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History of Bailiff

In English history the landlord of a franchise did not get involved in the daily administration of his manor or town; he appointed officials to undertake duties such as collection of gable rents or supervision of services due him from his tenants. He would select a tenant to exercise the office of reeve, from the Anglo-Saxon gerefa. The medieval "sheriff" was simply the king’s shire-reeve. The first administrative officers we find in English towns were thus reeves. Or he might employ a man to act as the bailiff for his estates.

In the first centuries after the Conquest they are usually referred to by their Latin name prepositus or provost meaning leading man. They presided over the folkmoot or the folk. After self-government was acquired, the term ballivus, implying jurisdiction over a certain area or balliwick, or bailiff, gradually came to be preferred. In most towns one or more bailiffs acted as executive officers, presiding over local courts, at first. Only later did mayors supersede them in authority.

From The Medieval Sourcebook: The Assizes of Bread, Beer & Lucrum Pistoris


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