1. Shuffling the sheriffs, 1234 and 1236

Richard Cassidy is a doctoral student at King’s College London. His thesis, an edition of the Pipe Roll for 1258–1259, will be published by the Pipe Roll Society. Here, he demonstrates how important the fine rolls are in understanding the management of the shires and the shifting policies and personalities of the 1230s, a period of intense innovation at the heart of government.

⁋1The personal rule of Henry III began with a major reshuffle of the sheriffs, in May and June 1234. Two years later, there was another reshuffle, combined with a redefinition of the sheriffs’ responsibilities. The patent rolls record the sheriffs’ appointments, but the fine rolls provide more information about the terms on which the sheriffs took office, and the way in which this changed in the course of these two years.

⁋2Robert Stacey drew attention to the information on sheriffs’ appointments in the 1235/36 fine roll, but little use has been made of the rolls for other years in this period. 1 The pipe rolls reflect the terms of appointment, but none have been published for the years between 1230 and 1242. With the Fine Rolls Project making the images and translation of the rolls for these years available, it is now much easier to gather together some of this scattered information.

⁋3The table below shows the sheriffs’ appointments recorded on the patent rolls for the regnal years 1233–37, and the corresponding entries on the fine rolls, as well as a few patent roll entries referring to sheriffs who were appointed earlier, but who crop up in the fine rolls of these years. As will be seen, there were new sheriffs for all except the few anomalous counties which stood outside the normal pattern of local government. 2 The table should serve both as a checklist, and as an alternative to excessive footnoting, by providing the relevant references. 3

