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A sheriff is a shire-reeve in England.

They were Royal appointments, and were often "sold" -- that is, someone who wished to be sheriff would pay the King an amount for the job, which represented a "fair" tax-return, and was then allowed to levy taxes for the King but keep what he obtained. This balanced the need of the King for ready cash with the greed of the would-be sheriff.

This article is just a stub. Feel welcome to elaborate on the development of the roles and responsibilities of period sheriffs.