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This page is concerned with British counties as they were before the Local Government Act (England and Wales) 1972 and the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973. Where the present tense is used in this page, it relates to years before 1972.

42, 32, 32, 12

It is traditionally said that England has 42 counties, Ireland and Scotland 32 each, and Wales 12. This has influenced works such as Hobson's Fox-Hunting Atlas, which has 42 maps for the 42 counties of England: it has a plate for Rutland, even though Rutland is also covered by its plate for "Leicestershire and Rutlandshire".

This is not the result of deliberate planning, dividing these four countries into 42 etc. counties. Nor is it a coincidence. It is the result of using some flexibility in how to count English, Scottish and Welsh counties so as to arrange for a set of easily remembered totals. Some points of flexibilty are:

Here is my best attempt at listing the right number of counties for each country:
42 English counties32 Irish counties32 Scottish counties12 Welsh counties
Bedfordshire
Berkshire
Buckinghamshire
Cambridgeshire 
Cheshire
Cornwall
Cumberland
Derbyshire
Devon
Dorset

Durham
Essex
Gloucestershire
Hampshire
Herefordshire
Hertfordshire
Huntingdonshire
Kent
Lancashire
Leicestershire

Lincolnshire 
Middlesex
Monmouthshire
Norfolk
Northamptonshire 
Northumberland
Nottinghamshire
Oxfordshire
Rutland
Shropshire

Somerset
Staffordshire
Suffolk
Surrey
Sussex
Warwickshire
Westmorland
Wiltshire
Worcestershire
East Riding of Yorkshire

North Riding of Yorkshire
West Riding of Yorkshire
Antrim
Armagh
Carlow
Cavan
Clare
Cork
Donegal
Down
Dublin
Fermanagh

Galway
Kerry
Kildare
Kilkenny
Kings County (Offaly)
Leitrim
Limerick
Londonderry
Longford
Louth

Mayo
Meath
Monaghan
Queens County (Laois)
Roscommon
Sligo
Tipperary
Tyrone
Waterford
West Meath

Wexford
Wicklow
Aberdeenshire
Argyllshire
Ayrshire
Banffshire
Berwickshire
Bute
Caithness
Clackmannanshire
Dumbartonshire
Dumfriesshire

Eastlothian
Elgin
Fife
Forfarshire
Inverness-shire
Kincardineshire
Kinross-shire
Kirkcudbrightshire
Lanarkshire
Midlothian

Nairn
Orkney and Shetland
Peeblesshire
Perthshire
Renfrewshire
Ross and Cromarty
Roxburghshire
Selkirkshire
Stirlingshire
Sutherland

Westlothian
Wigtownshire
Anglesey
Brecknockshire
Carmarthenshire
Carnarvonshire
Cardiganshire
Denbighshire
Flint
Glamorganshire
Merionethshire
Montgomeryshire

Pembrokeshire
Radnorshire

To obtain these totals, I have assumed these decisions:

England

The three ridings of Yorkshire are counted separately.
Other counties with major subdivisions, namely Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire, Suffolk and Sussex, are counted singly.
Monmouthshire is a county of England.

These are the 42 counties used for the 42 plates in Hobson's Fox-Hunting Atlas of 1850, which uses lithographic engravings by J. and C. Walker for a county atlas dated 1837.

Ireland

There have long been 32 counties in Ireland. The province of Connaught comprises five counties; Leinster, twelve; Munster, six; and Ulster, nine.

Since the establishment of the Irish Republic, there have been six counties in the north and 26 in the Republic. Indeed they are often referred to as "the six counties" and "the 26 counties". These designations sound neutral, but generally indicate Republican sympathies.

Ireland is a cartographer's ideal country, or island. It fits neatly onto a rectangular page. Its 32 counties are not too diverse in size, with the largest, Cork, less than ten times the size of the smallest, Louth.

Scotland

The figure of 32 counties for Scotland is the most dubious of the four.

You need to count Ross and Cromarty as a single county. Cromarty was made a county separate from Ross-shire in 1685, to contain the estates of George Mackenzie, lawyer and politician, and first Earl of Cromartie. Ross-shire and Cromarty were recombined into a single county under the Local Government (Scotland) Act of 1889.

You also need to count Orkney and Shetland (or Zetland) as a single county. Orkney and Shetland were both pledged to the Kingdom of Scotland against the dowry of Margaret of Denmark in 1486. They were then regarded as a single county for some purposes, as two counties for others. The Local Government (Scotland) Act of 1889 then formally made them separate counties.

Some Scottish counties have alternative names.

Wales

It is necessary to omit Monmouthshire from the count of Welsh counties.

In the early sixteenth century, Wales, now firml;y under English rule, was reorganised into 13 shires or counties. One of these, Monmouthshire, was subsequently regarded as part of England for some purposes: many laws, such as those dealing with the sale of alcohol, explicitly covered "Wales and Monmouthshire". However it was still regarded as part of Wales for other purposes: that part of Bicknor which was an exclave of Monmouthshire, lying between Herefordshire and Gloucestershire, was known as Welsh Bicknor.


This page is part of maproom.org, which has maps of the counties of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.