County Date of appointment Sheriff Calendar of Patent Rolls 1232–47, page Calendar of Fine Rolls, year and entry no.
Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire 30 May 1234 Ralph son of Reginald 52 CFR 1234–35, no. 255
Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire 22 Oct. 1235 William de Beauchamp 121
Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire 11 May 1237 Reginald de Albo Monasterio 181
Berkshire 2 May 1234 Robert of Mapledurham 44
Berkshire 22 May 1234 Engelard de Cigogné 46, 49, 81 CFR 1234–35, no. 24
Berkshire 18 April 1236 Robert Brond’ 142 CFR 1235–36, no. 226
Berkshire 7 June 1237 Simon of Lewknor 184
Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire 1 May 1234 Jeremias of Caxton 44 CFR 1234–35, no. 490; 1235–36, no. 557
Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire 24 Oct. 1236 Henry de Colne 161
Cheshire 10 July 1237 John de Lacy, earl of Lincoln 189
Cumberland 5 Feb. 1236 William Dacre 148 CFR 1235–36, no. 310
Devon 15 Jan. 1234 Peter de Russellis 37
Devon 26 May 1234 Nicholas de Molis 50
Devon 25 April 1236 Walter of Bath 143 CFR 1235–36, no. 248
Dorset and Somerset 28 May 1234 Thomas of Cirencester 50
Essex and Hertfordshire 6 May 1233 William de Holewell’ 16 CFR 1234–35, no. 159
Essex and Hertfordshire 29 May 1234 William of Culworth 51 CFR 1233–34, no. 268; 1234–35, no. 489
Essex and Hertfordshire 3 May 1236 Peter de Tany 144
Gloucestershire 23 April 1234 Henry of Bath 43
Gloucestershire 28 May 1234 William Talbot 50
Hampshire 29 May 1234 Henry son of Nicholas 50 CFR 1234–35, no. 140
Hampshire 15 April 1236 Geoffrey de Lisle 141 CFR 1235–36, no. 219
Herefordshire 23 May 1234 Aymer de St. Amand 48, 55
Herefordshire 10 Feb. 1237 Aymer de St. Amand 175
Kent 12 June 1232 Bertram de Criel Patent Rolls 1225–32, 480 CFR 1233–34, no. 261
Lincolnshire 25 April 1234 Phillip de Lacelles 44 CFR 1234–35, no. 279
Lincolnshire 22 Dec. 1235 Robert Wolf 133 CFR 1235–36, no. 74
Norfolk and Suffolk 23 April 1234 Robert de Briwes 43
Norfolk and Suffolk 22 May 1234 Thomas of Hengrave 46 CFR 1234–35, no. 308; 1235–36, nos. 33, 62
Norfolk and Suffolk 21 April 1236 Thomas of Ingoldisthorpe 142 CFR 1235–36, no. 237
Northamptonshire 23 May 1234 Henry of Bath 47
Northamptonshire 2 Jan. 1236 Peter de Maulay 133
Northamptonshire 1 May 1236 Henry of Bath 144
Northumberland 22 Oct. 1235 Richard de Gray 121
Northumberland 12 May 1236 Hugh de Bolebec 145
Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire 1 May 1236 Hugh son of Ralph 144
Oxfordshire 25 May 1233 Engelard de Cigogné 16 CFR 1234–35, no. 66
Oxfordshire 28 May 1234 John le Brun 50 CFR 1233–34, no. 267; 1235–36, nos. 71, 72
Oxfordshire 15 April 1236 Robert de Amary 141 CFR 1235–36, no. 222
Oxfordshire 27 April 1236 Walter of Tew 143
Oxfordshire 4 May 1236 John of Tew 145
Shropshire and Staffordshire 15 May 1234 Robert de Hay 45, 51
Shropshire and Staffordshire 24 Oct. 1236 John Lestrange 161
Surrey and Sussex 30 May1234 Simon of Etchingham 52
Surrey and Sussex 5 Jan.1236 Henry of Bath 133
Surrey and Sussex 14 Feb.1236 John of Gatesden 137
Warwickshire and Leicestershire 27 May 1234 Ralph fitz Nicholas 50 CFR 1234–35, no. 151
Warwickshire and Leicestershire 23 April 1236 William de Lucy 143 CFR 1235–36, no. 243
Wiltshire 3 Jan. 1237 William Gerebred 172
Wiltshire 3 April 1237 Robert de Hogesham 178
Worcestershire 20 Nov. 1229 Walter de Beauchamp Patent Rolls 1225–32, 316 CFR 1235–36, no. 152
Worcestershire 17 Dec. 1235 Peter de Begeworth’ 132
Worcestershire 8 April 1236 Hugh le Poer 141
Worcestershire 4 May 1236 William, son of Walter de Beauchamp 145
Yorkshire 30 May 1234 John fitz Geoffrey 52
Yorkshire 1 May 1236 Brian son of Alan 144

⁋4The 1234 reshuffle followed the dismissal of Peter des Roches and Peter de Rivallis, who had briefly secured a near-monopoly of office and power. Their regime ended with the revolt of Richard Marshal, and the threat of renewed civil war. Marshal and Prince Llywellyn seized Shrewsbury. Marshal’s supporter Richard Siward freed the former justiciar Hubert de Burgh from prison, and raided southern England, destroying the manors of the king’s ministers. Peace was restored by the intervention of the newly-elected archbishop of Canterbury, Edmund Rich. The hated ministers were dismissed, and new sheriffs were appointed in most counties.

⁋5The sheriffs were significant, indeed vital, elements in the structure of government. They proclaimed and enforced the policies of central government in each county, they were responsible for law and order, they collected revenue, and they administered royal estates – in particular, those parts of the royal demesne which were still under sheriffs’ control, although by this time much of the demesne had been granted away in return for secular or religious support, or farmed out. Sheriffs were often responsible for castles and forests in their counties. At the county court and on their regular tourns around the hundreds, they embodied the authority of the state throughout England. 4 In return for these responsibilities, their traditional reward was to help themselves to any revenue they could extract from their counties, over and above a fixed annual sum, known as the farm. The farm had remained virtually unchanged since the early years of Henry II’s reign, but, from time to time, central government would try to ensure that it received at least some of these extra revenues, by imposing a fixed annual increment, to be paid in addition to the farm. Alternatively, a sheriff might be appointed as a custodian, rather than a farmer. As custodian, the sheriff was paid a fixed sum to look after the county, and accounted at the Exchequer for all the revenues; these accounts, the particule, set out the details of all the income received in the county, from royal estates, county and hundred courts, view of frankpledge, and traditional payments such as the sheriff’s aid. The pipe roll would record the custodian sheriff’s payment into the Exchequer in two parts, as an amount matching the fixed farm, and any additional revenue, described as profit. 5

