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The Earldom of Chester was one of the most powerful earldoms in medieval England. Since 1301 the title has generally been given to heirs-apparent to the English throne, and from the late 14th century it has been given only in conjunction with that of Prince of Wales.

Traditional power base

Cheshire belonged to the powerful Earls of Chester from the late eleventh century, and they held land all over England called 'the honour of Chester'. By the late twelfth century they had established a position of power as rulers of Cheshire that formed the basis of the later notion of the 'county palatine'.

Royal title

The earldom reverted to the Crown in 1237 on the death of John the Scot, Earl of Huntingdon, seventh and last of the Earls. It was annexed to the Crown in 1246. King Henry III then passed the Lordship of Chester, but not the title of Earl, to his son the Lord Edward in 1254, and as King Edward I he conferred the title and the lands of the Earldom first on son, Edward, the first English Prince of Wales. By that time the Earldom of Chester consisted of two counties: Cheshiremarker and Flintshiremarker.

The establishment of royal control at Chester made possible King Edward I's conquest of north Walesmarker, and Chestermarker played a vital part as a supply base during the Welsh Wars (1275–84), so the separate organisation of a county palatine was preserved. This continued until the time of King Henry VIII. Since 1301 the Earldom of Chester has always been conferred on the Princes of Wales.

Briefly promoted to a principality in 1398 by King Richard II, it was reduced to an earldom again in 1399 by King Henry IV. Whereas the Sovereign's eldest son is born Duke of Cornwall he must be made or created Earl of Chester (and Prince of Wales; see the Prince Henry's Charter Case (1611) 1 Bulst 133; 80 ER 827). Prince Charles was created Earl of Chester on 26 July 1958, when he was also made Prince of Wales.

The independent palatinate jurisdiction of Chester survived until the time of King Henry VIII (1536), when the earldom was brought under the control of the Crown. The palatinate courts of Great Sessions and Exchequer survived until the reforms of 1830.

The importance of the Royal County of Chester is shown by the survival of Chester Herald, in the College of Armsmarker, for some six hundred years. The office, currently held by Timothy Hugh Stewart Duke, has anciently been nominally under the jurisdiction of Norroy King of Arms.

List of the Earls of Chester

First Creation (1071)



Second Creation (1254)



Third Creation (1264)



(There is no evidence that Alphonso, elder son of Edward I, was created earl of Chester, although he was styled as such)

Fourth Creation (1301)



Fifth Creation (1312)



Thereafter, the Earldom of Chester was created in conjunction with the Principality of Wales. See Prince of Wales for further Earls of Chester.

Sources

  • BE Harris, "Administrative History" in CR Elrington (ed), The Victoria County History of Chester (University of London Institute of Historical Research, London, 1979) vol II 1-97



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