County palatine

In England, a county palatine or palatinate was an area ruled by a hereditary nobleman enjoying special authority and autonomy from the rest of a kingdom or empire. The name derives from the Latin adjective palātīnus, "relating to the palace", from the noun palātium, "palace". It thus implies the exercise of a quasi-royal prerogative within a county, that is to say a jurisdiction ruled by an earl, the English equivalent of a count. A duchy palatine is similar but is ruled over by a duke, a nobleman of higher precedence than an earl or count.

The nobleman swore allegiance to the king yet had the power to rule the county largely independently of the king. It should therefore be distinguished from the feudal barony, held from the king, which possessed no such independent authority. Rulers of counties palatine did however create their own feudal baronies, to be held directly from them in capite, such as the Barony of Halton. County palatine jurisdictions were created in England under the rule of the Norman dynasty. On continental Europe, they have an earlier date.

In general, when a palatine-type autonomy was granted to a lord by the sovereign, it was in a district on the periphery of the kingdom, at a time when the district was at risk from disloyal armed insurgents who could retreat beyond the borders and re-enter. For the English sovereign in Norman times this applied to northern England, Wales and Ireland. As the authority granted was hereditary, some counties palatine legally survived well past the end of the feudal period.

Palatinates emerged in England in the decades following the Norman conquest, as various earls or bishops were granted palatine ("from the palace") powers, i.e. powers of a sort elsewhere exercised by the king. In some places this may have been in part a defensive measure, enabling local authorities to organise the defence of vulnerable frontier areas at their own discretion, avoiding the delays involved in seeking decisions from court and removing obstructions to the coordinated direction of local resources at the discretion of a single official. However, palatine powers were also granted over areas such as the Isle of Ely which were not near any frontier.

Palatine powers over Cheshire were acquired by the Earls of Chester, a title which has since 1254 been reserved for the heir apparent to the throne (apart from a brief tenure in 1264-5 by Simon de Montfort, who had seized control of government from Henry III). Chester had its own parliament, consisting of barons of the county, and was not represented in Parliament until 1543, while it retained some of its special privileges until 1830.

Exceptional powers were also granted to the Bishops of Durham, who during the aftermath of the Norman conquest had been put in charge of secular administration in what became County Durham. The autonomous power exercised by these "prince-bishops" over the County Palatine of Durham was particularly enduring: Durham did not gain parliamentary representation until 1654, while the bishops of Durham retained their temporal jurisdiction until 1836. The bishop's mitre which crowns the bishop of Durham's coat of arms is encircled with a gold coronet which is otherwise used only by dukes, reflecting his historic dignity as a palatine earl.

This page was last edited on 21 May 2018, at 00:02.
Reference: under CC BY-SA license.

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