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Hundred (division)

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Hundred (division)

A hundred is a geographic division formerly used in England, Wales, South Australia and some parts of the United States, to divide a larger region into smaller administrative divisions; similar divisions were made in Denmark, Southern Schleswig, Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Norway. Other terms for the hundred in English and other languages include wapentake, herred (Danish, Norwegian Bokmål), herad (Norwegian Nynorsk), hérað (Icelandic), härad or hundare (Swedish), Harde (German), kihlakunta (Finnish) and kihelkond (Estonian). In Ireland the similar subdivision of counties was referred to as baronies. The term has fallen into general disuse, except for legal documentation. The name "hundred" is derived from the number one hundred; it may once have referred to an area liable to provide for a hundred men under arms, or containing roughly a hundred homesteads. It was a traditional Germanic system described as early as AD 98 by Tacitus (the centeni). Similar systems were used in the traditional administrative regimes of China and Japan.

England and Wales

Also known as:
Category County subdivision
Location England and Wales
Found in Shires
Possible status Royal Manor
Government Hundred Court
Subdivisions Divisions
Half hundreds

In England and Wales a hundred was the division of a shire for military and judicial purposes under the common law, which could have varying extent of common feudal ownership, from complete suzerainty to minor royal or ecclesiastical prerogatives and rights of ownership.[1] and, until the introduction of districts by the Local Government Act 1894, hundreds were the only widely used assessment unit intermediate between the parish, with its various administrative functions and the county, with its formal, ceremonial functions in size.[2]

Originally, when introduced by the Saxons between 613 and 1017, a hundred had land which sustained approximately 100 households, defined as the land covered by one hundred hides,[3] and was headed by a hundredman or hundred eolder. He was responsible for justice and supplying military troops, as well as leading its forces. The office was not hereditary, but by the 10th century the office holder was selected from among a few outstanding families. Within each hundred there was a meeting place where wealthy and powerful men of the hundred discussed local issues, and judicial trials were held. The role of the Hundred Court was described in the "Dooms" (laws) of King Edgar. The name of the hundred was normally that of its meeting-place.[4]

Hundreds were further divided: larger or more populous hundreds were split into divisions (or in Sussex, half hundreds). All hundreds before the Conquest were divided into tithings, which contained ten households. Below that, the basic unit of land was the hide, which became a unit of assessment to taxation and indicated the profitability of the land with no necessary relationship to its area. Compare with township.

During Norman times the hundred would pay geld based on the number of hides.[5] To assess how much everyone had to pay, a clerk and a knight were sent by the king to each county, they sat with the shire-reeve (or sheriff), of the county and a select group of local knights.[5] There would be two knights from each hundred. After it was determined what geld had to be paid, then the knights of the hundred and the bailiff of the hundred were responsible for getting the money to the sheriff, and the sheriff to the Exchequer.[5]

Above the hundred was the shire, under the control of a sheriff. Hundred boundaries were independent of both parish and county boundaries, although often aligned, meaning that a hundred could be split between counties, or a parish could be split between hundreds.

The system of hundreds was not as stable as the system of counties being established at the time, and lists frequently differ on how many hundreds a county had. In many parts of the country, Domesday Book contained a radically different set of hundreds from that which later became established. The numbers of hundreds in each county varied wildly. Leicestershire had six (up from four at Domesday), whereas Devon, nearly three times larger, had 32.

Hundred courts

Over time, the principal functions of the hundred became the administration of law and the keeping of the peace. By the 12th century the hundred court was held twelve times a year. This was later increased to fortnightly, although an ordinance of 1234 reduced the frequency to once every three weeks. In some hundreds, courts were held at a fixed place; while in others, courts moved with each sitting to a different location. The main duties of the hundred court were the maintenance of the frankpledge system. It was formed of 12 freeholders, or freeman.[6] They crossed jurisdictions of manorial courts,[6] i.e. courts baron and courts leet. Tithings handled many problems involving villeins, but since freeholders were outside the frankpledge system, any suits involving them would need to be held in a hundred court.[6]

