The sheriffs of the county of Kent, c.1580- c.1625
The sheriffs of the county of Kent during this period were substantial members of the gentry - some more substantial than others - and derived their livelihood mainly from their positions as landlords in Kent, and sometimes in other counties too. They were drawn from the ranks of those who between them undertook the various tasks which went toward governing the county, from that of justice of the peace to that of Lord Lieutenant. Though it is probable that they supervised county elections, attended the assizes and welcomed distinguished visitors to the county, it is unlikely that they performed many of the routine shrieval duties themselves. This responsibility was placed in the hands of the undersheriff, a man of humbler social origins acting in the high sheriff's name. He organised the shrieval business, though it was largely executed by the bailiffs serving under him in limited areas, of which they had intimate knowledge. The sheriff's military power and the status of his courts had dwindled by this time, and his real significance must be sought elsewhere. The courts of the realm exercised their functions on the basis of various writs which brought juries and defendants into the courtroom, and then, in cases of debt in particular, discharged the judgements given there. Because the sheriff was responsible for executing all writs, his work was of fundamental importance to society and government alike. The days when he collected the king's revenue himself were gone: but if he were armed with the right writ, he alone had the power to take action against men who owed considerable sums of money to a financially hard-pressed government.