Shires of Scotland facts for kids

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Scotland Administrative Map 1947
The counties, districts and burghs as they were in 1947

The counties or shires of Scotland (Scottish Gaelic: Siorrachdan na h-Alba) are geographic subdivisions of Scotland established in the Middle Ages. They ceased to be used for local government purposes after 1975 under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973.

Today, local government in Scotland is based upon "council areas", which sometimes incorporate county names, but frequently have vastly different boundaries. Counties continue to be used for the purpose of lieutenancy and land registration purposes, though the lieutenancy areas are not entirely identical.

Origin

Sheriffdoms or shires

Malcolm III (reigned 1058 to 1093) appears to have introduced sheriffs as part of a policy of replacing previous forms of government with Norman feudal structures.

This policy was continued by Edgar (reigned 1097 to 1107), Alexander I (reigned 1107 to 1124), and in particular David I (reigned 1124 to 1153). David completed the division of the country into sheriffdoms by the conversion of existing thanedoms. The earliest sheriffdom south of the Forth which we know of for certain is Haddingtonshire, which is named in a charters of 1139 as Hadintunschira and in another of 1141 as Hadintunshire. Stirlingshire appears in a charter of 1150 under the name Striuelinschire.

The shires of the Highlands were completed only in the reign of King Charles I (reigned 1625 to 1649).

Shires extant by 1305

In 1305 Edward I of England, who had deposed John Balliol issued an Ordinance for the Government of Scotland. The document listed the twenty-three shires then existing and either appointed new sheriffs or continued heritable sheriffs in office.

: Gospatric was mentioned as sheriff in a number of charters of Earl David. The shire was not listed in the ordinance, and in 1305 appears to have been partly under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff of Selkirk, with the remainder comprised in the constabularies of Jedburgh and Roxburgh under the jurisdiction of the constable of Berwick. The shire was one of those surrendered to Edward III of England in 1334.

Shires formed after 1305

The remaining shires were formed either by the territorial expansion of the Kingdom of Scotland, or by the subdivision of existing sheriffdoms. Many of the new shires had highly irregular boundaries or detached parts as they united the various possessions of the heritable sheriffs.

  • c.1326: Argyll (or Argyle): lordship subdued by Alexander II in 1222. Norwegian claims over the area finally ended in 1266. First record of appointment of sheriff dates from 1326.
  • 1369: Kirkcudbright formed when area between Rivers Nith and Cree granted to Archibald the Grim. Archibald appointed a steward to administer the area, hence it became a "stewartry".
  • c.1388: Bute. The islands formed part of Kintyre district of Argyll. A heritable sheriff was appointed to the shire in 1388.
  • 1402: Renfrew: separated from the Shire of Lanark by Robert III.
  • 1503: Ross formed from part of Argyll by act of 1503. The Barony of Tarbert was annexed to Cromarty in 1685, but later returned.
  • 1503: Caithness: Separated from the Shire of Inverness by act of 1503 during the reign of James IV. Under the legislation the sheriff of Caithness was to sit at Dornoch and Wick, and the area of the sheriffdom was to be identical to that of the Diocese of Caithness.
  • 1581: Orkney was erected into a lordship with the right of sheriffship. It was annexed to the Crown in 1612, although the term "lordship" continued to be applied to the area.
  • 1633: Sutherland separated from Inverness.

: In 1583 the Earl of Huntly, hereditary sheriff of Inverness, granted the Earl of Sutherland jurisdiction over the sheriffdom of Sutherland and Strathnaver. This was only the south-eastern area of the later county, with Halladale River forming the boundary. The shire was formed in 1631 by Crown Writ of Charles I, severing Sutherland from Inverness. The new county comprised the Earldom of Sutherland along with Assynt and the baronies between Ross and Caithness. Dornoch was appointed the head burgh of the shire. The writ was confirmed by the Parliament of Scotland in 1633.

