History of the sheriff's farm
Anglo-Saxon, Norman and Angevin kings ruled by right against a promise made to their subjects at the time of their coronation to preserve the peace and administer justice. In return the community was obliged to render tribute to the king either in cash or in kind. The extent of these renders varied over time, inevitably rising as war threatened. The pipe rolls consist of four sets of payments into the Exchequer, taxes such as Danegeld, payments related to feudal incidents such as permission to inherit or marry, profits from the administration of justice and something called the sheriff’s farm. While it is clear that the first three relate to payments to the Exchequer arising from regalian rights, it has usually been accepted that the last represented revenue due to the king as the largest landholder in the country. This assumption arises indirectly from the fact that the document that spelled out what the farm was, the Rotulus Exactorius, has not survived. However, a document from 1284, the Rotulus de Corporibus Comitatibus, spells out the constituents of the farm as it had existed since at least 1156 and can thus be seen as a substitute for the missing file. A close examination of this document in association with other information, especially that now readily available from the Henry III fine rolls project, leads to an interpretation of exactly what the sheriff’s farm represented and how it was valued that is at variance with the present conventional wisdom. The findings for this period suggest how the farm may have originated about the time an official described as a sheriff was first recorded early in the eleventh century and consisted of such items as customary dues and market tolls that were due to the king as ruler rather than as landlord. Over time, individual parts of the farm were delegated to persons and entities other than the sheriff, particularly boroughs, that agreed to pay more for the rights they acquired than the sheriff was liable for. Only after 1240 was revenue from the royal demesne due to be accounted for at the Exchequer and then not by the sheriff, a move provoked by demands for the whole of the king’s revenue to be accountable at the Exchequer. Such payments were not incorporated into the pipe rolls that continued to record only information about amounts due under regalian right.