While researching who was the Sheriff of Kent in 1375, and when, exactly, in March he would have been elected (neither of which has any bearing on this post) I came upon the following site:
From this, I have extracted the following interesting little snippet.
“….Sheriffs are nominated annually for the position….The list of candidates is drawn up and presented to representatives of the Sovereign in March at a meeting of the Privy Council.
“….The successful candidate is chosen by the process of ‘pricking’. This is done by pricking the parchment with a silver bodkin next to the name of the chosen candidate. The practice of ‘pricking’ is said to date back to Elizabeth I; when she was employed in embroidery and was asked to choose the Sheriffs she pricked the vellum parchment with her silver bodkin.
“….However, the process of ‘pricking’ may have come before this anecdote as parchments from Henry VII’s reign, Queen’s Elizabeth I’s grandfather, have also been pricked.
“….Another explanation for the pricking of the vellum was that it could not be repaired, whereas a mark in ink could be removed, as being selected as the High Sheriff was not always well received. When elected as the High Sheriff there were financial implications, shouldering some of the cost as well as trouble in duties such as collecting taxes. The pricking of the vellum therefore could not be erased and the chosen Sheriff was obliged to carry out their post, with cost being one of the reasons that the post was only for a year….”
I wonder how old this practice is? Might it go as far back as Richard? Edward IV? Even further?