⁋6Some of the appointments in the spring of 1234 were just movements of familiar faces to new places: Ralph fitz Nicholas, the steward, was already sheriff of Nottinghamshire, and took over Leicestershire as well; his brother Henry fitz Nicholas moved from Somerset to Hampshire; Robert de Hay had been under-sheriff of Shropshire, and moved up to sheriff; Henry of Bath held Gloucestershire briefly, before moving to Northamptonshire; the great survivor, Engelard de Cigogné, who had been king John’s sheriff of Gloucestershire (and had been banned by the 1215 Magna Carta from holding office ever again), made the short journey from Oxfordshire to Berkshire. Some of the displaced sheriffs were too closely associated with the former regime: William de Holewell’, sheriff of Essex, so much so that he had been kidnapped and held to ransom by Richard Siward. 6 Many of the new ones were associated with the court, and particularly with two of the household stewards, Ralph fitz Nicholas and Godfrey of Crowcombe. Crowcombe had been sheriff of Oxfordshire before Engelard, and the county was now held by Crowcombe’s nephew, John le Brun. 7

⁋7The new appointments were made from the centre, except for Somerset and Dorset, where the men of those counties paid a fine of four palfreys to elect their sheriff, as provided by King John’s charter, and six palfreys to have the charter confirmed; they presented a list of three names, from whom the king chose Thomas of Cirencester, who had been sheriff before, in 1232–33.

⁋8In all but two cases, the patent rolls tell us little more than that the sheriffs were appointed to the custody of their counties, to hold office at the king’s pleasure (rather than for a fixed term, or for life). Engelard de Cigogné’s terms for holding Berkshire are recorded out of sequence, in letters patent dated May 1234 listed among the letters for the following November, suggesting that there was some reason for making a special record of them in both sets of rolls. The appointment of Aymer de St Amand (another household steward) to Herefordshire is in the patent roll for May, with his terms in a separate entry in June, but not in the fine rolls. 8 There is nothing about the terms on which the sheriffs were appointed in 1234 to Cambridgeshire, Devon, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Surrey and Yorkshire; for Northamptonshire and Shropshire the patent rolls merely say that the sheriff is to answer to the king for the issues of the county. That apart, it is in the fine rolls that the sheriffs’ terms are to be found.

⁋9The appointments were made in April and May 1234 (except for Kent, where an existing sheriff was retained), and the fine rolls provide the following details for the counties involved, many on somewhat later dates:

Date County Terms stated in the Fine Roll
21 April 1235 Bedfordshire the sheriff receives 40 m. a year from the profit
22 May 1234 Berkshire the sheriff answers for farms and custody of castles, forests and manors, pays £50 a year profit, and receives ward payment for his custody of Windsor castle
12 July 1234 Essex the sheriff answers for all revenues, and receives 50 m. a year for custody of Hertford castle
19 Feb. 1235 Hampshire the sheriff as farmer keeps the county and castles at his own cost, and pays profit of 40 m. a year
12 July 1234 Kent the sheriff keeps county and castle at his own cost, and pays £40 a year profit
28 Feb. 1235 Warwickshire and Leicestershire the sheriff answers for £60 a year profit
4 May 1235 Lincolnshire the sheriff answers for £100 a year profit for 1233/34, over and above the cost of custody of county and castle
7 June 1235 Norfolk and Suffolk the sheriff pays £100 a year profit, and receives payment for custody of castles from town farm and castle ward income
12 July & 10 Dec. 1234 Oxfordshire the old sheriff pays profit of 20 m. a year; 9 the new sheriff is to answer for county revenue and receive £20 a year for custody of the county

