CHAP. IV. OF THE PARTITION OF ENGLAND INTO SHIRES AND COUNTIES.
IN reding of ancient writers, as Cæsar, Tacitus, and others, we find mention of sundric regions to haue beene sometime in this Iland, as the Nouantæ, Selgouæ, Dannonij, Gadeni, Oradeni, Epdij, Cerones, Carnonacæ, Careni, Cornabij, Caledonij, Decantæ, Logi, Mertæ, Vacomagi, Venicontes, Texali or Polij, Denani, Elgoui, Brigantes Parisi, Ordouici aliàs Ordoluci, Cornauij, Coritani, Catieuchlani, Simeni, Trinouantes, Demetæ, Cangi, Silures, Dobuni, Atterbatij, Cantij, Regni, Belgæ, Durotriges, Dumnonij, Giruij, Murotriges, Seueriani, Iceni, Tegenes, Casij, Cænimagni, Segontiaci, Ancalites, Bibroci, and Kentishmen, and such like. But sith the seuerall places where most of them laie, are not yet verie perfectlie knowne vnto the learned of these daies, I doo not meane to pronounce my iudgement vpon such doubtfull cases, least that in so dooing I should but increase coniectures, and leading peraduenture the reader from the more probable, intangle his mind in the end with such as are of lesse value, and things nothing, so likelie to be true, as those which other men haue remembred and set downe before me. Neither will I speake oughts of the Romane partitions, & limits of their legions, whose number and place of abode, except of the Victorian and Augustane, is to me vtterlie vnknowne.
It shall suffice therfore to begin with such a ground as from whence some better certeintie
Alfred brought England into shires, which the Britons diuided by cantreds, and the first Saxons by families.
of things may be deriued, and that is with the estate of our Iland in the time of Alfred, who first diuided England into shires, which before his daies, and since the comming of the Saxons, was limited out by families and hidelands, as the Britons did the same in their time, by hundreds of townes, which then were called cantreds; as old records doo witnesse.
Into how manie shires the said Alfred did first make this partition of the Iland, it is not yet found out; howbeit if my coniecture be anie thing at all, I suppose that he left not vnder eight and thirtie, sith we find by no good author, that aboue fifteene haue beene added by anie of his successours, since the time of his decease. This prince therefore hauing made
Shire and share all one.
the generall partition of his kingdome into shires, or shares, he diuided againe the same into lathes, as lathes into hundreds, and hundreds into tithings, or denaries, as diuers haue written; and maister Lambert following their authorities, hath also giuen out, saieng almost after this maner in his description of Kent; "The Danes (saith he) both before, & in the time of king Alfred, had flocked by the sea coasts of this Iland in great numbers, sometimes wasting and spoiling with sword and fire, wheresoeuer they might arriue, and somtime taking
great booties with them to their ships, without dooing anie further hurt or damage to the
Englishmen noisome to their owne countrie.
This inconuenience continuing for manie yéeres togither, caused our husbandmen to abandon their tillage, and gaue occasion and hardinesse to euill disposed persons, to fall to the like pillage, as practising to follow the Danes in these their thefts and robberies. And the better to cloake their mischeefe withall, they feigned themselues to be Danish pirats, and would sometime come a land in one port, and sometime in another, driuing dailie great spoiles (as the Danes had doone) vnto their ships before them. The good king Alfred therefore (who had maruellouslie trauelled in repelling the barbarous Danes) espieng this outrage, and thinking it no lesse the part of a politike prince, to root out the noisome subiect, than to hold out the forren aduersarie: by the aduise of his nobilitie, and the example of Moses (who followed the counsell of Iethro his father in law to the like effect) diuided the whole realme into certeine parts or sections, which (of the Saxon word Schyran, signifieng to cut) he termed shires, or as we yet speake, shares, or portions, of which some one hath fortie miles in length (as Essex) and almost so manie broad, Hereford foure & twentie in length and twentie in breadth, and Warwike six and thirtie in length, &c: and some of them also conteine ten, twelue, thirteene, sixtéene, twentie, or thirtie hundreds, more or lesse, as some hundreds doo sixtéene, twentie, thirtie, fortie, fiftie or sixtie townes, out of which the king was alwaies to receiue an hundred able men to serue him in the warres, or a hundred
Earle and alderman.
