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A shire is a traditional division found in the United Kingdommarker, Irelandmarker and in Australia.

In Britainmarker, "shire" is the original term for what is usually known as a county; the word county having been introduced at the Norman Conquest. The two are synonymous. Although in modern British usage counties are referred to as "shires" mainly in poetic contexts, terms such as Shire Hall remain common. Shire also remains a common part of many county names.

In parts of Australia, a shire is an administrative unit. It is not synonymous with "county", which is a land registration unit.

The first shires were created by the Anglo-Saxons in what is now central and southern Englandmarker. The word is from Old English, scir, and appears to be allied to shear as it is a division of the land. The system was spread to most of the rest of England in tenth century.

The shire in early days was governed by an ealdorman and in the later Anglo-Saxon period by royal official known as a "shire reeve" or sheriff. The shires were divided into hundreds or wapentakes, although other less common sub-divisions existed.

The first shires of Scotland were created after the English model, possibly beginning in the tenth century. King David I more consistently created shires and appointed sheriffs across lowland Scotland. An alternative name for a shire was a "sheriffdom" until sheriff court reforms separated the two concepts. In Scotland the word "county" was not adopted for the shires. Although "county" appears in some texts, "shire" was the normal name until counties for statutory purposes were created in the nineteenth century.

Individually, or as a suffix in Scotland and in the far northeast of England, the word is (rhyming with "fire"). As a suffix in an English or Welsh place name, it is in most regions pronounced "shur", or sometimes , a homophone of "sheer".

Shire county

The phrase "shire county" is used of non-metropolitan counties in England, or specifically of those which are not unitary local authority areas. It is not an official term.

Shire names in Britain and Ireland

"Shire" can also be used in a narrower sense, referring only to ancient counties ending in "shire". These counties are typically (though not always) named after their county town.

The suffix -shire is attached to most of the names of English, Scottish and Welsh counties. It tends not to be found in the names of shires which were pre-existing divisions. Essex, Kent and Sussex, for example, have never borne a -shire as each represents a former Anglo-Saxon kingdom. Similarly Cornwall was a Welsh kingdom before it became an English shire.

Shire names in England

Shires in England bearing the "-shire" suffix include:Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Cheshiremarker, Derbyshiremarker, Gloucestershiremarker, Hampshire, Herefordshiremarker, Hertfordshiremarker, Huntingdonshiremarker, Lancashiremarker, Lincolnshiremarker, Leicestershiremarker, Northamptonshiremarker, Nottinghamshiremarker, Oxfordshire, Shropshiremarker, Staffordshire, Warwickshiremarker, Wiltshiremarker, Worcestershire, and Yorkshiremarker. These counties, on their historical boundaries, cover a little more than half the area of England. The counties that do not use "-shire" are mainly in three areas, in the south-east, south-west and far north of England.

The county of Devonmarker is also known as Devonshire, although this is not an official name and is not often used outside the county. The counties of Dorsetmarker, Rutlandmarker and Somersetmarker were occasionally Dorsetshire, Rutlandshire and Somersetshire, but these usages are now considered archaic.

Shire names in Ireland

The 32 counties on the island of Ireland have tended not to bear a "-shire" suffix. These counties were introduced on an English model when "shire" was falling out of official use. Nevertheless in Ulster Downshire is frequently found (there is a Marquess of Downshire). The names of other counties of the island are occasionally found in historical sources with a "-shire" suffix.

Shire names in Scotland

In Scotland, barely affected by the Norman Conquest of England, the word "shire" prevailed over "county" until the 19th century. Earliest sources have the same usage of the "-shire" suffix as in England (though in Scots this was oftenmost "schyr"). Later the "Shire" appears as a separate word.

"Shire" names in Scotland include Aberdeenshiremarker, Ayrshiremarker, Banffshiremarker, Berwickshiremarker, Clackmannanshiremarker, Cromartyshiremarker, Dumfriesshiremarker, Dunbartonshiremarker, Inverness-shire, Kincardineshiremarker, Kinross-shiremarker, Kirkcudbrightshiremarker, Lanarkshiremarker, Morayshiremarker, Nairnshiremarker, Peeblesshiremarker, Perthshiremarker, Renfrewshire, Ross-shiremarker, Roxburghshiremarker, Selkirkshiremarker, Stirlingshiremarker, and Wigtownshiremarker

In Scotland four shires have alternative names with the "-shire" suffix: Angusmarker (Forfarshire), East Lothianmarker (Haddingtonshire), Midlothianmarker (Edinburghshire) and West Lothianmarker (Linlithgowshire).

