Shire

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A shire is a traditional term for a division of land, found in Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and some other English-speaking countries. It was first used in Wessex from the beginning of Anglo-Saxon settlement, and spread to most of the rest of England in the tenth century. In some rural parts of Australia, a shire is a local government area; however, in Australia it is not synonymous with a "county", which is a lands administrative division.

Great Britain island in the North Atlantic off the north-west coast of continental Europe

Great Britain is an island in the North Atlantic Ocean off the northwest coast of continental Europe. With an area of 209,331 km2 (80,823 sq mi), it is the largest of the British Isles, the largest European island, and the ninth-largest island in the world. In 2011, Great Britain had a population of about 61 million people, making it the world's third-most populous island after Java in Indonesia and Honshu in Japan. The island of Ireland is situated to the west of Great Britain, and together these islands, along with over 1,000 smaller surrounding islands, form the British Isles archipelago.

Australia Country in Oceania

Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania and numerous smaller islands. It is the largest country in Oceania and the world's sixth-largest country by total area. The neighbouring countries are Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and East Timor to the north; the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to the north-east; and New Zealand to the south-east. The population of 25 million is highly urbanised and heavily concentrated on the eastern seaboard. Australia's capital is Canberra, and its largest city is Sydney. The country's other major metropolitan areas are Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.

New Zealand Country in Oceania

New Zealand is a sovereign island country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. The country geographically comprises two main landmasses—the North Island, and the South Island —and around 600 smaller islands. New Zealand is situated some 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) east of Australia across the Tasman Sea and roughly 1,000 kilometres (600 mi) south of the Pacific island areas of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga. Because of its remoteness, it was one of the last lands to be settled by humans. During its long period of isolation, New Zealand developed a distinct biodiversity of animal, fungal, and plant life. The country's varied topography and its sharp mountain peaks, such as the Southern Alps, owe much to the tectonic uplift of land and volcanic eruptions. New Zealand's capital city is Wellington, while its most populous city is Auckland.

Contents

Etymology

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle - scire (British Library Cotton MS Tiberius A VI, folio 11v).jpg Anglo-Saxon Chronicle - scira (British Library Cotton MS Tiberius A VI, folio 9v).jpg
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle often mentions various locations ending or beginning with 'scire' and 'scira'.

The word derives from the Old English scir, itself a derivative of the Proto-Germanic skizo (cf. Old High German scira), meaning care or official charge. [1] In the UK, "shire" is the original term for what is usually known now as a county ; the word county having been introduced at the Norman Conquest of England. The two are nearly synonymous. Although in modern British usage counties are referred to as "shires" mainly in poetic contexts, terms such as Shire Hall remain common. Shire also remains a common part of many county names.

County Geographical and administrative region in some countries

A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposes, in certain modern nations. The term is derived from the Old French conté or cunté denoting a jurisdiction under the sovereignty of a count (earl) or a viscount. The modern French is comté, and its equivalents in other languages are contea, contado, comtat, condado, Grafschaft, graafschap, Gau, etc..

In regions with so-called rhotic pronunciation such as Scotland, the word shire is pronounced /ʃaɪər/ . In non-rhotic areas the final R is silent unless the next word begins in a vowel. When shire is a suffix as part of a placename in England, the vowel is unstressed and thus usually shortened and/or monophthongised: pronunciations include /ʃɜːr/ , or sometimes /ʃɪər/ , with the pronunciation of the final R again depending on rhoticity. In many words, the vowel is normally reduced all the way to a single schwa, as in for instance Leicestershire /ˈlɛstərʃər/ or Berkshire /ˈbɑːrkʃər/ . Outside England, and especially in Scotland and the US, it is more common for shire as part of a placename to be pronounced identically to the full word, as a result of spelling pronunciation [ citation needed ].

Rhoticity in English is the pronunciation of the historical rhotic consonant by speakers of English. It is one of the most prominent distinctions by which varieties of English can be classified. The historical English sound is preserved in all pronunciation contexts in the "rhotic varieties" of English, which primarily include the English dialects of Scotland, Ireland, and most of the United States and Canada. However, the historical is not pronounced except before vowels in "non-rhotic varieties", which include most of the dialects of modern England, Wales, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and some parts of the southern and eastern—particularly coastal northeastern—United States.

Scotland Country in Europe, part of the United Kingdom

Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Sharing a border with England to the southeast, Scotland is otherwise surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, the North Sea to the northeast, the Irish Sea to the south, and the North Channel to the southwest. In addition to the mainland, situated on the northern third of the island of Great Britain, Scotland has over 790 islands, including the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.

Origins

The system was first used in the kingdom of Wessex from the beginning of Anglo-Saxon settlement, and spread to most of the rest of England in the tenth century, along with the West Saxon kingdom's political domination. In Domesday (1086) the city of York was divided into shires. [2] The first shires of Scotland were created in English-settled areas such as Lothian and the Borders, in the ninth century. King David I more consistently created shires and appointed sheriffs across lowland shores of Scotland.

