The counties of Scotland were the principal divisions of Scotland until 1975. Scotland's current lieutenancy areas and registration counties are largely based on them.


Some Scottish counties may trace their origins to the mormaerdoms, stewartries, and sheriffdoms of the High Middle Ages. Many of these early entities, while sharing a root of a name with a later county, represent a greater or smaller area. The case of the Mormaerdom of Moray, which included parts not only of the county of Moray, but also of Nairnshire, Banffshire, and Inverness-shire, is a striking example of this difference.[1]

The original of the first shires in Scotland is obscured through lack of documentary evidence. There is no evidence of shires in Northumbria before much of it was annexed by Scotland. Nevertheless, the first shires appear there, in Lothian; there is evidence of eleventh century shires based on Tynninghame (East Lothian) by 1094, and on Ecclesmachan (West Lothian), Cadzow, Carluke, and Renfrew and Mearns.[2] John of Fordun wrote that King Malcolm II introduced the shire to Scotland and also the thane class. Shires are certainly mentioned in charters by the reign of King Malcolm III.[3]

The concerted development of sheriffdoms or shires can be attributed to King David.

The earliest sheriffdom south of the Forth which we know of for certain is Haddingtonshire, which is named in a charters of 1139 as "Hadintunschira"[4] and of 1141 as "Hadintunshire".[5] In 1150 a charter refers to Stirlingshire ("Striuelinschire").[6]

The process whereby the patchwork of early mormaerdoms, sheriffdoms, and stewartries became the later counties may be linked to the expansion, then concentration, of sheriffdoms. Perhaps the earliest counties are those of the south-east, such as Haddingtonshire and Berwickshire, whose form was largely established in the High Middle Ages. For some northern counties, the process continued through the Late Middle Ages and beyond. Many small shires, of which Clackmannanshire and Kinross-shire are the only surviving examples, existed until modern times. Examples are many. Proceeding downstream from Clackmannanshire on the north shore of the River Forth, the shires of Culross, Dunfermline, Kinghorn, and Crail all lay within the traditional county, so-called, of Fife.

The earliest shires or sheriffdoms were a lowland system. They spread along the east coast, which remained under royal control, but the shires of the Highlands were completed only in the reign of King Charles I.

By the reign of James IV, the sheriffdoms were used to select Commissioners (MPs) to the Parliament of Scotland, forming the basis of the "landward constituencies", which existed distinct from the burgh constituencies until the Representation of the People Act 1918. Before the Union of 1707, Commissioners could represent multiple counties, or, on occasions, a part of one. After Union, eight counties were paired, electing a member at alternating elections to the Unreformed House of Commons. A number of sheriffdoms, such as those of Ross and Cromartyshire, were also merged during the 18th century. As a result of the 1832 Reform Act the pairing system ended, and Elginshire and Nairnshire were merged into a single constituency, as were Ross and Cromartyshire and also Clackmannanshire and Kinross-shire. Bute and Caithness, previously paired, became separate constituencies.

Orkney and Zetland (Shetland) were generally treated as a single county, with Orkney being described an 'Earldom' and Zetland being described as a 'Lordship'. They constituted a single Orkney and Shetland constituency in the House of Commons, as they had done in the Scots Parliament, and were counted together in the census.[7]

Names and terminology[]


In official documents a shire was given as "the Shire of X" rather than Xshire, just as in England officialdom referred to "the County of X". Nevertheless this does not appear to reflect common usage. ("Haddingtonshire" and "Stirlingshire" amongst others are found in the twelfth century.) Thus in parliamentary proceedings one may find, for example, a heading referring to "Act for the shirrefdome of Dumbartane" but the text "the sevine kirkis to Dumbartane schyr"[8]

The first accurate county maps of Scotland appear in the late seventeenth century and contain a first-hand record of shire names. John Adair (maps c. 1682) gives the names of Midlothian, East Lothian, Twaddall and Wast Lothian (the latter also as "Linlithgowshire"[9]). The eighteenth century county maps of Herman Moll (dated c. 1745), preferred to keep the "Shire" suffix a separate word, as for example "Berwick Shire", "Roxburgh Shire", "the Shire of Selkirk otherwise known as Etterick Forest", and in the north to "Murray" (Moray), "Inverness Shire", "Aberdeen Shire", "Bamff Shire", "Ross Shire".[10] The map of Boswell's and Johnson's A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1773) gives "Shire" to every one shown, including "Angus Shire" and "Fife Shire".

