The office of Sheriff in Lichfield was created by a Charter of Queen Mary in 1553, which granted the status of County and City, and this is confirmed in further Charters of succeeding monarchs dated 1559, 1620, 1623, 1664 and 1686, all of which are still extant.
The civil jurisdiction declined after the Conquest since pleas relating to land were transferred to the feudal courts and later the royal courts.
The first Sheriff of Lichfield was Gregorie Stonynge who, in 1548, had been the first Senior Bailiff (Mayor) appointed under the Charter of Edward VI.
In common with other Sheriffs, the Sheriff of Lichfield was responsible for keeping the prison and gallows, and heavy neck collars chain and shackles. In 1611 the Sheriff would have been present at the trial and subsequent burning at the stake of Edward Wightman, the last person to be burnt for heresy in England.
The Sheriff continued to supervise the system of “frankpledge” (swearing to keep the peace by a family or group of inhabitants) until this became obsolete in the fourteenth century, but is retained in a purely ceremonial form to this day.
The City of Lichfield still maintains the “Court of Saint George”, which, as the name implies, is always held on Saint George’s Day, 23rd April. This is the Court Leet and the said View of Frank Pledge, when the Mayor and City Council become Lords of the Manor, which the Sheriff attends in support of the Mayor and the Barony of Lichfield. There is a presentation of reports from each of the City Wards, and from the Pinner and Ale Tasters, all done in a humorous manner.
The Sheriff also attends the Court of Arraye or View of Men at Arms which takes place at the Spring Bank Holiday. This Court is only ceremonial, but has taken place in an unbroken line for over 1000 years.
The major event in the Sheriff’s civic calendar is the Sheriff’s Ride, which is held on the Saturday nearest the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which takes place on 8th September.
On that day a colourful procession of horsemen –and women take part. The ride is over 16 miles of the surrounding country as the city boundary is marked. The High Sheriff and other Civic Heads are invited, and until quite recently up to 100 riders have taken part. The event, luncheon and presentation of prizes for best turn out are open to the public.