⁋10In other words, there is no consistent pattern. In some cases the sheriff acts as a straightforward farmer, paying a fixed amount each year and supporting himself from any surplus revenue; in others, the sheriff is a paid custodian of the county, receiving a fixed sum and paying over all the revenue; and then there are compromises, concerning the custody of castles, some unpaid, some paid from general revenue, and some paid from specific castle ward income. Some indication of the approach which the new sheriffs were expected to adopt can be found in a letter from Henry to all the sheriffs later in 1234. It spelled out the limits on holding the sheriff’s tourn and hundred courts too frequently, pointing out that Henry had promised this in his charter (a reference to chapter 35 of the 1225 Magna Carta). 10 This may indicate that sheriffs had previously abused these arrangements, and that the 1234 appointments were intended to change policies as well as personalities. 11

⁋11Over the next two years, there were a few amendments to these arrangements. In October 1235, Bedfordshire changed from sheriff Ralph fitz Reginald being paid 40 m. a year, to William de Beauchamp offering custody at his own expense – farming the county, rather than being paid – for 1235/36. Jeremias of Caxton, sheriff of Cambridgeshire, paid a fine of one palfrey to have a new deal: he had paid a fixed increment of 50 m. for 1234/35, but switched in October 1235 to being custodian, answering for all the issues of the county (and then in October 1236, another palfrey to go back to answering at the Exchequer for 50 m. increment for 1235/36). In Essex, also in October 1235, William of Culworth changed in the other direction, from a custodian receiving 50 m. a year, to making fixed payments of £15 increment for 1234/35, and £10 a year thereafter. Bertram de Criel had been sheriff of Kent for some years, and kept the county at his own cost until Michaelmas 1234, when he changed to paying increment of £40 a year. The increment for Lincolnshire rose from £100 to £200, in addition to the traditional farm, when Robert Wolf was appointed in December 1235. Again, each county was treated differently.

⁋12The problems of extracting revenue from sheriffs were demonstrated by Richard de Gray. He was sheriff of Northumberland for the first half of 1235/36, appointed as custodian on 22 October 1235. He then failed to turn up at the Exchequer to present his accounts at the end of the financial year, and in November 1236 had to admit that he could not answer for the issues of the county, nor present particule for the time when he was sheriff, for which he should answer as custodian of the county, and placed himself on the king’s mercy. 12

⁋13It was only in the spring of 1236 that a new and consistent approach was adopted, as part of a radical overhaul of local government and finance. This was linked to the rise to prominence at court of William of Savoy, the bishop-elect of Valence. He came to England with his niece, queen Eleanor, and swiftly displaced the stewards who had dominated the court for the previous two years. Ralph fitz Nicholas lost his post at court, and lost the counties held by him, his brother and his supporters. Godfrey of Crowcombe’s influence was also reduced, and he lost effective control of Oxfordshire. Instead of curial sheriffs, their replacements came from the ranks of local gentry and magnates. 13 The change was welcomed by Matthew Paris, who thought that all the sheriffs had been replaced, because they had been corrupted and strayed from the path of virtue. 14

⁋14It was not quite that far-reaching, but in April and May 1236 there was a wave of new appointments – Worcestershire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Norfolk, Leicestershire, Devon, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, Essex, Northumberland and Cumberland – all on essentially the same terms. The sheriff was to have custody of the county so long as it pleased the king, answering at the Exchequer for all the revenue, while the royal manors and demesne in those counties were to be removed from the sheriff’s sources of income, and retained in the king’s hands.

