The Duchy of Lancaster has appointed High Sheriffs in the County Palatine for over 650 years.
The role of High Sheriff dates back to Saxon times. Acting as the Sovereign’s personal representatives, High Sheriffs had responsibility for the administration of justice in a region. Historically, the position held many of the powers now vested in Lord-Lieutenants, High Court judges, magistrates, local authorities, coroners and even the Inland Revenue. Today, the role is largely ceremonial.
In 1351, Lancashire was raised to the status of County Palatine by King Edward III. This gave the newly created Duke of Lancaster, Henry Grosmont, Sovereign rights in Lancashire in the spheres of justice and administration. The Duke was responsible for appointing all senior law court officials, including the sheriff, judges and justices of the peace.
Since 1399, when the Duchy of Lancaster became associated with the Crown, reigning monarchs have appointed the High Sheriff of Lancashire. These appointments have been made by virtue of their office as Duke of Lancaster and not as Sovereign. Originally the term of office varied; this has since been altered and current High Sheriffs now serve for a period of one year.
The Local Governments Act of 1972 altered the administrative boundaries of Lancashire by creating the Metropolitan Counties of Greater Manchester and Merseyside. As a result of this Act, the Duchy now appoints High Sheriffs each year for the counties of Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside.
Today, His Majesty The King ‘pricks’ the names of the three High Sheriffs on the Lites with a bodkin, in the presence of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. This is performed at a separate Duchy of Lancaster ceremony, which distinguishes appointments to the County Palatine from those in the remainder of England and Wales. The High Sheriff of Lancashire continues the tradition of hanging his/her shield in the Shire Hall of Lancaster Castle each year.