The High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire is a position originating in Anglo-Saxon times, but in later years it added extra responsibilities. This article questions whether the Sheriff of Nottingham was more than just the Nottinghamshire Police.
The scope of the sheriff's authority
The origins of the role
The role of Sherriff was a senior position in the Anglo-Saxon and, later on, the Noman period.
In 1068, the High Sheriff of Nottingham gained authority, not only over the county and town of Nottingham, but also over Derbyshire and the royal forests, enclaves for the king to hunt deer.
In the fifteenth century, the role was divided as a separate position of Sheriff of Nottingham was established to control the growing town.
The Robin Hood legend originates about 1225 when one Rob Hod of Wakefield did not attend a summons to the assizes of Wakefield, which were under the sheriff of Yorkshire.
He later turns up as Hob de Hod in 1226.
This Rob Hod has been conflated with Robin of Loxley, who was twice outlawed during the reigns of John and Henry the Third.
These two characters have been blended in popular legend. It is noteworthy that Sherwood forest then extended towards Wakefield.
What did he do precisely
During the period under discussion, there was no UK police or Nottinghamshire police.
The High Sheriff was responsible for organising the hunt for criminals.
He would be an important nobleman who would use his own men at arms to hunt the miscreants, probably with the co-operation of other nobles and any forces the king had in the region.
These were the equivalent of the local police.
As he was responsible for the royal forests, from which the king supplied his courts with venison, he would have been assisted by foresters, who would have to have been armed.
At times, the sheriff might raise an impromptu unit to seek down a criminal.
At that time, there was also an institution known as a "frankbund", which consisted of twelve freemen who were bound to ensure that each other kept the law. These people would have co-operated with the sheriff.
The sheriff was more than the police force, as he was also responsible for trying cases, so he was a judge.
He was not the only judge, as there were also justices of the peace responsible to the king.
The sheriff was really not only head of law enforcement, but also chief judge in the county. His responsibility also included collecting taxes, so he was chief tax collector.