City and Borough/Introduction

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City and Borough  (1889) 
by Edward Augustus Freeman

A LITTLE time back an increase of dignity was granted by royal proclamation to two famous towns in Great Britain, one in England, the other in Scotland. Birmingham and Dundee, hitherto merely boroughs, were raised to the rank of cities. Several other English towns have, within some years past, been made cities in the same fashion. But there is something special about these two cases which distinguishes them from the others. In the other English towns that have been made cities the increase of rank has in every case followed on the town becoming the see of a bishop. With Birmingham this is not so; with Dundee, as a Scottish town, it hardly could be so. Two questions are at once suggested. First, What is the distinction between city and borough, which makes it promotion for a borough to become a city? Secondly, Is there any ground for the belief, certainly a very common one, that the rank of city is in some way, in England at least, connected with the presence of a bishop's see in the town so called? And a third and very delicate question has arisen at Dundee which does not seem to have been started at Birmingham. Nobody seems to have thought that, because Birmingham has become a city, therefore the chief magistrate of Birmingham has become a Lord Mayor. It does seem to have been very seriously thought at Dundee that the chief magistrate of the new city has acquired a right to be called Lord Provost.

It will be well to keep the English and the Scottish cases distinct, because it does not at all follow that arguments and precedents which may be good in England will therefore be good in Scotland. The law of the two kingdoms is so different that it is wise to keep on the safe side in every case: it is specially needful in this case, because of the supposed relation between city and bishopric. This may exist in England, where episcopacy is recognized by law; it cannot exist in Scotland, where the present law knows nothing about bishops' sees at all.

This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.