County palatine

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John Speed's map of the County Palatine of Lancaster 1610

A county palatine or palatinate[1] was an area ruled by a hereditary nobleman possessing special authority and autonomy from the rest of a kingdom or empire. The name derives from the Latin adjective palatinus, "relating to the palace", from the noun palatium, "palace".[2][3] It thus implies the exercise of a quasi-royal prerogative within a county, that is to say a jurisdiction ruled by an earl, the English equivalent of a count. A duchy palatine is similar but is ruled over by a duke, a nobleman of higher precedence than an earl or count. The nobleman swore allegiance to the king yet had the power to rule the county largely independently of the king. It should therefore be distinguished from the feudal barony, held from the king, which possessed no such independent authority. Rulers of counties palatine did however create their own feudal baronies, to be held directly from them in capite, such as the Barony of Halton.[4] County palatine jurisdictions were created in England under the rule of the Norman dynasty. On continental Europe, they have an earlier date. In general, when a palatine-type autonomy was granted to a lord by the sovereign, it was in a district on the periphery of the kingdom, at a time when the district was at risk from disloyal armed insurgents who could retreat beyond the borders and re-enter. For the English sovereign in Norman times this applied to northern England, Wales and Ireland. As the authority granted was hereditary, some counties palatine legally survived well past the end of the feudal period.


Durham, Chester and Lancaster

Counties palatine were established in the 11th century to defend the northern (Scottish) and western (Welsh) frontiers of the kingdom of England. In order to allow them to do so in the best way they could, their earls were granted palatine ("from the palace", i.e. royal) powers within their territories, making these territories nearly sovereign jurisdictions with their own administrations and courts, largely independent of the king, though they owed allegiance to him.

Durham palatinate plaque.

William the Conqueror founded the County Palatine of Durham, ruled by the Prince-bishops of Durham and the County Palatine of Chester, ruled by the Earls of Chester. Chester had its own parliament, consisting of barons of the county, and was not represented in the parliament of England until 1543,[5] while it retained some of its special privileges until 1830. The earldom of Chester has since 1301 been associated with the title of Prince of Wales which is reserved for the heir apparent to the throne or crown of the UK (or the throne of England, as it was then).

As well as having spiritual jurisdiction over the diocese of Durham, the bishops of Durham retained temporal jurisdiction over County Durham until 1836. The bishop's mitre which crowns the bishop of Durham's coat of arms is encircled with a gold coronet which is otherwise used only by dukes, reflecting his historic dignity as a palatine earl.

County Palatine of Lancaster boundaries within England

Lancashire was made a county, or duchy, palatine in 1351 and kept many of its special judicial privileges until 1873. Although the Dukedom of Lancaster merged into the Crown in 1399, it is to this day held separate from other royal lands, and managed by the Duchy of Lancaster. The title of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is still used by a member of the cabinet. In the county palatine of Lancaster, the loyal toast is to "the Queen, Duke of Lancaster."[6]

The king's writs did not run in these three palatine counties until the nineteenth century[7][8] and, until the 1970s, Lancashire and Durham had their own courts of chancery.[9] (See Court of Chancery of the County Palatine of Lancaster and Court of Chancery of the County Palatine of Durham and Sadberge)

The appeal against a decision of the County Court of a County Palatine had, in the first instance, to be to the Court of Common Pleas of that County Palatine.[10]

There are two kings in England, namely, the lord king of England wearing a crown and the lord bishop of Durham wearing a mitre in place of a crown…

Other counties palatine

At various times in history the following areas had palatinate status: Shropshire, Kent, the Isle of Ely, Hexhamshire in Northumberland, and, in Wales, the Earldom of Pembroke (until the passing of the Laws in Wales Act 1535).

The county of Cornwall although not strictly a county palatine had a similar status to Lancashire, in that it was a duchy; according to custom, a duchy had more independence from the sovereign than a county. Technically today the royal lands in Cornwall are held by the Duchy of Cornwall and some royal powers in Cornwall are possessed by the sovereign's eldest son, the Duke of Cornwall.

In the history of Wales in the Norman era, the term most often used is Marcher Lord, which is similar to, but not strictly the same as, a Palatine Lord. Nevertheless, a number of strictly Palatine jurisdictions were created in Wales.

There were several palatine districts in Ireland of which the most notable were those of the Earls of Desmond and the Earls of Ormond in County Tipperary. The latter continued in legal existence until the County Palatine of Tipperary Act 1715.

In Scotland, the earldom of Strathearn was identified as a county palatine in the fourteenth century, although the title of Earl of Strathearn has usually been merged with the crown in subsequent centuries and there is little indication that the status of Strathearn differed in practice from other Scottish earldoms.

In the colonies, the historic Province of Avalon in Newfoundland was granted palatine status, as was Maryland under Cecilius Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore.[12]

See also


  1. "Palatine" is an adjective used in conjunction with the noun county; "Palatinate" is a noun used alone (Collins English Dictionary).
  2. Collins Dictionary of the English Language, London, 1986
  3. Cassell's Latin Dictionary, ed. Marchant & Charles
  4. Sanders, I.J., English Baronies: A Study of their Origin and Descent 1086–1327, Oxford, 1960. Sanders excludes "Lordships" such as the Barony of Halton which are situated within Counties Palatine from his lists of feudal baronies.
  5. Harris, B. E. (Ed.) (1979). page 98.
  7. Yates (1856), pp. 3–5.
  8. The Law Terms Act 1830
  9. The Courts Act 1971, section 41
  10. Jewett v Summons. The Law Journal For The Year 1825. Volume III. Court of King's Bench. Page 220.
  11. Durham: Echoes of Power at British Library website
  12. Hall, Clayton Colman (1910). Narratives of Early Maryland, 1633–1684. Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 103. ISBN 1-55613-108-9. Retrieved December 4, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


External links