CHESHIRE’S new High Sheriff was literally “hand pricked” by the Queen during an ancient ceremony at Buckingham Palace.
Last November Diana Caroline Barbour, of Tattenhall, Chester, was nominated in a ceremony at London’s High Court which pre-dates the Norman Conquest to take her place in history as one of the latest incumbents of the oldest secular office in Britain.
And yesterday (Wednesday, March 17), that nomination was officially confirmed by the Queen as she used a silver bodkin to “prick” her name which was on a list written on parchment of all new High Sheriffs for England and Wales.
Legend has it that the silver bodkin used to this day to “prick” the names of the Sheriffs on the list was originally used by Queen Elizabeth who when asked on one occasion when she was embroidering to mark the names on the list couldn’t find a pen so used the bodkin instead to prick them.
Another story, however, has it that the bodkin is used because the list is traditionally on vellum and pricking the vellum is more permanent than making a mark with ink.
Following this ceremony the High Sheriff will now make a declaration in accordance with the 1887 Sheriffs Act some time during the next few weeks and will take office after that.
The unique ceremony carried out by the Queen at the Privy Council at Buckingham Palace yesterday dates back to the reign of Queen Victoria and is the way monarchs give their Royal seal of approval to the incoming High Sheriffs.
The office of High Sheriff, however, stretches back much farther than Victorian times.
‘Shire Reeves’ as they were originally known were appointed for each county and used to have to give account to the reigning monarch once a year of the money they had collected on behalf of the monarch.
These days of course the High Sheriffs no longer collect money for the monarch in the way their predecessors did in centuries past.
Originally the High Sheriffs office held many of the powers now vested in Lord Lieutenants, High Court judges, magistrates, local authorities, coroners and even the Inland Revenue. Formerly the High Sheriff was the principal law enforcement officer in the county.
However, over time, most of the responsibilities of the office have been transferred elsewhere or rendered obsolete, and the functions of the post are now almost entirely ceremonial. The only significant legal functions relate to the enforcement of High Court writs.
Although the duties of High Sheriffs have changed over the years, however, the post still remains the oldest secular office in the land. In previous centuries, in addition to raising funds for the King or Queen, High Sheriffs were empowered to raise a posse to accompany visiting judges round their county, possibly to protect them from relatives or friends of those whose cases they had tried or were scheduled to try.
These days the posse is no longer considered necessary! But High Sheriffs are still expected to be ready to attend to the needs of, and provide hospitality to, High Court judges out on “circuit”, when they preside over the county’s crown courts.
High Sheriffs rank among top dignitaries in their areas and are also expected to attend at royal visits to their counties, as well as being entitled to act as returning officers in parliamentary elections.