Several shires have alternative names of long standing. These include:

'Shire' and 'County'[]

From their earliest appearance the counties of Scotland have been called "shires". The word "county" did not become the usual usage until the 19th century.

By contrast, in England and Wales "shire" and "county" have been interchangeable, with "county" prevailing as the standard term. In Ireland, "shire" is little used.

Kirkcudbrightshire is commonly called the 'Stewartry of Kirkcudbright', or just 'the Stewartry'.

Victorian statutes created a number of counties for statutory purposes, to which ultimately county councils were attached by the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1889.

Local Government[]

From the 17th century the counties started to be used for local administration. In 1667 Commissioners of Supply were appointed in each "shire" or "county" to collect the land tax. The commissioners eventually assumed other duties in the county. In 1794 Lords-Lieutenant were appointed to each county, and in 1797 county militia regiments were raised. In 1858 police forces were established in each county under the Police (Scotland) Act 1857.

It should be noted, however, that burghs were largely outside the jurisdiction of county authorities.

The counties became a basis of local government, alongside burghs, when 34 county councils were created in Scotland by the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1889. About 90 years later, under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, these county authorities were abolished as local government bodies and were replaced with regions and districts and island council areas. Areas for Lieutenancy, areas similar to those of the counties, were created at the same time. Local government was reorganised again under the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994 to create the currently existing council areas.

Although the counties themselves no longer fulfil any administrative function, the boundaries of the majority remain in use by the Scottish Land Register as the registration counties - the only differences being that Glasgow forms a separate county from Lanarkshire - although this may reflect the fact that Glasgow was a unitary 'City of the County of' from 1893 to 1975. Orkney and Zetland together form a combined county for these purposes. The boundaries also remained in use in an adapted form as postal counties until 1996.

Some of the names, such as Aberdeenshire and Ayrshire, have been revived for the post-1996 council areas. Some also remain in use for lieutenancy areas and for area committees of the present councils.

Counties until 1890[]

Counties of Scotland until 1890
  1. Caithness
  2. Sutherland
  3. Ross-shire
  4. Cromartyshire
  5. Inverness-shire
  6. Nairnshire
  7. Morayshire
  8. Banffshire
  9. Aberdeenshire
  10. Kincardineshire
  11. Angus
  12. Perthshire
  13. Argyll
  14. Bute
  15. Ayrshire
  16. Renfrewshire
  17. Dumbartonshire
  18. Stirlingshire
  1. Clackmannanshire
  2. Kinross-shire
  3. Fife
  4. West Lothian (Linlithgowshire)
  5. Midlothian (Edinburghshire)
  6. East Lothian (Haddingtonshire)
  7. Berwickshire
  8. Roxburghshire
  9. Dumfriesshire
  10. Kirkcudbrightshire
  11. Wigtownshire
  12. Lanarkshire
  13. Selkirkshire
  14. Peeblesshire
Not shown:
Zetland (Shetland)


It may be noted that the map depicts a large number of exclaves physically detached from the county that they were politically deemed to be part of. Cromartyshire's borders, a particularly fragmentary example, were achieved as late as 1685, although at that time the word "county" was not applied to the sheriffdom.

Counties from 1890 to 1975[]

See also for list of main changes made in 1890.

Counties of Scotland from 1890
  1. Caithness
  2. Sutherland
  3. Ross and Cromarty
  4. Inverness-shire
  5. Nairnshire
  6. County of Moray (also known as Elginshire until 1918)
  7. Banffshire
  8. Aberdeenshire
  9. Kincardineshire
  10. Angus (Forfarshire until 1928)
  11. Perthshire
  12. Argyll
  13. County of Bute
  14. Ayrshire
  15. Renfrewshire
  16. Dunbartonshire
  17. Stirlingshire
  1. Clackmannanshire
  2. Kinross-shire
  3. Fife
  4. East Lothian (Haddingtonshire until 1921)
  5. Midlothian (County of Edinburgh until 1890)
  6. West Lothian (Linlithgowshire until 1924)
  7. Lanarkshire
  8. Peeblesshire
  9. Selkirkshire
  10. Berwickshire
  11. Roxburghshire
  12. Dumfriesshire
  13. Kirkcudbrightshire
  14. Wigtownshire
Not shown:
Zetland (Shetland)


The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1889 established county councils in Scotland. Unlike in England and Wales, where corresponding legislation created new entities called administrative counties, the Act amended the existing counties for local government purposes, including merging Ross and Cromartyshire into Ross and Cromarty, and setting up a boundary commission to make further changes as necessary. Generally speaking, exclaves were abolished, the only significant exclave left untouched being the part of Dunbartonshire between Stirlingshire and Lanarkshire.

