Hundred (county division)

A hundred was an administrative division that was geographically part of a larger region; it was formerly used in England, Wales, some parts of the United States, Denmark, Southern Schleswig, Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Norway. It is still used in other places, including South Australia.

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), Satakunta or kihlakunta (Finnish), kihelkond (Estonian) and Cantref (Welsh).

In Ireland, a similar subdivision of counties is referred to as a barony, and a hundred is a subdivision of a particularly large townland (most townlands are not divided into hundreds).


The name "hundred" may be derived from the number one hundred; it may once have referred to an area liable to provide 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
Hundreds of Cornwall in the early 19th century.

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] Until the introduction of districts by the Local Government Act 1894, hundreds were the only widely used assessment unit between the parish, with its various administrative functions and the county, with its formal, ceremonial functions in size.[2]

The term "hundred" is first recorded in the laws of King Edmund I (939-46) as a measure of land and the area served by a hundred court. In the midlands, they often covered an area of about 100 hides, but this does not apply in the south, which may suggest that it was an ancient West Saxon measure that was applied rigidly when Mercia became part of the newly established English kingdom in the tenth century. The Hundred Ordinance, which dates to the middle of the century, provides that the court is to meet monthly, and thieves are to be pursued by all the leading men of the district.[3] The name of the hundred (called "wapentake" in the Danelaw) was normally that of its meeting-place.[4]

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, the bailiff and knights of the hundred were responsible for getting the money to the sheriff, and the sheriff for getting it 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. Exceptionally, in the counties of Kent and Sussex, there was a sub-division between that of the hundred and the shire. Several hundreds were grouped together to form lathes in Kent and rapes in Sussex. At the time of the Norman Conquest, Kent was divided into seven lathes and Sussex into four rapes.

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, the 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 the size, 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 duty of the hundred court was the maintenance of the frankpledge system. The court was formed of 12 freeholders, or freemen.[6] According to a 13th-century statute, freeholders did not have to attend their lord's manorial courts, thus any suits involving them would be heard in a hundred court.[6][7]

For especially serious crimes, the hundred was under the jurisdiction of the Crown; the chief magistrate was a sheriff, and his circuit 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.[8]

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.[9] 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.[10] Although hundreds had no administrative or legal role after this date, they have never been formally abolished.

Administrative functions

From the 11th century in England, and to a lesser extent from the 16th century in Wales, and until the middle of the 19th century, the annual meetings of hundreds had varying degrees of power at a local level in the feudal system.[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, mostly replaced the role of the parishes and to a lesser extent, the less extensive role of 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.


Wapentake[lower-alpha 1] was the rough equivalent in the Danelaw of the Anglo-Saxon hundred. The word is possibly derived from a meeting place, usually at a crossroads or by a river, where one's presence or vote was taken by the brandishing of weapons.[11] According to some authorities, weapons were not brandished during a Norse assembly (known as a þing) but were allowed to be taken up again after the assembly had finished. It is also possible that it was just citizens who were entitled to possess weapons that were allowed to take part—an idea perhaps suggested by references in the Germania of Tacitus or current practice in the Swiss canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden.[12][13]

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.[14] 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).[15]

White (1882), Directory for Lincolnshire, p. 94  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.

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

Nordic countries

Map of medieval Denmark, showing herreder and sysler. The entire country was divided into herreder, shown outlined in red. Coloured areas show Jutland's syssel divisions. Zealand's four ecclesiastic sysler are not included.

The term hundare (hundred) was used in Svealand and present-day Finland. The name is assumed to mean an area that should organise 100 men to crew four rowed war boats, which each had 12 pairs of oars and a commander.

Eventually, that division was superseded by introducing the härad or Herred, which was the term in the rest of the Nordic countries. This word was either derived from Proto-Norse *harja-raiðō (warband) or Proto-Germanic *harja-raiða (war equipment, cf. wapentake).[16] Similar to skipreide, 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 ecclesiastical and worldly administrative units often coincided. This began losing its basic significance through the municipal reform of 1862. 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 (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 meaning "one hundred" in Finnish), 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.

The term herred or herad was used in Norway between 1863 and 1992 for rural municipalities, besides the term kommune (heradskommune). Today, only four municipalities in western Norway call themselves herad, as Ulvik and Kvam. Some Norwegian districts have the word herad in their name, of historical reasons - among them Krødsherad and Heradsbygd in eastern Norway.

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.[17]

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 favour and was replaced by "election district". However, the names of the old hundreds continue to show up in deeds for another 50 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.[18] 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".[19] The legislation instead introduced the six-mile square township of the Public Land Survey System.


In South Australia, land titles 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, except when transferring land title. 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 or 64,000 acres (26,000 ha), although boundaries following local topography often means this is not exact.[20]

See also


  1. Old English wǣpen(ge)tæc, from Old Norse vápnatak, from vápn 'weapon' + taka 'take', perhaps with reference to voting in an assembly by a show of weapons.[11]


  1. "Status definition: Hundred". Administrative Units Typology. Vision of Britain. Retrieved 2010-01-31.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Mapping the Hundreds of England and Wales in GIS, UK: University of Cambridge Department of Geography, 2008-06-06, retrieved 2011-10-12.
  3. Miller, Sean (2014). "Hundreds". In Lapidge, Michael; Blair, John; Keynes, Simon; Scragg, Donald. The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England (2nd ed.). Chichester, UK: Wiley Blackwell. p. 249. ISBN 978-0-631-22492-1.
  4. "Summary". Landscapes of Governance: Assembly Sites in England, 5th-11th Centuries. UCL Institute of Archaeology.
  5. 1 2 3 Bartlett, Robert (2000). J.M.Roberts, ed. England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075 -1225. London: OUP. pp. 165–167. ISBN 978-0-19-925101-8.
  6. 1 2 3 Mortimer, Ian (2011). The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9781439112908.
  7. Mortimer. Time Traveller. p. 308. fn.14
  8.  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Hundred". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  9. County Courts Act 1867 (30 & 31 Vict. c. 142) s.28
  10. Riot (Damages) Act 1886 (49 & 50 Vict. c. 38), s.2
  11. 1 2 "Wapentake". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 13 July 2015.
  12. The Complete Sagas of Icelanders, V, Leifur Eiríksson.
  13. The Origin and Situation of the Germans. Chapter XI. by Tacitus, translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb.
  14. "Introduction: Lost vills and other forgotten places". Final Concords of the County of Lincoln: 1244–1272. 1920. pp. L–LXV. Retrieved 23 September 2013..
  15. Addy, John (1963). Archdeacon and Ecclesiastical Discipline in Yorks., 1598-1714. York, England: St Anthony's Press. pp. 4–5. ISBN 0-9007-0123-4.
  16. "259 (Svensk etymologisk ordbok)". 2009-07-30. Retrieved 2010-01-31.
  17. "The Hundreds of Delaware". USA: University of Delaware. 1999-08-30. Retrieved 2010-01-31.
  18. Tyler, Lyon G (Jan 1896), "Title of Westover", William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine, 4 (3): 151–55.
  19. "A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 - 1875", Journal of Continental Congress, Library of congress, 27: 446, May 28, 1784.
  20. "Land Survey and Disposal". Atlas of South Australia. AU: SA. 2004-04-28. Retrieved 2010-01-31.
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