The 1707 Act of Union and the ending of heritable jurisdictions

Following the union of Scotland with England, the government began bringing Scotland's local governance into line with the rest of Great Britain. The full machinery of county government was not immediately established, largely due to the fact that the office of sheriff or steward had become hereditary in certain families in the majority of sheriffdoms. At the accession of George II twenty-two sheriffs were hereditary, three were appointed for life and only eight held office at the pleasure of the monarch. The heritable sheriffdoms were Argyll, Bute, Banff, Caithness, Clackmannan, Cromarty, Dumbarton, Dumfries, Elgin, Fife, Kinross, Kirkcudbright, Linlithgow, Nairn, Orkney & Zetland, Peebles, Renfrew, Roxburgh, Selkirk, Sutherland, Stirling and Wigtown; those appointed for life were Perth, Forfar and Ayr; those held at pleasure were Aberdeen, Berwick, Edinburgh, Haddington, Inverness, Kincardine, Lanark and Ross. Following the unsuccessful Jacobite Rising of 1745 the government took the opportunity of overhauling county government. The Heritable Jurisdictions Act 1747 revested the government of the shires in the Crown, compensating those office holders who were displaced. The Sheriffs (Scotland) Act 1747 reduced the office of sheriff principal to a largely ceremonial one, with a sheriff depute or sheriff substitute appointed to each "county, shire or stewartry". Twelve of the smallest counties were paired to form sheriffdoms, a process of amalgamation that was to continue until the twentieth century. In 1794 Lord-Lieutenants were appointed to each county, and in 1797 county militia regiments were raised, bringing Scotland into line with England, Wales and Ireland.

Names and terminology

Names

In official documents shires were referred to as the Shire of X, rather than X Shire. The latter was more common in general usage. Thus in parliamentary proceedings one may find, for example, a heading referring to "Act for the shirrefdome of Dumbartane" but the text "the sevine kirkis to Dumbartane schyr"

The first accurate county maps of Scotland appear in the late seventeenth century and contain a first-hand record of shire names. John Adair (maps c. 1682) gives the names of Midlothian, East Lothian, Twaddall and Wast Lothian (the latter also as "Linlithgowshire"). The eighteenth century county maps of Herman Moll (dated c. 1745), preferred to keep the "Shire" suffix a separate word, as for example "Berwick Shire", "Roxburgh Shire", "the Shire of Selkirk otherwise known as Etterick Forest", and in the north to "Murray" (Moray), "Inverness Shire", "Aberdeen Shire", "Banff Shire", "Ross Shire". The map of Boswell's and Johnson's A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1773) gives "Shire" to every one shown, including "Angus Shire" and "Fife Shire".

Several shires have alternative names of long standing. These include:

In Scotland, as in England and Wales, the terms "shire" and "county" have been used interchangeably, with the latter becoming more common in later usage. Today, "county" is more commonly used, with "shire" being seen as a more poetic or archaic variant.

Counties until 1890

Counties of Scotland until 1890
  1. Caithness
  2. Sutherland
  3. Ross
  4. Cromarty
  5. Inverness
  6. Nairn
  7. Elgin
  8. Banff
  9. Aberdeen
  10. Kincardine
  11. Forfar
  12. Perth
  13. Argyll
  14. Bute
  15. Ayr
  16. Renfrew
  17. Dumbarton
  18. Stirling
  19. Clackmannan
  20. Kinross
  21. Fife
  22. Linlithgow
  23. Edinburgh
  24. Haddington
  25. Berwick
  26. Roxburgh
  27. Dumfries
  28. Kirkcudbright
  29. Wigtown
  30. Lanark
  31. Selkirk
  32. Peebles

Not shown:

Zetland (Shetland)
Orkney
ScotlandTradNumbered.png

It may be noted that the map depicts a large number of exclaves physically detached from the county that they were politically deemed to be part of. Cromartyshire's borders, a particularly fragmentary example, were achieved as late as 1685, although at that time the word "county" was not applied to the sheriffdom.

Counties from 1890 to 1975

Counties of Scotland from 1890 to 1975
  1. Caithness
  2. Sutherland
  3. Ross and Cromarty
  4. Inverness
  5. Nairn
  6. Moray
    (County of Elgin until 1918)
  7. Banffshire
  8. Aberdeen
  9. Kincardineshire
  10. Angus
    (County of Forfar until 1928)
  11. Perth
  12. Argyll
  13. Bute
  14. Ayr
  15. Renfrew
  16. Dunbarton
  17. Stirling
  18. Clackmannan
  19. Kinross
  20. Fife
  21. East Lothian
    (County of Haddington until 1921)
  22. Midlothian
    (County of Edinburgh until 1890)
  23. West Lothian
    (County of Linlithgow until 1924)
  24. Lanark
  25. Peebles
  26. Selkirk
  27. Berwick
  28. Roxburgh
  29. Dumfries
  30. Kirkcudbright
  31. Wigtown
  32. Zetland
    (Shetland)
  33. Orkney
Scotland Administrative Map 1947.png

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