The historic counties of Wales are ancient subdivisions of Wales. They were used for various functions for several hundred years,[1] but have been largely superseded by contemporary subnational divisions,[2] some of which bear some limited similarity to the historic entities in name and extent. They are alternatively known as ancient counties.[3]

The counties[]

Historic counties of Wales
Wales Historical Counties.png
  1. The earldom of Pembroke and lordship of Glamorgan pre-date the Edwardian conquest.
  2. These counties originate in 1282, following King Edward I's conquest.
  3. These counties originate in 1535, with the Laws in Wales Act, 1535, converting the remaining Marcher Lordships into counties.
  4. Despite being created at the same Act as the other counties, Monmouthshire was included with England for some legal purposes until 1974. In many cases the formulation "Wales and Monmouthshire" was used.[4] The Welsh, however, have always considered Monmouthshire to be part of Wales.[5]

The 1535 Laws in Wales Act had the effect of abolishing the marcher lordships within and on the borders of Wales. In the border areas, several were incorporated in whole or in part into English counties. The lordships of Ludlow, Clun, Caus and part of Montgomery were incorporated into Shropshire; and Wigmore, Huntington, Clifford and most of Ewyas were included in Herefordshire.[6]

The historic counties established by 1535 were used as the geographical basis for the administrative counties, governed by county councils, which existed from 1889 to 1974. The historian William Rees said, in his "Historical Atlas of Wales": (published 1959) "... the boundaries of the modern shires have largely been determined by the ancient divisions of the country. The survival of these ancient local divisions within the pattern of historical change constitutes a vital element in the framework of the national life and helps to preserve its continuity."


An 1844 Act of Parliament abolished several enclaves. One of these, Welsh Bicknor was an exclave of Monmouthshire between Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. The exclave of Flintshire, called Maelor Saesneg (English Maelor) was left untouched however.


See also: Monmouthshire (historic)

The territory which became Monmouthshire was part of the Welsh kingdoms of Gwent and Glywysing and later, after the Norman conquest of southern Wales, of the Welsh Marches. Although the original Laws in Wales Act of 1535 specifically stated the lands making up Monmouthshire were from the 'Country or Dominion of Wales', the Laws in Wales Act 1542 added Monmouthshire to the Oxford circuit of the English Assizes rather than falling under the Court of Great Sessions in Wales. According to historian John Davies, this arrangement was the cause of the erroneous belief that the county had been annexed by England rather than remaining part of Wales.[7] In later centuries, some English historians, map-makers, landowners and politicians took the view that Monmouthshire was an English rather than Welsh county, and references were often made in legislation to "Wales and Monmouthshire". The position was finally resolved by the Local Government Act 1972, which confirmed Monmouthshire's place within Wales.

Local government[]


The Local Government Act 1888 created administrative counties based on the historic counties but not with the exact same boundaries in 1889. Additionally, certain boroughs were deemed to be county boroughs and outside of the administrative county (Cardiff and Swansea in 1889, Newport in 1891 and Merthyr Tydfil in 1908).


The Local Government Act 1972 replaced the administrative counties created in 1889 with eight counties in 1974. The existing Lieutenancy areas were also redefined to use them. At the same time the historic counties were abandoned by the Royal Mail as postal counties and were no longer shown on maps. These eight new counties were themselves replaced in 1996 by the current principal areas of Wales, but modified versions were retained for Lieutenancy as the preserved counties.

Vice counties[]

The vice counties, used for biological recording since 1852, are largely based on historic county boundaries. They ignore all exclaves and are modified by subdividing large counties and merging smaller areas into neighbouring counties. The static boundaries make Longitudinal study of biodiversity easier. They also cover the rest of Great Britain and Ireland.

See also[]


  1. ^ Bryne, T., Local Government in Britain, (1994)
  2. ^ Her Majesty's Stationary Office, Aspects of Britain: Local Government, (1996)
  3. ^ Vision of Britain - Type details for ancient county. Retrieved 19 October 2006.
  4. ^ Statute Law database: "Wales and Monmouthshire" search results
  5. ^ Cf. the traditional Welsh expression "O Fôn i Fynwy" ("From Anglesey to Monmouthshire", i.e. "across Wales", "the whole of Wales").
  6. ^ John Davies, A History of Wales, Penguin, 1993, ISBN 0-140-28475-3
  7. ^ John Davies, A History of Wales, 1993, ISBN 0-140-28475-3

External links[]

This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at Historic counties of Wales. 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.