men able to be pledges, and ouer each of the portions he appointed either an earle or alderman. man, or both, to whome he committed the gouernement of the same. These shires also he brake into lesser parts, whereof some were called lathes, of the word Gelathian, which is to assemble togither; other hundreds, for that they enioied iurisdiction ouer an hundred pledges; and other tithings, bicause there were in each of them to the number of ten persons, whereof euerie one from time to time was suertie for others good abearing. He prouided also that euerie man should procure himselfe to be receiued into some tithing, to the end, that if anie were found of so small and base a credit, that no man would become pledge or suertie for him, he should forthwith be committed to prison, least otherwise he might happen to doo more harme abroad. Hitherto master Lambert." By whose words we may gather verie much of the state of this Iland in the time of Alfred, whose institution continued after a sort vntill the comming of the Normans, who changed the gouernement of the realme in such wise (by bringing in of new officers and offices, after the maner of their countries) that verie little of the old regiment remained more than the bare names of some officers (except peraduenture in Kent) so that in these daies it is hard to set downe anie great certeintie of things as they stood in Alfreds time, more than is remembred and touched at this present.
What a lath is.
Some as it were roming or rouing at the name Lath, doo saie that it is deriued of a barne, which is called in old English a lath, as they coniecture. From which spéech in like sort some deriue the word Laistow, as if it should be trulie written Lath stow, a place wherein to laie vp or laie on things, of whatsoeuer condition. But hereof as yet I cannot absolutche be satisfied, although peraduenture some likelihood in their judgements may séeme to be therein. Other vpon some further consideration affirme that they were certeine circuits in euerie countie or shire conteining an appointed number of townes, whose inhabitants alwaies assembled to know and vnderstand of matters touching their portions, in to some one appointed place or other within their limits, especiallie whilest the causes were such as required not the aid or
assistance of the whole countie. Of these lathes also (as they saie) some shires had more, some lesse, as they were of greatnesse. And M. Lambert séemeth to be of the opinion, that the leets of our tine, wherein these pledges be yet called Franci plegij of the word Free burgh) doo yeeld some shadow of that politike institution of Alfred. But sith my skill is so small in these cases that I dare not iudge anie thing at all as of mine owne knowledge, I will not set downe anie thing more than I read, least I should roue at randon in our obscure antiquities, and reading no more of lathes my next talke shall be of hundreds.
Hundred or wapentake.
The hundred and the wapentake is all one, as I read in some, and by this diuision not a
name appertinent to a set number of townes (for then all hundreds should be of equall quantitie) but a limited iurisdiction, within the compasse whereof were an hundred persons called pledges (as I said) or ten denaries, or tithings of men, of which ech one was bound for
Denarie or tithing.
others good abering, and laudable behauiour in the common-wealth of the realme. The chiefe man likewise of euerie denarie or tithing was in those daies called a tithing man, in Latine Decurio, but now in most places a borsholder or burgholder, as in Kent; where
Tithing man in Latine Decurio Borsholder, Burrow.
euerie tithing is moreouer named a burgh or burrow, although that in the West countrie he be still called a tithing man, and his circuit a tithing, as I haue heard at large. I read furthermore (and it is partlie afore noted) that the said Alfred caused ech man of frée condition (for the better maintenance of his peace) to be ascribed into some hundred by placing himselfe in one denarie or other, where he might alwais haue such as should sweare or saie vpon their certeine knowledge for his honest behauiour and ciuill conuersation if it should happen at anie time, that his credit should come in question. In like sort I gather out of Leland and other, that if anie small matter did fall out worthie to be discussed, the tithing man or borsholder (now officers, at the commandement of the high constable of which euerie hundred hath one at the least) should decide the same in their léetes, whereas the great causes were referred to the hundreds, the greater to the lathes, and the greatest of all to the shire daies, where the earles or aldermen did set themselues, & make finall ends of the same, according vnto iustice. For this purpose likewise in euerie hundred were twelue men
chosen of good age and wisedome, and those sworne to giue their sentences without respect of person, and in this maner (as they gather) were things handeled in those daies. Which waie the word wapentake came in vse, as yet I cannot tell; howbeit the signification of the same declareth (as I conceiue) that at the chiefe towne the soldiers which were to serue in that hundred did méet, fetch their weapons, & go togither from thence to the field, or place of seruice by an ordinarie custome, then generallie knowen amongst them. It is supposed also that the word Rape commeth a Rapiendo, as it were of catching and snatching, bicause the tenants of the hundred or wapentakes met vpon one or sundrie daies & made quicke dispatch of their lords haruest at once and in great hast. But whether it be a true imagination or not as yet I am vncerteine, and therefore it lieth not in me to determine anie thing thereof: wherefore it shall suffice to haue touched them in this maner.