⁋15This was the beginning of an experiment in centralized administration of the royal demesne, increasing both income and investment. 15 As farmers, sheriffs had had no incentive to maximize revenue to the Exchequer, or to invest for the long term. They had paid the fixed farm and the fixed profit, and pocketed any additional income from the demesne. The new system took the demesne away from sheriffs, without offering any compensation, showing how little a contribution the demesne had made to Exchequer income under the old system.

⁋16The only differences among the counties with new sheriffs in the spring of 1236 were in the treatment of castles: in most cases, the sheriff was to keep custody of the castle or castles in his county, and answer at the Exchequer for any associated revenue; in Hampshire, Geoffrey de Lisle was to receive 40 m. a year for custody; the sheriff of Berkshire lost custody of Windsor and Odiham castles; and in Oxfordshire, Robert de Amary was appointed in April, to receive the revenue from the king’s mill in return for custody of Oxford castle, but was quickly replaced by Walter of Tew, then John of Tew in May, with the mill retained in the king’s hands.

⁋17Several of these appointments – Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Norfolk, Leicestershire, Devon, Cumberland – were recorded in the fine roll under the same date as the record in the patent roll. This is unlike the 1234 appointments, where the entries in the fine roll are generally several months after the appointment recorded in the patent roll. Also unlike 1234, the fine roll adds little detail to the information recorded in the patent roll. 16 It is only incidentally that we learn in October 1236, when Brian fitz Ralph lost custody of Pickering castle, that he had been granted £100 for custody of Yorkshire. 17 Other sheriffs’ allowances were still being settled throughout the following year: John of Tew to receive £20 a year from the profit of Oxfordshire; Thomas of Cirencester in Somerset to receive 100 m. a year, from Easter 1235 onwards – this was not recorded until Easter term of 1237; 30 m. for custody of Leicestershire for the year from May 1236. 18

⁋18Meanwhile, counties continued to change hands, with appointments recorded on the patent roll. In two of the five counties with new sheriffs appointed in 1236/37 (Bedfordshire and Wiltshire), it is explicitly stated that the demesne is retained in the king’s hands. 19 In others, the demesne is not mentioned. Only in Herefordshire, where Aymer de St Amand was re-appointed, is there mention of a payment to the sheriff for custody of the county (80 m. a year, the same as it had been in 1234).

⁋19The office had been one which was worth paying for, attractive to court officials. Without the prospect of exploiting county revenues to enrich the farmer, rather than the Exchequer, the role was now held by local men, who received an allowance for their custody of the county and castle, leaving the demesne in the hands of professional administrators.

⁋20There had also been a change in administrative arrangements. The allowances which the sheriffs of 1236 and 1237 were to receive for their work as custodians are often left unmentioned on the patent or fine rolls. The terms for the wave of sheriffs appointed in the spring of 1236 were recorded separately, perhaps because so many were appointed at once. 20 No sheriffs’ appointments are recorded in the fine roll for 1236/37. However, for the appointments of the early 1230s, the fine rolls add considerably to our knowledge of the relationship between central government and the sheriffs, and of the way in which county revenues were exploited.