Wessex Anglo-Saxon kingdom in the south of Great Britain

Wessex was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom in the south of Great Britain, from 519 until England was unified by Æthelstan in the early 10th century.

York Historic city in the north of England

York is a city and unitary authority area in North Yorkshire, England, with a population of 208,200 as of 2017. Located at the confluence of the Rivers Ouse and Foss, it is the county town of the historic county of Yorkshire and was the home of the House of York throughout its existence. The city is known for its famous historical landmarks such as York Minster and the city walls, as well as a variety of cultural and sporting activities, which makes it a popular tourist destination in England. The local authority is the City of York Council, a single tier governing body responsible for providing all local services and facilities throughout the city. The City of York local government district includes rural areas beyond the old city boundaries.

Lothian Place

Lothian is a region of the Scottish Lowlands, lying between the southern shore of the Firth of Forth and the Lammermuir Hills. The principal settlement is the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, while other significant towns include Livingston, Linlithgow, Bathgate, Queensferry, Dalkeith, Musselburgh, Prestonpans, North Berwick, Dunbar, and Haddington.

The shire in early days was governed by an ealdorman and in the later Anglo-Saxon period by royal official known as a "shire reeve" or sheriff. The shires were divided into hundreds or wapentakes, although other less common sub-divisions existed. An alternative name for a shire was a "sheriffdom" until sheriff court reforms separated the two concepts. The phrase "shire county" applies, unofficially, to non-metropolitan counties in England, specifically those that are not local unitary authority areas. In Scotland the word "county" was not adopted for the shires. Although "county" appears in some texts, "shire" was the normal name until counties for statutory purposes were created in the nineteenth century.

Ealdorman

Ealdorman was a term in Anglo-Saxon England which originally applied to a man of high status, including some of royal birth, whose authority was independent of the king. It evolved in meaning and in the eighth century was sometimes applied to the former kings of territories which had submitted to great powers such as Mercia. In Wessex in the second half of the ninth century it meant the leaders of individual shires appointed by the king. By the tenth century ealdormen had become the local representatives of the West Saxon king of England. Ealdormen would lead in battle, preside over courts and levy taxation. Ealdormanries were the most prestigious royal appointments, the possession of noble families and semi-independent rulers. The territories became large, often covering former kingdoms such as Mercia or East Anglia. Southern ealdormen often attended court, reflecting increasing centralisation of the kingdom, but the loyalty of northern ealdormen was more uncertain. In the eleventh century the term eorl replaced that of ealdorman, but this reflected a change in terminology under Danish influence rather than a change in function.

Reeve (England) senior official with local responsibilities under the Crown

Originally in Anglo-Saxon England the reeve was a senior official with local responsibilities under the Crown, e.g., as the chief magistrate of a town or district. Subsequently, after the Norman conquest, it was an office held by a man of lower rank, appointed as manager of a manor and overseer of the peasants. In this later role, historian H. R. Loyn observes, "he is the earliest English specialist in estate management."

Sheriff court

A sheriff court is the principal local civil and criminal court in Scotland, with exclusive jurisdiction over all civil cases with a monetary value up to £100,000, and with the jurisdiction to hear any criminal case except treason, murder, and rape which are in the exclusive jurisdiction of the High Court of Justiciary. Though the sheriff courts have concurrent jurisdiction with the High Court over armed robbery, drug trafficking, and sexual offences involving children, the vast majority of these cases are heard by the High Court. Each court serves a sheriff court district within one of the six sheriffdoms of Scotland. Each sheriff court is presided over by a sheriff, who is a legally qualified judge, and part of the judiciary of Scotland.

Shires in the United Kingdom

"Shire" also refers, in a narrower sense, to ancient counties with names that ended in "shire". These counties are typically (though not always) named after their county town. The suffix -shire is attached to most of the names of English, Scottish and Welsh counties. It tends not to be found in the names of shires that were pre-existing divisions. Essex, Kent, and Sussex, for example, have never borne a -shire, as each represents a former Anglo-Saxon kingdom. Similarly Cornwall was a British kingdom before it became an English county. The term "shire" is not used in the names of the six traditional counties of Northern Ireland.

A county town in Great Britain or Ireland is usually, but not always, the location of administrative or judicial functions within the county. The concept of a county town is ill-defined and unofficial. Following the establishment of county councils in 1889, the administrative headquarters of the new authorities were usually located in the county town of each county. However, this was not always the case and the idea of a "county town" pre-dates the establishment of these councils. For example, Lancaster is the county town of Lancashire but the county council is located at Preston.

