The English Historical Review
NO. CXLVI.—APRIL 1922*
The Sheriffs and the Administrative System of Henry I
THE lay officials employed by William the Conqueror, whether in central government or in ruling the shires, were regularly of baronial status. These were not the only officials, for there was an important group of curial bishops, and a force of trained clerks was utilized in the work of the chancery, if not also in that of the treasury. But the dominant element in early Norman administration in England was baronial. The first apparent impulse in an opposite direction may be due to the feudal disorders of the reign of William Rufus. At any rate it is clear that this king appointed some special agents to carry into effect his novel measures and policies. By 1106, the date of the battle of Tinchebrai, the second generation of the feudal nobility in which the Conqueror placed dependence had in no small measure proved wanting. The barons who loyally supported Henry I in the early and troublous years of his reign seem to have enjoyed his undying favour. They remained a powerful influence in government. In numerous instances, however, their sons did not attain the same position. The new men, who aided the king at the crisis of the reign, and who sometimes acquired the confiscated lands of the rebels, henceforth became more and more prominent. Within twenty years a remarkable circle of these persons held the great offices of state and at the same time served as sheriffs, a combination of functions which had not been infrequent in the days of baronial control. The best illustration, therefore, of the change from the earlier to the later type of administrative staff is afforded by the personnel of the shrievalty in the reign of Henry Beauclerc.
Before Tinchebrai, as indeed in the Conqueror's time, one
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