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With the expansion of government during the later Middle Ages, royal authority was increasingly delegated to local officials, and the administrative requirements of the crown drew thousands of men into the business of local government, many of whom belonged to the gentry. Though destined to eventual eclipse by the Justice of the Peace, the sheriff in the fourteenth century could still claim to be the most important local official - he was an important link between the king and his subjects. This study of the careers of over 1200 sheriffs appointed in England during the fourteenth century uses extensive data on administrative appointments, military service and property interests to examine the sheriffs from a number of thematic vantage points: their patterns of appointment; their social and political suitability to the crown and their peers; their reputation for corruption and abuse of office as epitomised in the Robin Hood stories; and the place of local administration in the lives of knights and esquires in this period.;Since sheriffs and other local officials were also an integral part of landed society, this study also explores a number of key issues relating to the formation and redefinition of the English gentry. RICHARD GORSKI is lecturer in maritime history, University of Hull.