The Sheriff and Magna Carta

“The tradition of the Office of Sheriff truly began in England, dating back at least to the reign of Alfred the Great of England, and some scholars even argue that the Office of Sheriff was first created during the Roman occupation of England.

In 1116, Henry I, established a penal code, in which murder, arson, counterfeiting, and robbery were made felonies. Although the Crown reserved to itself the power to punish, investigation and apprehension were delegated to his law enforcement officials, the sheriffs. Through the next century, as the power of the king increased, so did that of his law enforcement officers.

Dictatorial rule by a series of powerful kings became more and more intolerable over the years. Finally, in 1215, an army of rebellious noblemen forced the despotic King John to sign the Magna Carta. This important document restored a number of rights to the noblemen and guaranteed certain basic freedoms. The sheriff played a prominent part in the creation of the Magna Carta, with fourteen former and existing holders of the office either in an advisory capacity or as the main participants. Of the 63 clauses, 27 are directly concerned with the sheriff and his office, and so the Magna Carta is looked upon as the finest proof of the importance of the sheriff in the governing of medieval England. The Magna Carta, firmly and permanently established the importance and authority of the Office of Sheriff.

The Office of Sheriff became bedrock of English society and government, and the High Sheriff was for centuries the pivot around which the machinery of government was to turn. The whole constitutional, economic, judicial and administrative development was dependent on the office of High Sheriff. The concepts of “county” and “Sheriff” were essentially the same today as they have been during the previous 1200 years of English legal history. The county form of government and the Office of Sheriff are inseparable and because of the English heritage of the American colonies; the new United States of America adopted the English law and legal institutions as it’s own.”