Among the many scraps of paper in my bulging folder of ideas for future writing projects is one for a novel set in Anglo-Saxon England, and some research I was doing recently gave me an idea for today’s posting.
There was no police force as such at a local level, but there was a post which was a sort of cross between law enforcement agent and administrator of justice. The holder of it was called a reeve, from the Saxon Gerefa. The reeve in a village or town was responsible to the head reeve for the country or shire. The old English for shire is scire (the Saxons pronounced it with a sibilant C: ‘shire’. In areas where Viking pronunciation was predominant, it would have a solid C. Hence Charlton/Carlton, Church/Kirk, which are Saxon and Viking variations of the same words.)
So, the head reeve for the county was the Scire Gerefa – which over the centuries became Shire Reeve, and eventually the word we know today: Sheriff.