In my time there are found to be in England fourtie shires, and likewise thirtéene in Wales,
Fortie shires in England, thirtéene in Wales.
and these latter erected of late yeares by king Henrie the eight, who made the Britons or Welshmen equall in all respects vnto the English, and brought to passe that both nations should indifferentlie be gouerned by one law, which in times past were ordred by diuerse, and those far discrepant and disagreing one from another: as by the seuerall view of the same is yet easie to be discerned. The names of the shires in England are these, whereof the first ten lie betwéene the British sea and the Thames, as Polydor also dooth set them downe.
There are moreouer on the northside of the Thames, and betwéene the same and the riuer Trent, which passeth through the middest of England (as Polydor saith) sixtéene other shires, whereof six lie toward the east, the rest toward the west, more into the middest of the countrie.
|Essex, somtime all forrest saue one hundred.
||Cambrigeshire in which are 12 hundreds.
||Huntingdon wherin are foure hundreds.
We haue six also that haue their place westward towards Wales, whose names insue.
And these are the thirtie two shires which lie by south of the Trent. Beyond the same riuer we haue in like sort other eight, as
||when it is accompted as parcell of Yorkeshire (out of which it is taken) then is it reputed for the whole Riding.
|Richemond, wherein are fiue wapentaxes, &
So that in the portion sometime called Lhoegres, there are now fortie shires. In Wales furthermore are thirtéene, whereof seuen are in Southwales:
|Cardigan, or Cereticon.
|Penmoroke, or Penbrooke.
|Caermardine, wherein are 9 hundreds or commots.
|In Northwales likewise are six, that is to saie|
Which being added to those of England yéeld fiftie and thrée shires or counties, so that vnder the quéenes Maiestie are so manie counties, whereby it is easilie. discerned, that hir power farre excéedeth that of Offa, who of old time was highlie honored for that he had so, much of Britaine vnder his subiection as afterward conteined thirtie nine shires, when the diuision was made, whereof I spake before.
Od parcels of shires.
This is moreouer to be noted in our diuision of shires, that they be not alwaies counted or laid togither in one parcell, whereof I haue great maruell. But sith the occasō hath growen (as I take it) either by priuilege or some like occasion, it is better briefelie to set downe how some of these parts lie than to spend the time in séeking a iust cause of this their od diuision. First therefore I note that in the part of Buckinghamshire betweene Amondesham, and Beconsfield, there is a peece of Hartfordshire to be found, inuironed round about with the countie of Buckingham, and yet this patch is not. aboue three miles in length and two in breadth at the verie most. In Barkeshire also betwéene Ruscombe and Okingham is a péece of Wilshire, one mile in breadth and foure miles in length, whereof one side lieth on the Loden riuer. In the borders of Northamptonshire directlie ouer against Luffeld a towne in Buckinghamshire, I find a parcell of Oxfordshire not passing two miles in compasse.
With Oxfordshire diuerse doo participate, in so much that a péece of Glocestershire, lieth halfe in Warwikeshire & halfe in Oxfordshire, not verie far from. Horneton. Such another patch is there, of Glocestershire not far from long Compton, but lieng in Oxford countie: & a péece of Worcestershire, directlie betwéene it & Glocestershire. Glocester hath the third péece vpon the north side of the Winrush neere Falbrocke, as Barkeshire hath one parcell also vpon the selfe side of the same water, in the verie edge of Glocestershire: likewise an other in Oxfordshire, not verie farre from Burford: and the third ouer against Lach
lade, which is parted from the main countie of Barkeshire, by a little strake of Oxfordshire, Who would thinke that two fragments of Wilshire were to be seene in Barkeshire vpon the Loden, and the riuer that falleth into it: whereof and the like sith there are verie manie, I thinke good to giue this briefe admonition. For although I haue not presentlie gone thorough with them all, yet these may suffice to giue notice of this thing, wherof most readers (as I persuade my selfe) are ignorant.
But to procéed with our purpose. Ouer ech of these shires in time of necessitie is a seuerall
lieutenant chosen vnder the prince, who being a noble man of calling, hath almost regall authoritie ouer the same for the time being in manie cases which doo concerne his office: otherwise it is gouerned by a shiriffe (a word deriued of Schire and Greue, and pronounced
as Shire and Reue) whose office is to gather vp and bring his accounts into the excheker, of the profits of his countie receiued, whereof he is or may be called Quæaestor comitatus or Prouinciæ. This officer is resident and dwelling somewhere within the same countie, and called also a viscount, Quasi vicarius comitis or Procomes, in respect of the earle (or as they called him in time past the alderman) that beareth his name of the countie, although it be seldome séene in England, that the earle hath anie great store of possessions, or oughts to doo in the shire whereof he taketh his name, more than is allowed to him, through his personall resiance, if he happen to dwell and be resident in the same.