These local government counties excluded from their area the 'counties of cities' in Scotland. Originally only the city and royal burgh of Edinburgh had this status, but Glasgow, Dundee, and Aberdeen were added in 1893, 1894 and 1900 respectively. Each of these counties of cities were enlarged on a number of occasions at the expense of the surrounding counties. These are not shown on the map below as separate entities.

Name changes[]

Following the 1889 act, the County of Edinburgh became Midlothian (a name previously used unofficially). The County of Elgin became known officially as Morayshire or the County of Moray by 1918. Early in the twentieth century, the county council of Dumbarton adopted the form "Dunbartonshire" in preference to "Dumbartonshire" and this became the accepted official form. In 1921 the County of Haddington became East Lothian, and three years later the County of Linlithgow became West Lothian.[11] In 1928 Forfarshire was renamed Angus.[12]


In 1930, the county councils were re-constituted, including two joint county councils covering the "combined counties" of Perthshire and Kinross-shire, and Morayshire and Nairnshire by the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1929.[13]

The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1947 created new administrative areas named 'counties', 'counties of cities', large burghs and small burghs. Although these had been established by earlier legislation, the Act listed the various counties and other divisions for the first time.

In 1963 the Government published a white paper which proposed a reduction in the number of counties from thirty-three to between ten and fifteen.[14] A process of consultation between county councils and officials from the Scottish Office was begun to effect the amalgamations. Following a change of government, it was announced in 1965 that a "more comprehensive and authoritative" review of local government areas would be undertaken.[15] Accordingly a Royal Commission on Local Government in Scotland, chaired by Lord Wheatley was appointed in 1966.[16] The commission's report in 1969 recommended the replacement of the counties with larger regions.[17] Another change in government control in 1970 was followed by the publication of a white paper in 1971 implementing the commission's reforms in a modified form.[18] The abolition of counties for local government purposes was enacted by the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, with counties playing no part in local government after May 16 1975.

County constituencies[]

Scotland still has county constituencies of the Parliament of the United Kingdom (Westminster), and the same term is used in reference to constituencies of the Scottish Parliament (Holyrood), created in 1999.

Historically, county constituencies did represent specific counties (minus parliamentary burghs within the counties). Now, however, county in county constituency means predominantly rural. Similarly, burgh constituencies are predominantly urban constituencies.

County towns, area and population[]

See List of pre-1975 counties of Scotland.

External links[]

Records of the Parliaments of Scotland The National Library of Scotland: Maps of Scotland Scottish History – Ewan J Innes, MA FSA Scot.

Notes and references[]

  1. ^ "". Retrieved 2008-11-07. 
  2. ^ Scotland c1000-1200: The Shire, the Thane, the Sheriff and the Sheriffdom, Ewan J. Innes, MA FSA Scot, 1994
  3. ^ Charter by Malcolm III to the Church of Dunfermline, AD 1070-1093
  4. ^ Charter by King David to the church of St. Andrews of the church of St. Mary at Haddington, circa AD 1139
  5. ^ Charter by King David granting Clerchetune to the church of St. Mary of Haddington, circa AD 1141.
  6. ^ Charter by King David granting the church of Clackmannan, etc., to the Abbey of Stirling, circa AD 1150
  7. ^ "New Edition of the 1831 Census". Retrieved 2008-11-07. 
  8. ^ Parliamentary Minutes, 13 November 1641
  9. ^ (1682) - John Adair – Mappe of Wast Lothian comonly called Linlithgowshire authore Johanne Adair; (manuscript in the National Library of Scotland)
  10. ^ Manuscripts in the National Library of Scotland
  11. ^ Orders made under the Private Legislation (Scotland) Act 1899, listed in the Edinburgh Gazette on March 18, 1921 and March 21, 1924.
  12. ^ *Template:Cite local authority
  13. ^ 19 & 20 Geo. 5., C. 25, S.10(7)
  14. ^ The Modernisation of Local Government in Scotland (Cmnd. 2067)
  15. ^ Scots council reform plans changed, The Times, March 6, 1965
  16. ^ Tasks set for planners of local government - Members of royal commissions named, The Times, May 25, 1966
  17. ^ Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government in Scotland 1966 - 69 (Cmnd.4150)
  18. ^ Reform of Local Government in Scotland (Cmnd. 4583)

See also[]

This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at Counties of Scotland. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.