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Farmer and custodian sheriffs

Most sheriffs, most of the time, held office as farmers of their counties: they were appointed on the understanding that they would deliver a fixed amount, the farm plus the agreed profit, each year. It was up to them to produce the cash. If they collected more, they could keep the difference, giving them a clear incentive to exploit the counties. The details of where the money came from did not concern the Exchequer, and were not recorded.

Occasionally, the Exchequer appointed sheriffs as custodians. This is noted in the pipe rolls, which show that the sheriff accounted ut custos. Custodians were expected to deliver all the revenues of the county to the Exchequer, in return for a fixed payment. This meant that they had to produce detailed particulars, showing the sources of revenue. A number of these particulars survive, but they have been little studied. At the end of each sheriff's particulars, the total produced is added up, and compared to the traditional farm. If the sheriff delivered more than the farm, this was also called profit, and went to the Exchequer, rather than the sheriff.

The surviving particulars show that the sources of revenue varied widely between counties. They usually included the profits of justice, the fines and amercements imposed in county courts and the courts of the subsidiary divisions of the counties, generally known as hundreds in the south and wapentakes in the north of England. They could also include traditional payments, such as sheriff's aid, and view of frankpledge, and sometimes sums obtained by farming out the hundreds, or rents for the relatively small properties which remained in sheriffs' hands after the bulk of the demesne had been leased out. Such information on the sources of revenue is only available when custodian sheriffs had to account by producing detailed particulars.