The Hundred and the Hundred Rolls: An Outline of Local Government in Medieval England

The Hundred and the Hundred Rolls: An Outline of Local Government in Medieval England

The Hundred and the Hundred Rolls: An Outline of Local Government in Medieval England

The Hundred and the Hundred Rolls: An Outline of Local Government in Medieval England

Excerpt

In the history of English local government there is no sudden breach of continuity such as the National Assembly effected in France, to Burke's disgust, in 1790. The shire of Alfred the Great, the county of William the Conqueror, is still a working institution to-day; the reforms of the nineteenth and twentieth century, far from superseding it, have given it a new lease of life, and the county member, the county court, and the county council are all too familiar to rouse either curiosity or sentiment. But it is another story when we come to the smaller units of local government. The subdivisions of the shire that we know to-day are not yet a century old; and the district that was as familiar to our administrators as it was to our mapmakers from Hastings to Waterloo is now of interest only to the antiquarian and the historian. Superseded by the Poor Law Union and the Urban and Rural District, the hundred has receded so rapidly into the mists of the past that the first associations to be called up by its name are likely to be those of remote antiquity -- of the Germany of Tacitus, the Gaul of Clovis or the England of Edgar the Peaceable.

With the uncertainties of those far-off times we have here no concern. No mists of romance or controversy obscure the history of the hundred of the thirteenth century: it is possible to say positively and definitely that every county of England was then divided into districts, of varying size and shape, but capable of being located with pretty close accuracy on a map; and that these districts, generally known as hundreds, but occasionally going by the name of wapentakes or wards, formed an indispensable part of the system of local government. For taxation, for justice, for police, for law, for military defence, the hundred came into play. The sheriff administered the shire through the bailiffs who held office in each hundred; the king's justices . . .

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