R.C. Stacey, Politics, policy and finance under Henry III 1216–1245 (Oxford 1987), p. 52, n. 29. As it happens, that particular fine roll adds little to what appears in the patent roll, unlike the fine rolls of the preceding few years. The 1235/36 fine roll, C60/35, had also been cited by David Carpenter, in ‘The decline of the curial sheriff in England, 1194–1258’, reprinted in his The Reign of Henry III (London 1996), p. 166, n 7. Back to context...
Cornwall was held by Earl Richard from 1225 onwards; Rutland was the queen mother’s dower, also held by Earl Richard; Durham was held by its bishop, Cheshire by the earls of Chester, Westmorland by the Vieuxpont family, Worcestershire by the Beauchamps, except for a transitional period in 1235/36. London and Middlesex elected two sheriffs each year. Several counties were grouped into pairs (Norfolk and Suffolk, Essex and Herts., Beds. and Bucks., and so on), always held by the same sheriff and accounting as a unit; for the sake of brevity, these pairs are referred to below by the main one of the counties in the pair. Back to context...
The list of appointments derived from the Calendar of Patent Rolls matches that in List of sheriffs for England and Wales, PRO Lists and Indexes No. 9 (reprinted New York 1963), apparently compiled from the same source. There are a few minor differences in the dates shown, none of which is significant. All the entries on the fine rolls are matched by simultaneous or earlier entries on the patent rolls. Back to context...
For a full account of the sheriffs’ multifarious responsibilities, see William Alfred Morris, The medieval English sheriff to 1300 (Manchester 1927). Back to context...
Confusingly, fixed increments paid by farmer sheriffs are often called profits too. See Carpenter, ‘Decline of the curial sheriff’, p. 153, and, for the profits system introduced by king John, B.E. Harris, ‘King John and the sheriffs’ farms’, EHR 79 (1964), pp. 532–42. Back to context...
Matthew Paris, Chronica Majora, ed. H.R. Luard (Rolls Series, London 1876), III, p. 289. Back to context...
For the curial associations of the sheriffs of 1234, see Carpenter, ‘The decline of the curial sheriff’, pp. 165–66. On Godfrey of Crowcombe and the fine rolls, see Fine of the Month, January 2007 – ‘The fine rolls, Godfrey of Crowcombe and the Oxfordshire offices’. Back to context...
The patent rolls say that the sheriff has custody of county and castle for a year at his own cost, to answer for revenue and receives 80 m. for custody; as there is no fine rolls entry, the apparent contradiction remains. Back to context...
Engelard de Cigogné again receiving special treatment; he gave up the Oxfordshire post in May 1234, but this is in the fine roll in December 1234. The fine roll notes that this is the same as the profit paid by the previous sheriff, Godfrey of Crowcombe; this is confirmed by the 1231/32 pipe roll, quoted in Thomas Madox, The history and antiquities of the Exchequer, 2nd edition (London 1769, reprinted 1969), II, p. 141, note q. Back to context...
‘Dunstable Annals’, in Annales Monastici, ed. H.R. Luard (Rolls Series, London 1866), III, pp. 139–40. See also J.R. Maddicott, ‘Magna Carta and the local community’, Past and Present 102 (1984), pp. 31–35. Back to context...
Mabel Mills downplayed the significance of the 1234 changes, in accordance with her tendency to attribute everything that happened at the Exchequer to Peter des Roches and Peter de Rivallis – ‘most of the new appointments were really formal recognitions of changes introduced by Rivaux’: ‘The reforms at the Exchequer (1232–1242)’, TRHS 4th Series, X (1927), p. 120. Back to context...
Memoranda roll E 159/15, mm. 6d., 17. This is the roll described by Mabel Mills, obviously a real enthusiast, as ‘a beautiful roll, unusually full, complete and well-arranged’: ‘Reforms at the Exchequer’, p. 128. Back to context...
Carpenter, ‘Decline of the curial sheriff’, pp. 167–68; Stacey, Politics, policy and finance, pp. 52–54. Back to context...
Chronica majora, III, p. 363. Back to context...
Covered in detail by Robert C. Stacey, ‘Agricultural investment and the management of the royal demesne manors, 1236–1240’, Journal of Economic History 46 (1986), pp. 919–34. Back to context...
The only significant difference between the two sets of records is that the fine roll notes the 40 m. payment to Geoffrey de Lisle. Back to context...
Calendar of Patent Rolls 1232–47, p. 159. Back to context...
Memoranda roll E 159/15, mm 15, 22d., 24. Back to context...
For Bedfordshire, this is mentioned in the patent roll, but not in the close roll record of the appointment: Close Rolls of the Reign of Henry III AD 1234–1237 (London 1908), p. 442. Back to context...
Mills, ‘The reforms at the Exchequer’, p. 121, and Carpenter, ‘Decline of the curial sheriff’, p. 170, n. 1. Back to context...