Essex County of England

Essex is a county in the south-east of England, north-east of London. One of the home counties, it borders Suffolk and Cambridgeshire to the north, Hertfordshire to the west, Kent across the estuary of the River Thames to the south, and London to the south-west. The county town is Chelmsford, the only city in the county. For government statistical purposes Essex is placed in the East of England region.

Kent County of England

Kent is a county in South East England and one of the home counties. It borders Greater London to the north-west, Surrey to the west and East Sussex to the south-west. The county also shares borders with Essex along the estuary of the River Thames, and with the French department of Pas-de-Calais through the Channel Tunnel. The county town is Maidstone.

The historic counties of England -- red indicates "-shire" counties, orange indicates where the "-shire" suffix is occasionally used EnglandTraditionalShires.png
The historic counties of England — red indicates "-shire" counties, orange indicates where the "-shire" suffix is occasionally used

Shire names in England

Counties in England bearing the "-shire" suffix include: Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Herefordshire, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, Worcestershire and Yorkshire. These counties, on their historical boundaries, cover a little more than half the area of England. The counties that do not use "-shire" are mainly in three areas, in the south-east, south-west and far north of England. Several of these counties no longer exist as administrative units, or have had their administrative boundaries reduced by local government reforms. Several of the successor authorities retain the "-shire" county names, such as West Yorkshire and South Gloucestershire.

The county of Devon was historically known as Devonshire, although this is no longer the official name. [3] Similarly, Dorset, Rutland and Somerset were formerly known as Dorsetshire, Rutlandshire and Somersetshire, but these terms are no longer official, and are rarely used outside the local populations.

Hexhamshire was a county in the north-east of England from the early 12th century until 1572, when it was incorporated into Northumberland.

Shire names in Scotland

In Scotland, barely affected by the Norman conquest of England, the word "shire" prevailed over "county" until the 19th century. Earliest sources have the same usage of the "-shire" suffix as in England (though in Scots this was oftenmost "schyr"). Later the "Shire" appears as a separate word.

"Shire" names in Scotland include Aberdeenshire, Ayrshire, Banffshire, Berwickshire, Clackmannanshire, Cromartyshire, Dumfriesshire, Dunbartonshire, Inverness-shire, Kincardineshire, Kinross-shire, Kirkcudbrightshire, Lanarkshire, Morayshire, Nairnshire, Peeblesshire, Perthshire, Renfrewshire, Ross-shire, Roxburghshire, Selkirkshire, Stirlingshire, and Wigtownshire.

In Scotland four shires have alternative names with the "-shire" suffix: Angus (Forfarshire), East Lothian (Haddingtonshire), Midlothian (Edinburghshire) and West Lothian (Linlithgowshire).

Sutherland is occasionally still referred to as Sutherlandshire. Similarly, Argyllshire, Buteshire, Caithness-shire and Fifeshire are sometimes found. Also, Morayshire was previously called Elginshire. There is debate about whether Argyllshire was ever really used.

Shire names in Wales

Shires in Wales bearing the "-shire" suffix include: Brecknockshire (or Breconshire), Caernarfonshire (historically Carnarvonshire), Cardiganshire (now Ceredigion), Carmarthenshire, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Monmouthshire, Montgomeryshire, Pembrokeshire, and Radnorshire. In Wales, the counties of Merioneth and Glamorgan are occasionally referred to with the "shire" suffix. The only traditional Welsh county that never takes "shire" is Anglesey—in English: in Welsh it is referred to as 'Sir Fon'.

Non-county "shires"

The suffix "-shire" could be a generalised term referring to a district. It did not acquire the strong association with county until later. Other than these, the term was used for several other districts. Bedlingtonshire, Craikshire, Norhamshire and Islandshire were exclaves of County Durham, which were incorporated into Northumberland or Yorkshire in 1844. The suffix was also used for many hundreds, wapentakes and liberties such as Allertonshire, Blackburnshire, Halfshire, Howdenshire, Leylandshire, Powdershire, Pydarshire, Richmondshire, Riponshire, Salfordshire, Triggshire, Tynemouthshire, West Derbyshire and Wivelshire, counties corporate such as Hullshire, and other districts such as Applebyshire, Bamburghshire, Bunkleshire, Carlisleshire, Coldinghamshire, Coxwoldshire, Cravenshire, Hallamshire, Mashamshire and Yetholmshire. Richmondshire is today the name of a local government district of North Yorkshire.

Non-county shires were very common in Scotland. Kinross-shire and Clackmannanshire are arguably survivals from such districts. Non-county "shires" in Scotland include Bunkleshire, Coldinghamshire and Yetholmshire.

Shires in Australia

"Shire" is the most common word in Australia for rural local government areas (LGAs). New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory use the term "shire" for this unit; the territories of Christmas Island and Cocos Island are also shires. In contrast, South Australia uses district and region for its rural LGA units, while Tasmania uses municipality. Shires are generally functionally indistinguishable from towns, borough, municipalities, or cities.