For especially serious crimes, here the hundred was under the jurisdiction of the crown, the chief magistrate was a sheriff, and was called the sheriff's tourn.[6] However, many hundreds were in private hands, with the lordship of the hundred being attached to the principal manor of the area and becoming hereditary. Where a hundred was under a lord, a steward, the chief official of the Lord of the Manor and a judge, was appointed in place of a sheriff.[7]

The importance of the hundred courts declined from the 17th century, and most of their powers were extinguished with the establishment of county courts in 1867.[8] The remaining duty of the inhabitants of a hundred to make good damages caused by riot was ended in 1886, when the cost was transferred to the county police rate.[9] Although hundreds had no administrative or legal role after this date, they have never been formally abolished.

Administrative functions

Until the middle of the 19th century, the annual meetings of hundreds had varying degrees of power on a local level in the feudal system since the 11th century in England, and to a lesser extent from the 16th century in Wales.[2] Of chief importance was their more regular use for taxation, and six centuries of taxation returns for the hundreds survive to this day.[2]

Groupings of hundreds were used to define parliamentary constituencies from 1832 to 1885. On the redistribution of seats in 1885 a different county subdivision, the petty sessional division, was used. Hundreds were also used to administer the first four[2] national censuses from 1801 to 1841.[2]

By the end of the 19th century several single-purpose subdivisions of counties such as poor law unions, sanitary districts, and highway districts had sprung up, which, together with the introduction of urban districts and rural districts in 1894, replaced mostly the role of the parishes and to a lesser extent, the less frequent role played by hundreds. Several ancient hundred names give their name to modern local government districts.

Chiltern Hundreds

The Chiltern Hundreds are notable as a legal fiction, owing to a quirk of British Parliamentary law. A Crown Steward was appointed to maintain law and order in the area, but these duties ceased to be performed in the 16th century, and the holder ceased to gain any benefits during the 17th century. The position has since been used as a procedural device to allow resignation from the House of Commons.


A wapentake is a term derived from the Old Norse vápnatak,[10] the rough equivalent of an Anglo-Saxon hundred. The word denotes an administrative meeting place, typically a crossroads or a ford in a river. The origin of the word is not known. Folk etymology has it that voting would be denoted or conducted by the show of weapons, or alternately voting was done only by citizens, who were the only ones who could possess weapons, an idea perhaps suggested by references in The Germania of Tacitus or current practice in the Swiss canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden. According to other authorities[11] weapons were not flourished at a Norse þing and "weapon taking" or vopnatak was the end of an assembly, when one was allowed to take weapons up again, providing another possible origin of the wapentake.

The Danelaw counties of Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Rutland and Lincolnshire were divided into wapentakes, just as most of the remainder of England was divided into hundreds.

In Yorkshire, a Norse wapentake usually replaced several Anglo-Saxon hundreds. This process was complete by 1086 in the North and West Ridings, but continued in the East Riding until the mid 12th century.

In some counties, such as Leicestershire, the wapentakes recorded at the time of Domesday Book evolved into hundreds later on. In others, such as Lincolnshire, the term remained in use.[12] Although no longer part of local government, there is some correspondence between the rural deanery and the former wapentake or hundred especially in the East Midlands, the Archdeaconry of Buckingham and the Diocese of York (see, for example Beltisloe or Loveden).[13]

In most of England, the corresponding unit was the hundred, which was in principle, a grouping of a hundred households. Around a thousand years ago, it was important as a unit for gathering taxes and raising men for the 'citizen' army of the time, known as the Fyrd. The idea of the hundred goes back at least to the time of Tacitus but the version called the wapentake belongs to the Danish-influenced part of England. It therefore dates in that country, from the tenth or very early eleventh century.

described the wapentakes as "now of little practical value". Their potential functions had been taken over piecemeal by other units such as electoral districts, Poor-Law unions and so on.

The term ward was used in a similar manner in the four northern counties of Cumberland, Durham, Northumberland and Westmorland.

