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Queen endorses the Thurlow Estate’s George Vestey as the next High Sheriff of Suffolk




George Vestey
George Vestey

The Queen has put her own personal mark on George Vestey, the new High Sheriff of Suffolk, by ‘hand pricking’ him as ready for action with a silver bodkin said to have once been owned and used for the same purpose by Queen Elizabeth I.

In an ancient ceremony at Buckingham Palace last Wednesday Her Majesty used the bodkin to prick the name of Mr Vestey, one of four brothers in charge of the Thurlow Estate, along with the names of all the other men and women on an official list who are set to become the country’s high sheriffs this year.

The ceremony is one which down the ages has officially signified the reigning monarch’s approval of those nominated to become the country’s High Sheriffs – the oldest secular office in the country.

Now, in the coming weeks the High Sheriffs will make declarations in accordance with the 1887 Sheriffs Act and take office after that.

Legend has it that the silver bodkin used to this day to “prick” the names of the Sheriffs on the list was originally used by Queen Elizabeth I, who was embroidering when she was asked to mark the names on the list. She couldn’t find a pen so is said to have used the bodkin instead to prick them.

Another story, however, has it that the reason the bodkin came to be used is because the list is traditionally produced on vellum and pricking the vellum is more permanent than making a mark with ink which could be tampered with.

The modern day form of the ceremony, carried out by the Queen at the Privy Council at Buckingham Palace yesterday, dates back to the reign of Queen Victoria. But the office of High Sheriff, however, stretches back much farther.

‘Shire Reeves’ as they were originally known were appointed for each county and used to have to give account to the reigning monarch once a year of the money they had collected on behalf of the monarch.

These days of course the High Sheriffs no longer collect money for the monarch in the way their predecessors did in centuries past.

They also had many other powers but the majority of those have now been vested in Lord Lieutenants, High Court judges, magistrates, local authorities, coroners and even the Inland Revenue.

Today the functions of the post are now almost entirely ceremonial. The only significant legal functions relate to the enforcement of High Court writs.

However, High Sheriffs are still expected to be ready to attend to the needs of, and provide hospitality to, High Court judges out on “circuit”, when they preside over the county’s crown courts.

And, ranking as they do among the country’s top dignitaries they are also expected to attend at royal visits to their counties.

Another official act they are entitled to carry out is to act as returning officers in parliamentary elections.



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