In the election also of these magistrates, diuerse able persons aswell for wealth. as wisedome are named by the commons, at a time and place appointed for their choise, whose names being deliuered to the prince, he foorthwith pricketh some such one of them, as he pleaseth to assigne vnto that office, to whome he committeth the charge of the countie, and who herevpon is shiriffe of that shire for one whole yeare, or vntill a new be chosen. The shiriffe also hath his vnder shiriffe that ruleth & holdeth the shire courts and law dales vnder
him, vpon sufficient caution vnto the high shiriffe for his true execution of iustice, preseruation from impeachment, and yéelding of accompt when he shall be therevnto called. There are likewise vnder him certeine bailiffes, whose office is to serue and returne such writs and
processes as are directed vnto them from the high shiriffe: to make seisure of the goods and cattels, and arrest the bodies of such as doo offend, presenting either their persons vnto him, or at the leastwise taking sufficient bond, or other assurance of them for their dutifull appearance at an appointed time, when the shiriffe by order of law ought to present them to the iudges according to his charge. In euerie hundred also are one or more high
constables according to the quantitie thereof, who receiuing the writs and iniunctions from the high shiriffe vnder his seale, or from anie other officers of the prince, either for the prouision of vittels or for other causes, or priuat purueiance of cates for the maintenance of the roiall familie, doo forthwith charge the petie constables of euerie towne within their limits,
with the execution of the same.
In each countie likewise are sundrie law daies holden at their appointed seasons, of which some retaine the old Saxon name, and are called Motelagh, of the word motes and law.
Motelagh. Shiriffes turne.
They haue also an other called the shiriffes turne, which they hold twise in their times, in euerie hundred, according to the old order appointed by king Edgar (as king Edward reduced the folkmote ordeined by king Arthur to be held yearelie on the first of Maie, vntill the first of euerie moneth) and in these two latter such small matters as oft arise amongst the inferior sort of people, are heard and well determined. They haue finallie their quarter sessions, wherein they are assisted by the iustices and gentlemen of the countrie, & twise in. the yeare gaile deliuerie, at which time the iudges ride about in their circuits, into euerie
Gaile deliuerie or great assises.
seuerall countie (where the nobilitie and gentlemen with the iustices there resiant. associat them) & minister the lawes of the realme, with great solemnitie & iustice. Howbeit in dooing of these things, they reteine still the old order of the land in vse before the conquest. For they commit the full examination of all causes there to be heard, to the consideration of twelue sober, graue, and wise men, chosen out of the same countie; and foure of them of necessitie out of the hundred where the action lieth, or the defendant inhabiteth
(which number they call an inquest) & of these inquests there are more or lesse impanneled at cuerie assise, as the number of cases there to be handled dooth craue and require, albeit that some one inquest hath often diuerse matters to consider of. And when they haue (to their vttermost power) consulted and debated of such things as they are charged withall, they returne againe to the place of iustice, with their verdict in writing, according wherevnto the iudge dooth pronounce his sentence, be it for life or death, or anie other matter what soeuer is brought before him. It is also verie often séene, that such as are nominated to be of these inquests, doo after their charge receiued seldome or neuer eat or drinke, vntill they haue agréed upon their verdict, and yeelded it vp vnto the iudge of whome they receiued the charge; by meanes whereof sometimes it commeth to passe that diuerse of the inquest haue béene welneere famished, or at least taken such a sickenesse thereby, as they haue hardlie auoided. And this commeth by practise, when the one side feareth the sequele, and therefore conucieth some one or more into the iurie, that will in his behalfe neuer yéeld vnto the rest, but of set purpose put them to this trouble.
Certes it is a common practise (if the vnder shiriffe be not the better man) for the craftier or stronger side to procure and packe such a quest, as he himselfe shall like of, whereby he is sure of the issue before the charge be giuen: and beside this if the matter doo iustlie procéed against him, it is a world to sée now and then how the honest yeomen that haue
Bona fide discharged their consciences shall be sued of an atteinct, & bound to appéere at the Starre chamber, with what rigor they shall be caried from place to place, countie to countie, yea and sometime in carts, which hath and dooth cause a great number of them to absteine from the assises, & yeeld to paie their issues, rather than they would for their good meaning be thus disturbed & dealt withall. Sometimes also they bribe the bailiffes to be kept at home, whervpon poore men, not hauing in their pursses wherewith to beare their costes, are impanelled vpon iuries, who verie often haue neither reason nor iudgement to performe the charge they come for. Neither was this kind of seruice at anie time halfe so painefull as at this present: for vntill of late yeares (that the number of lawiers and atturneies hath so exceedinglie increased, that some shifts must néeds be found and matters sought out, whereby they may be set on worke) a man should not haue heard at one assise of more than two or three Nisi priùs, but verie seldome of an atteinct wheras now an hundred & more of the first and one or two of the later are verie often perceiued, and some of them for a cause arising of sixpence or tweluepence. Which declareth that men are growen to be farre more contentious than they haue béene in time past, and readier to reuenge their quarels of small importance, whereof the lawiers complaine not. But to my purpose, from whence I haue now digressed.