Three LGAs in outer metropolitan Sydney and four in outer metropolitan Melbourne have populations exceeding that of towns or municipalities, but retain significant bushlands and/or semi-rural areas, and most have continued to use "shire" in their titles whilst others have dropped it from theirs. These "city-shires" are:

Sydney:

Melbourne:

Shires in the United States of America

In 1634, eight "shires" were created in the Virginia Colony by order of Charles I, King of England. They were renamed as counties only a few years later. They were:

As of 2013 six of the original eight Shires of Virginia are considered to be still extant whilst two have consolidated with a neighbouring city. Most of their boundaries have changed in the intervening centuries.

Before the Province of New York was granted county subdivisions and a greater royal presence in 1683, the early ducal colony consisted of York Shire, as well as Albany and Ulster, after the three titles held by Prince James: Duke of York, Duke of Albany, Earl of Ulster. While these were basically renamed Dutch core settlements, they were quickly converted to English purposes, while the Dutch remained within the colony, as opposed to later practice of the Acadian Expulsion. Further Anglo-Dutch synthesis occurred when James enacted the Dominion of New England and later when William III of England took over through the Glorious Revolution.

A few New England states and commonwealths (namely Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Maine), still use the term shire town for their county seats, although they use the term county, rather than shire.

The word also survives in the name of the state of New Hampshire, whose co-founder, John Mason, named his Province of New Hampshire after the English county.

See also

Related Research Articles

In phonetics, rhotic consonants, or "R-like" sounds, are liquid consonants that are traditionally represented orthographically by symbols derived from the Greek letter rho, including ⟨R⟩, ⟨r⟩ in the Latin script and ⟨Р⟩, ⟨p⟩ in the Cyrillic script. They are transcribed in the International Phonetic Alphabet by upper- or lower-case variants of Roman ⟨R⟩, ⟨r⟩:, ,, ,, ,, and.

Historic counties of England Geographical designations for areas of England, based on historical traditions

The historic counties of England are areas that were established for administration by the Normans, in many cases based on earlier kingdoms and shires created by the Anglo-Saxons and others. They are alternatively known as ancient counties, traditional counties, former counties or simply as counties. In the centuries that followed their establishment, as well as their administrative function, the counties also helped define local culture and identity. This role continued even after the counties ceased to be used for administration after the creation of administrative counties in 1889, which were themselves amended by further local government reforms in the years following.

A fyrd was a type of early Anglo-Saxon army that was mobilised from freemen to defend their shire, or from selected representatives to join a royal expedition. Service in the fyrd was usually of short duration and participants were expected to provide their own arms and provisions. The composition of the fyrd evolved over the years, particularly as a reaction to raids and invasions by the Vikings. The system of defence and conscription was reorganised during the reign of Alfred the Great, who set up 33 fortified towns in his kingdom of Wessex. The amount of taxation required to maintain each town was laid down in a document known as the Burghal Hidage. Each lord had his individual holding of land assessed in hides. Based on his land holding, he had to contribute men and arms to maintain and defend the burhs. Non-compliance with this requirement could lead to severe penalties.

Hallamshire

Hallamshire is the historical name for an area of South Yorkshire, England, in the current city of Sheffield.

Shires of Scotland historic administrative and geographical division of Scotland

The counties or shires of Scotland are geographic subdivisions of Scotland established in the Middle Ages. Originally established for judicial purposes, from the 17th century they started to be used for local administration purposes as well. The areas used for judicial functions (sheriffdoms) came to diverge from the shires, which ceased to be used for local government purposes after 1975 under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973.

Kingdom of England historic sovereign kingdom on the British Isles (927–1649; 1660–1707)

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A local government area (LGA) is an administrative division of a country that a local government is responsible for. The size of an LGA varies by country but it is generally a subdivision of a state, province, division, or territory.

The eight Shires of Virginia were formed in 1634 in the Virginia Colony. These shires were based on a form of local government used in England at the time, and were redesignated as counties a few years later. As of 2007, five of the eight original shires were considered still extant in the Commonwealth of Virginia in essentially their same political form, although some boundaries and several names have changed in the almost 400 years since their creation.

Older Southern American English former set of dialects

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Regiones or provinciae,(singular: provincia), also referred to by historians as small shires or early folk territories, were early territorial divisions of Anglo-Saxon England, referred to in sources such as Anglo-Saxon charters and the writings of Bede. They are likely to have originated in the years before 600, and most evidence for them occurs in sources from or about the 7th century.

References

  1. Online Etymology Dictionary, entry "Shire". Retrieved 15 October 2011.
  2. Gareth Dean, Medieval York 2008:21.
  3. "RootsWeb.com Home Page". freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com. Archived from the original on 3 June 2016.