Monday, July 17, 2017

Definition Day: Reeve

This is the first of what will be an irregular series where I define terms that the genealogist might come across. This time I will explain the role of a reeve.

A reeve was a very important man in Feudal England.  The term originates back in Anglo-Saxon times, deriving from the Old English word ġerēfa.

In some manors the reeve was appointed by the lord of the manor, but in most he was elected on a yearly basis by the peasants from among their own number.

His job was three-fold: to represent the tenants in negotiations with the lord of the manor, to allocate and oversee the work that the peasants were obliged to perform for the lord on his land, and take responsibility for many aspects of the finances of the manor, like sale of produce, collection of revenues and payment of accounts.

Medieval illustration of a reeve directing serfs in their work

A special type of reeve was the "shire reeve", a term which over time evolved to become the word "sheriff". The shire reeve was appointed by the king to collect his revenues, supervise the county and make sure the local citizens performed their law enforcement functions correctly according to the frankpledge system. Under the frankpledge system groups of families formed together to protect each other and also to produce any man from amongst them suspected of committing a crime. The role of shire reeve later came to include the direct responsibility for apprehending people who had broken the law. It was a paid position, assisted by constables, and would not have been from the villain class.

The connection between what became two different roles lies in the original function of collecting revenues and in implementing the decisions of the lord of the manor, or in the case of the shire reeve, the common law.