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Historic Times, Titles and Terms (the photograph above shows Mrs Jennifer Crompton, High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire)

The sad death of our dear Queen, HM Queen Elizabeth II, has resurrected terms and titles from our rich heritage of words that are not often used: Proclamation of Accession, High Sheriffs and Lord Lieutenants – what are they, who are they, and why do we have them? The announcement of a new monarch has not been made for a very long time because our Queen reigned for 70 years and so, for the vast majority of the British population, this is the first memorable time that we have witnessed the change of a Monarch and, in this case, from a Queen to a King.

The execution of Mary, Queen of Scots in our neighbouring village of Fotheringhay bought the Tudor dynasty only 16 additional years before the death of Queen Elizabeth I when Mary’s son became King James I of England in 1603 whilst he was already King James VI of Scotland. His accession brought together the crowns of Scotland and England and the beginning of the Stuart dynasty. From Saxon times the accession of Kings and Queens had been self-proclaimed either through their bloodline or the sword. At the time of Queen Elizabeth I’s death her son, King James VI of Scotland was living in Edinburgh which created a need to proclaim James as the rightful King of England in London. This brought about the creation of an Accession Council made up of members of the late monarch’s Privy Council along with the great and the good. And from that time on an Accession Council has assembled to conduct a formal Proclamation of Accession ceremony for the new Sovereign.

The Accession Council met at St James Palace on 10 September 2022 to proclaim our new Sovereign, King Charles III and an order was made requiring High Sheriffs to proclaim the accession of the King in their areas of jurisdiction. The High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire, Mrs Jennifer Crompton (shown in photograph), along with the Lord Lieutenant, Mrs Julie Spence, made their proclamations in both Cambridge and Peterborough the following day.

A High Sheriff is a ceremonial officer appointed for one year for each county of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Office of High Sheriff is the oldest Royal appointment which is unpaid and non-political and their history and tradition go back to Saxon times when the ‘Shire Reeve’ was responsible to the king for the maintenance of law and order within the shire or county, and for the collection and return of taxes due to the Crown. Whilst the duties of the role have evolved over time, supporting the Crown and the judiciary remain central elements of the role today. In addition, High Sheriffs actively lend support and encouragement to crime prevention agencies, the emergency services and to the voluntary sector. In Scotland the Sheriff is a judicial office holder in the Sheriff courts, and they are members of the judiciary of Scotland and so the role is rather different to the High Sheriffs of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The other role that has been prominent in the recent Proclamation of Accession ceremonies at county level is that of Lord Lieutenant and has accompanied the High Sheriff. The office of Lord Lieutenant is of military origin and dates back to the reign of Henry VIII when the Sovereign made the holder responsible for the maintenance of order and for all military measures necessary. The Lieutenants were generally noblemen and William Parr, Marquess of Northampton, brother of Queen Katherine, Henry VIII’s last wife, was appointed as the first Lord Lieutenant in the county of Northamptonshire in 1549. He was also appointed to serve in the counties of Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Bedfordshire and Norfolk. There are Lord Lieutenants in each county of the United Kingdom.

Wansford marked the historic occasion of our dear Queen’s death at a communal ceremony that took place during the evening on the day of her funeral. Cllr John Stannage, Chairman of Wansford Parish Council, read out a tribute to the Queen which acknowledged and thanked her devotion to duty and astonishing work ethic. He welcomed the new King, King Charles III and the National Anthem was sung by all present. The people of Wansford stood by a burning beacon and raised their glasses to the new King and bid him Three Cheers! Long Live the King!

Marie Lewis, Clerk to Wansford Parish Council