Sutherlandmarker is occasionally still referred to as Sutherlandshire. Similarly, Argyllshiremarker, Buteshiremarker, Caithness-shiremarker and Fifeshiremarker are sometimes found. Also, Morayshire was previously called Elginshire.

Shire names in Wales

Shires in Wales bearing the "-shire" suffix include:Brecknockshiremarker (or Breconshire), Caernarvonshire, Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshiremarker, Denbighshire, Flintshiremarker, Monmouthshiremarker, Montgomeryshiremarker, Pembrokeshiremarker, and Radnorshiremarker.

In Wales, the counties of Merionethmarker and Glamorganmarker are occasionally referred to with the "shire" suffix. The only traditional Welsh county that never takes "shire" is Angleseymarker.

Non-county "shires"

The suffix –shire could be a generalised term referring to a district. It did not acquire the strong association with county until later.

Other than these, the term was used for several other districts. Apart from Triggshire in Cornwall, these are all in Yorkshire and the Middle Shires:Bedlingtonshiremarker, Craikshiremarker, Norhamshire and Islandshiremarker were exclaves of County Durham, which were incorporated into Northumberland or Yorkshiremarker in 1844. The suffix was also used for many hundred, wapentakes and liberties such as Allertonshiremarker, Blackburnshiremarker, Halfshire, Howdenshiremarker, Leylandshiremarker, Powdershire, Pydarshire, Richmondshiremarker, Riponshiremarker, Salfordshiremarker, Triggshiremarker, Tynemouthshiremarker, West Derbyshire and Wivelshire, counties corporate such as Hullshiremarker, and other districts such as Applebyshiremarker, Bamburghshiremarker, Bunkleshire, Carlisleshire, Coldinghamshiremarker, Coxwoldshire, Cravenshire, Hallamshire, Leekshire , Mashamshiremarker and Yetholmshiremarker.

Non-county shires were very common in Scotland. Kinross-shiremarker and Clackmannanshiremarker are arguably survivals from such districts. Non-county "shires" in Scotland include Bunkleshire, Coldinghamshiremarker and Yetholmshiremarker.

Richmondshiremarker in North Yorkshire is today the name of a local government district.

Shires in Australia

"Shire" is the most common word in Australia for rural Local Government Areas . The states of New South Walesmarker, Victoriamarker, Queenslandmarker and Western Australiamarker use Shire for this unit.

In contrast, South Australiamarker uses district and region for its rural LGA units, while Tasmaniamarker uses municipality.Shires are generally functionally indistinguishable from towns, municipalities, or cities.

Three LGAs in outer metropolitan Sydneymarker have populations exceeding that of towns or municipalities, but retain significant bushlands and/or semi-rural areas, have continued to use the title of 'Shire', possibly due to community demand or popularity, or for financial and socio-political gain. These three 'City-Shires' are:

Shires in the United States

In 1634, eight "shires" were created in the Virginia Colony by order of Charles I, King of England. They were renamed as counties only a few years later. They were:

Among these Shires of Virginia, the five noted above are considered to be still existent in somewhat their same political form in Virginiamarker as of 2006, though three of them have vanished. Most of their boundaries have changed in the intervening centuries.

Before the Province of New York was granted county subdivisions and a greater royal presence in 1683, the early ducal colony consisted of York Shire, as well as Albany and Ulstermarker, after the three titles held by Prince James: Duke of York, Duke of Albany, Earl of Ulster. While these were basically renamed Dutch core settlements, they were quickly converted to English purposes, while the Dutch remained within the colony, as opposed to later practice of the Acadian Expulsion. Further Anglo-Dutch synthesis occurred when James enacted the Dominion of New England and later when William III of England took over through the Glorious Revolution.

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