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Hundreds of Buckinghamshire
Wards of Cumberland

A Hundred is an intermediate division of a shire between the parish level and the county level.

Hundreds were originally formed 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 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 are 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.

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 (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]

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]

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. 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.

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 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 York, Derby, Leicester, Northampton, Nottingham, Rutland and Lincoln 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]

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.

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.

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

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


  1. "Status definition: Hundred". Administrative Units Typology. Vision of Britain. Retrieved 2010-01-31. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Mapping the Hundreds of England and Wales in GIS, UK: University of Cambridge Department of Geography, 2008-06-06,, retrieved 2011-10-12 .
  3. "The Shire and the Hundred". UK: Somerset County Council. Retrieved 13 October 2011. 
  4. "Summary", Assembly, UK: UCL Institute of Archaeology, .
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 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. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 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. "Hundred". Encyclopædia Britannica. 1911 Encyclopedia. 2006-09-15. Retrieved 2010-01-31. 
  8. County Courts Act 1867 (30 & 31 Vict. c. 142) s.28
  9. Riot (Damages) Act 1886 (49 & 50 Vict. c. 38), s.2
  10. "Standard English words which have a Scandinavian Etymology". The Viking Network. Retrieved 25 May 2010. 
  11. The Complete Sagas of Icelanders, V, Leifur Eiríksson .
  12. Notes on Lincolnshire wapentakes - Introduction: Lost vills and other forgotten places (Final Concords of the County of Lincoln: 1244–1272), 1920 pages L–LXV
  13. Addy, John (1963). Archdeacon and Ecclesiastical Discipline in Yorks., 1598-1714. York: St Anthony's Press. pp. 4-5. ISBN 0-9007-0123-4.