1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hundred

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HUNDRED, the English name of the cardinal number equal to ten times ten. The O. Eng. hundred is represented in other Teutonic languages; cf. Dutch honderd, Ger. Hundert, Dan. hundrede, &c. It is properly a compound, hund-red, the suffix meaning “reckoning”; the first part hund is the original Teutonic word for 100 which became obsolete in English in the 13th century. It represents the Indo-European form kanta, seen in Gr. ἑκατόν, Lat. centum, Sans. catano; kanta stands for dakanta and meant the tenth ten, and is therefore connected with Gr. δέκα, Lat. decem and Eng. “ten,” the Teutonic form of Indo-European dakan being tehan, cf. Ger. zehn. In England the term “hundred” is particularly applied to an ancient territorial division intermediate between the villa and the county. Such subordinate districts were also known in different parts of the country by other names, e.g. wapentakes in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Rutland and Leicestershire; wards in Northumberland, Durham and Cumberland; while some of the hundreds of Cornwall were formerly called shires. In some parts of England a further intermediate division is to be found between the hundred and the county. Thus we have the trithing, or as it is now called the riding, in Yorkshire, the lathe in Kent, and the rape in Sussex. In Lincolnshire the arrangement is peculiar. The whole county was divided into the three sub-counties of Lindsey, Kesteven and Holland; and of these Lindsey was again divided into three ridings. The division into hundreds is generally ascribed to the creative genius of Alfred, who, according to William of Malmesbury, divided his kingdom into counties, the counties into hundreds, and the hundreds into tithings or villae. It is probable, however, that he merely rearranged existing administrative districts in that part of England which was subject to his rule. The significance of the name hundred is a matter of some difficulty. The old theory, and perhaps the best, is that the hundred denoted first a group of a hundred families, and then the district which these families occupied. This is not inconsistent with another view, according to which the hundred was originally a term of measurement denoting a hundred hides of land, for there is good reason for considering that the hide was originally as much land as supported one family. It is important to notice that in the document compiled before the Norman Conquest, and now known as the County Hidage, the number of hides in all the counties are multiples of a hundred, and that in many cases the multiples agree with the number of hundreds ascribed to a county in Domesday Book. The hundreds of Devon, however, seem never to have contained a hundred hides; but various multiples of five, such as twenty, forty and sixty. Here, and in some of the other western counties, the hundreds are geographical divisions, to which a varying number of hides was attributed for fiscal purposes.

In the middle ages the hundred was chiefly important for its court of justice; and the word hundredum was as often applied to the court as to the district over which the court had jurisdiction. According to the compilation known as Leges Henrici, written shortly before 1118, it was held twelve times a year, but an ordinance of 1234, after stating that it had been held fortnightly in the reign of Henry II., declares that its ordinary sessions were henceforth to take place every three weeks (Dunstable Annals, 139). Existing court rolls show that from the 13th to the 15th centuries it usually sat seventeen times a year, in some hundreds in a fixed place, in others in various places, but in no regular course of rotation. Twice a year a specially full court was held, to which various names such as hundredum legale or hundredum magnum were applied. This was the sheriffs’ turn held after Easter and Michaelmas in accordance with the Magna Carta of 1217. The chief object of these sessions was to see that all who ought to be were in the frank-pledge, and that the articles of the view of frank-pledge had been properly observed during the preceding half-year. Each township of the hundred was represented by a varying number of suitors who were bound to attend at these half-yearly sessions without individual summons. If the proper number failed to appear the whole township was amerced, the entry on the rolls being frequently of the form “Villata de A. est in misericordia quia non venit plenarie.” All the seventeen courts, including the two full courts, had jurisdiction in trespass covenant and debt of less than forty shillings, and in these civil cases such of the freeholders of the county as were present were judges. But the sheriff or the lord of the hundred was the sole judge in the criminal business transacted at the full courts. A hundred court, especially in the west of England, was often appurtenant to the chief manor in the hundred, and passed with a grant of the manor without being expressly mentioned. In the 13th century a large number of hundreds had come into private hands by royal grant, and in Devonshire there was scarcely a hundred which still belonged to the king. In private hundreds the lord’s steward took the place of the king’s sheriff.

Owing to the great fall in the value of money the hundred court began to decay rapidly under the Tudor sovereigns. They were for the most part extinguished by a section in the County Courts Act 1867, which enacts that no action which can be brought in a county court shall thenceforth be brought in a hundred or other inferior court not being a court of record. Until lately the most important of the surviving duties of the hundred was its liability to make good damages occasioned by rioters. This liability was removed by the Riot (Damages) Act 1886, which threw the liability on the police rate.

See Pollock and Maitland, History of English Law; F. W. Maitland, Domesday Book and Beyond (1897); J. H. Round, Feudal England (1895); Annales monastici, “Rolls” series, iii. (Dunstable), 139; various court rolls at the Public Record Office, London.  (G. J. T.)