When the anarchy of Stephen's reign was over, sheriffs no longer acted as agents of the crown, instead acting as agents of the local magnate. This corruption was added upon when sheriffs abused their powers granted by the Assize of Clarendon to seize the property of criminals, as well as the reeval power of tax-collecting. Thus, in 1170, Henry II attempted to correct the abuses by issuing the Inquest of Sheriffs.

In the first place the barons shall require security and pledge from all sheriffs who have been sheriffs since the lord king last crossed into Normandy, and from all who have been bailiffs or ministers of these [sheriffs], whatever bailiwick they have held from them; also from all those who since that time have held hundreds of the barons which they [the barons] have in the county, whether they have held them at firm or in custody;--that they will be before the lord king on the day which they [the barons] shall set for them for the purpose of doing right and redressing to him and his men what they ought to redress. . . .

Afterward they [the barons] shall take oath from all the barons and knights and free men of the county that they will tell the truth concerning that which shall be asked of them on behalf of the lord king; and that they will not conceal the truth for love of any one or for hatred or for money or reward or for fear or promise or for anything else.

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Reproduced by kind permission of The Medieval Source Book

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