Lathes in Kent and rapes in Sussex consisted of several hundreds, and filled some roles usually associated with hundreds.

In Wales the hundred replaced traditional units such as the cantref (or cantred) or commote. Irish counties were divided into baronies.


The term hundare (hundred) was used in , a part of the coast where the inhabitants were responsible for equipping and manning a war ship.

Hundreds were not organized in Norrland, the northern sparsely populated part of Sweden. In Sweden, a countryside härad was typically divided in a few socken units (parish), where the ecclestial and worldly administrative units often coincided. This began losing its basic significance through the communal reform of 1862 [sv]. A härad was originally a subdivision of a landskap (province), but since the government reform of 1634, län ("county") took over all administrative roles of the province. A härad functioned also as electoral district for one peasant representative during the Riksdag of the Estates (Swedish parliament 1436-1866). The häradsrätt[sv] (hundred court) was the court of first instance in the countryside, abolished in 1970 and superseded by tingsrätt (modern district courts).

Today the hundreds serve no administrative role in Sweden, although some judicial district courts still bear the name (e.g. Attunda tingsrätt) and the hundreds are occasionally used in expressions, e.g. Sjuhäradsbygden (District of seven hundreds).

It is not entirely clear when hundreds were organised in the western part of Finland. The name of the province of Satakunta, roughly meaning hundred (sata=100), hints at influences from the times before the Northern Crusades, Christianization, and incorporation into Sweden.

As kihlakunta, hundreds remained the fundamental administrative division for the state authorities until 2009. Each was subordinated to a lääni (province/county) and had its own police department, district court and prosecutors. Typically, cities would comprise an urban kihlakunta by themselves, but several rural municipalities would belong to a rural kihlakunta. Following the abolition of the provinces as an administrative unit, the territory for each authority could be demarcated separately, i.e. police districts need not equal court districts in number.

United States

Counties in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania were divided into hundreds in the seventeenth century, following the English practice familiar to the colonists. They survive in Delaware (see List of Delaware Counties and Hundreds), and were used as tax reporting and voting districts until the 1960s, but now serve no administrative role, their only official legal use being in real-estate title descriptions.[15]

The hundred was also used as a division of the county in Maryland. Carroll County, Maryland, was composed in 1836 by taking the following hundreds from Baltimore County: North Hundred, Pipe Creek Hundred, Delaware Upper Hundred, Delaware Lower Hundred and from Frederick County: Pipe Creek Hundred, Westminster Hundred, Unity Hundred, Burnt House Hundred, Piney Creek Hundred, and Taneytown Hundred. Maryland's Somerset County, which was established in 1666, was initially divided into six hundreds: Mattapony, Pocomoke, Boquetenorton, Wicomico, and Baltimore Hundreds; later subdivisions of the hundreds added five more: Pitts Creek, Acquango, Queponco, Buckingham, and Worcester Hundreds. Following American independence, the term "hundred" fell out of favor and was replaced by "election district." However, the names of the old hundreds continue to show up in deeds for another fifty years.

Some plantations in early colonial Virginia used the term hundred in their names, such as Martin's Hundred, Flowerdew Hundred, and West and Shirley Hundred.[16] Bermuda Hundred was the first incorporated town in the English colony of Virginia. It was founded by Sir Thomas Dale in 1613, six years after Jamestown.

While debating what became the Land Ordinance of 1785, Thomas Jefferson's committee wanted to divide the public lands in the west into "hundreds of ten geographical miles square, each mile containing 6086 and 4-10ths of a foot".[17] The legislation instead introduced the six-mile square township of the Public Land Survey System.


In South Australia land titles still record which hundred a parcel of land is located in. Similar to the notion of the South Australian counties listed on the system of titles, hundreds are not generally used when referring to a district and are little known by the general population. Cumberland County (Sydney) was also divided into hundreds in the nineteenth century, although these were later repealed. A hundred is traditionally one hundred square miles.[18]

See also


Template:Types of administrative country subdivision

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