Reeve - Encyclopedia

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REEVE (0. E. gerefa), an English official who in early times was entrusted with the administration of a division of the country. He was the chief magistrate of a town or district, and is the ancestor of the sheriff, the shire-reeve. In addition to the sheriff there were several kinds of reeves, and we are told in the body of laws known as the laws of Edward the Confessor that it is "multiplex nomen; greve enim dicitur de scira, de wapentagiis, de hundredis, de burgis, de villis." Thus we hear of port-reeves, burg-reeves, and tun-reeves, while the AngloSaxon Chronicle mentions high reeves. It was the tun-reeve or reve of the township who with four other men represented the township in the courts of the hundred and the shire. In free townships he was probably chosen by the inhabitants; in dependent townships by the lord. A little later there were manor reeves, these being elected by the villains; according to Fleta, their duties were to attend to the cultivation of the land, and to see that each villain performed his proper share of service. The reve of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales was doubtless a steward or bailiff, something equivalent to the grieve in Scotland to-day.

In early English the word reeve was sometimes used as a translation for the prefect or governor of Roman and Jewish times. Some authorities have thought that there is some connexion between the Anglo-Saxon gerefa and the German Graf, but Max Muller (Lectures on the Science of Language, 1885) is inclined to doubt this. J. M. Kemble (Saxons in England, 1876), who goes at length into the history of the reeve, connects the word with rofan or refan, to call aloud, this making him the original of the bannitor, or proclaimer of the court. At the present time the word reeve is sometimes used to describe a foreman or overseer in a coal mine. It is also used in Canada for the president of a village or town council.

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