresting criminals. The raising of a posse was specified as late as 1887 in section 8 of the Sheriffs Act:

“Every person in a county shall be ready and apparelled at the command of the sheriff and at the cry of the country to arrest a felon whether within a franchise or without, and in default shall on conviction be liable to a fine, and if default be found in the lord of the franchise he shall forfeit the franchise to the Queen, and if in the bailiff he shall be liable besides the fine to imprisonment for not more than one year, or if he have not whereof to pay the fine, than two years”.

… and the law enforcement role persists in the United States where the Sheriff is an elected official, and the highest legal officer in each county.

The first recorded High Sheriff of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, in the 11th century, wasGodric of Fyfield, “a colourful old scoundrel”. He fought for King Harold Godwinson(also known as King Harold II, the last Anglo Saxon king) and probably died at the Battle of Hastings. However there were Sheriffs in Berkshire long before that time.

Sometime after 1066, Henry de Ferrers (who also known as Henri de Ferrières) was recorded as being the High Sheriff of Berkshire.Coming from a noble family in Eure, Normandy, where his father was the Baron, he fought at the Battle of Hastings during the Norman Conquest and was rewarded with a great deal of land. The Domesday Book records over 200 Manors given to him, including lands in Berkshire which previously belonged to Godric.

Apart from a short time in 1258/59, Berkshire and Oxfordshire were a joint shrievalty between 1248 and 1566.

Under the Sheriffs Act 1887, the High Sheriff is appointed annually, subject to nomination and selection by the Sovereign. The High Sheriff is assisted by an Under-Sheriff, usually a solicitor, who may be reappointed annually.

The Berkshire High Sheriff’s Badge and the Millennium
The Badge of the High Sheriffs of the Royal County of Berkshire was commissioned in 1992 to mark the millennium of the Office of High Sheriff.

It shows two swords in saltire (crossed in an x-shape), with one blunt sword representing Mercy and the other, a sharp sword, Justice.

The design features the Shrieval Millennium Millstone inn Windsor Great Park with the deer and oak leaves, and was the work of Berkshire High Sheriff, Lewis Moss (who served 1991-1992).

On 10th August 991 AD, the Saxons were beaten by the Danes at the Battle of Maldon, Essex. In the year following, 992 AD, the King, Ethelred II, the “Unready”, ordered his High Sheriffs to collect money from every household in the kingdom to pay Danegeld (“Danish Gold”) to the Danes to prevent them from encroaching further.

(With thanks to Dr Christina Hill Williams, a previous High Sheriff of Berkshire)