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The Office of High Sheriff of Lancashire

The High Sheriff of Lancashire has ancient origins and is personally appointed by the King in his Right as Duke of Lancaster. The office, as Keeper of the Kings Peace, is unpaid and held for one year.



The "Heritage of Lancaster," referred to by John of Gaunt in his Will, dates from 1265 when Henry 111 gave his youngest son Edmund, lands and possessions following the Barons' War. In 1267 Henry created Edmund the first Earl of Lancaster and gave him the County, Honour and Castle of Lancaster. 

In 1355 Edward III raised Lancaster to a County Palatine, one of only 3 in England and created Edmund's grandson Henry Grosmont, the first Duke of Lancaster. This gave Henry sovereign rights, which is precisely what the word Palatine means, in the County. He died without male issue and the inheritance passed to his daughters Blanche and Maude. By his marriage to Blanche, John of Gaunt, the son of Edward III, acquired the inheritance and in 1390 the Palatinate was granted to his heirs forever. 

9 years later John of Gaunt died, but his son Henry Bolingbroke, returned from exile to secure the Lancaster inheritance from claims by his cousin Richard II. Richard was deposed and Bolingbroke was later crowned Henry IV, about whom Shakespeare wrote two of his most famous plays. Once crowned, Henry declared that the Duchy Inheritance should remain separate from all other Crown Holdings, to be enjoyed by his heirs and successors, the latest of whom is His Majesty King Charles III


With the exception of the Duchy of Cornwall and the County Palatine of Lancaster (which encompasses not only Lancashire but also Greater Manchester and Merseyside) the answer is quite straightforward. There is a nomination ceremony in the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand on the morrow of St. Martin (the 12th of November), when 3 names for each County are put forward; and in the New Year, normally some time in March, H M The King in Council pricks the first name on each list. Thus, it is a simple two stage procedure in accordance with the relevant Statutes. 

However, this procedure does not apply to the County Palatine (nor to Cornwall) for in 1714 under George 1st, both were excluded from the general list, and since that date the High Sheriffs of the County Palatine have always been appointed by the Monarch, not in Council, but in his/her Right as Duke of Lancaster. Each year the Lord Lieutenant recommends a name to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster who is the Leader of the Lords, with direct responsibility to His Majesty for the administration of the Duchy.

At a personal audience in March the Chancellor places the Lites before His Majesty. The Lites is an engrossed parchment bearing the names of 9 selected persons, 3 for each of the Counties in the Duchy area. His Majesty then "pricks" the names of the 3 High Sheriffs at the top of each list with a bodkin, a practice dating back to the days of Elizabeth I. 


The Office is the oldest, continuous, secular i.e. non religious dignitary under The Crown, having its roots in Saxon Times and before the Norman Conquest. The functions of the High Sheriff at one time included those today exercised by, for example, the Police Force, Local Government, the Court Administration Service and the Lieutenancy. It is almost certain that at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 the private armies of a number of High Sheriffs would have fought alongside the King! How times have changed! 

Today, the Office, which is held for one year, is mainly ceremonial, although its main duties are to protect and assist in upholding the dignity and well being of H M Judges and to perform numerous other public duties.

During their Installation a High Sheriff makes a Declaration to carry out their historic duties in Office. Here also a parchment known as the Sheriff's Patent will be read. Known as a Patent because attached to it is a red seal, undoubtedly having its origins in the Great Seal of the Realm which is the chief seal of the Crown and proof of a Monarch's formal consent to a state document. The Seal was first used by Edward the Confessor in the 11th Century to prevent forgery and tampering.

At a ceremony each year in Lancaster; the Constable of the Castle receives the Lancashire High Sheriff's Shield, which is hung in the Shire Hall of the Castle with those of their distinguished predecessors.