William Francis Wyldbore-Smith has been chosen to be the new High Sheriff of Wiltshire.
Mr Wyldbore-Smith, of Bremhill, Calne, was selected in an ancient ceremony at Buckingham Palace during with the Queen ‘hand pricked’ his name with a silver bodkin that is said to have once been owned and used for the same purpose by Queen Elizabeth I.
His name was on the official list along with the names of all the other men and women who are set to become the country’s high sheriffs this year and as such rank among the highest dignitaries in their counties.
High sheriffs is the oldest secular office in the country and, in the coming weeks, those chosen will make a declarations in accordance with the 1887 Sheriffs' Act and take office after that.
Legend has it that the silver bodkin used to “prick” the names of the sheriffs on the list was originally used by Queen Elizabeth I, who was embroidering when she was asked to mark the names on the list.
She could not find a pen so used the bodkin instead to prick them.
Another story has it that the bodkin came to be used is because the list is traditionally produced on vellum and pricking the vellum is more permanent than making a mark with ink which could be tampered with.
‘Shire reeves’ as they were originally known were appointed for each county and used to have to give account to the reigning monarch once a year of the money they had collected on behalf of the monarch.
These days the high sheriffs no longer collect money for the monarch.
They also had many other powers but most of those have now been vested in lord lieutenants, High Court judges, magistrates, local authorities, coroners and even the Inland Revenue.
Today the functions of the post are now almost entirely ceremonial. The only significant legal functions relate to the enforcement of High Court writs.
High sheriffs are still expected to be ready to attend to the needs of, and provide hospitality to, High Court judges out on “circuit”, when they preside over the county’s crown courts.
And they are also expected to attend at royal visits to their counties.
Another official act they are entitled to carry out is to act as returning officers in parliamentary elections.