Beside these officers afore mentioned, there are sundrie other in euerie counties as crowners, whose dutie is to inquire of such as come to their death by violence, to attach & present the plées of the crowne, to make inquirie of treasure found, &c. There are diuerse also of
Justices of peax & quorum.
the best learned of the law, beside sundrie gentlemen, where the number of lawiers will not suffice (and whose reuenues doo amount to aboue twentie pounds by the yeare) appointed by especiall commission from the prince, to looke vnto the good gouernement of hir subiects, in the counties where they dwell. And of these the least skilfull in the law are of the peace, the other both of the peace and quorum, otherwise called of Oier and Determiner, so that the first haue authoritie onelie to heare, the other to heare and determine such matters as are brought vnto their presence. These also doo direct their warrants to the kéepers of the gailes within their limitations, for the safe kéeping of such offendors as they shall iudge worthie to commit vnto their custodie there to be kept vnder ward, vntill the great assises, to the end their causes may be further examined before the residue of the countie, & these officers were first deuised about the eightéene yeare of Edward the third, as I haue béene informed.
They méeting also & togither with the shiriffes, doo hold their aforesaid sessions at foure times in the yeare, whereof they are called quarter sessions, and herein they inquire of sundrie
trespasses, and the common annoiances of the kings liege people, and diuerse other things, determining vpon them as iustice dooth require. There are also a third kind of sessions
holden by the high constables and bailiffes afore mentioned, called petie sessions, wherein the weights and measures are perused by the clarke of the market for the countie, who sitteth with them. At these méetings also vittellers, and in like sort seruants, labourers, roges and runnagates, are often reformed for their excesses, although the burning of vagabounds through their eare be referred to the quarter sessions or higher courts of assise, where they are iudged either to death, if they be taken the third time, & haue not since their second apprehension applied themselues to labour, or else to be set perpetuallie to worke in an house erected in euerie shire for that purpose, of which punishment they stand. in greatest feare.
I might here deliuer a discourse of sundrie rare customes and courts, surnamed barons, yet mainteined and holden in England: but forsomuch as some of the first are beastlie, and therefore by the lords of the soiles now liuing conuerted into monie, being for the most part deuised in the beginning either by malicious or licentious women, in méere contempt and slauish abuse of their tenants, vnder pretense of some punishment due for their excesses, I passe ouer to bring them vnto light, as also the remembrance of sundrie courts baron likewise holden in strange maner; yet none more absurd and far from law than are kept yearlie at Kings hill in Rochford, and therfore may well be called a lawlesse court, as most are that were deuised vpon such occasions. This court is kept vpon wednesdaie insuing. after Michaelmasse daie after midnight, so that it is begun and ended before the rising of the sunne. When the tenants also are altogither in an alehouse, the steward secretlie stealeth from them with a lanterne vnder his cloke, and goeth to the Kings hill, where sitting on a mole-hill he calleth them with a verie soft voice, writing their appéerance vpon a péece of paper with a cole,, hauing none other light than that which is inclosed in the lanterne: so soone as the tenants also doo misse the steward, they runne to the hill with all their might, and there answer all at once, Here here, wherby they escape their amercements: which they should not doo if he could haue called ouer his bill of names before they had missed him in the alehouse. And this is the verie forme of the court deuised at the first (as the voice goeth) vpon a rebellion made by the tenants of the honour of Raibie against their lord, in perpetuall memorie of their disobedience shewed. I could beside this speake also of some other, but sith one hath taken vpon him to collect a number of them into a particular treatise, I thinke it sufficient for me to haue said so much of-both.
And thus much haue I thought good to set downe generallie of the said counties and their maner of gouernance, although not in so perfect order as the cause requireth, bicause that of all the rest there is nothing wherewith I am lesse acquainted than with our temporall regiment, which (to sale truth) smallie concerneth my calling. What else is to be added after the seuerall shires of England with their ancient limits (as they agreed with the diuision of the land in the time of Ptolomie and the Romans) and commodities yet extant, I reserue vnto that excellent treatise of my fréend W. Cambden, who hath trauelled therein verie farre, & whose worke written in Latine shall in short time (I hope) be published, to the no small benefit of such as will read and peruse the same.