Counties corporate were created during the Middle Ages, and were effectively small self-governing counties. They usually covered towns or cities which were deemed to be important enough to be independent from their counties and a county corporate could also be known as a county of itself.
While they were administratively distinct counties, with their own sheriffs and lieutenancies, most of the counties corporate remained part of the "county at large" for purposes such as the county assize courts. From the 17th century the separate jurisdictions of the counties corporate were increasingly merged with that of the surrounding county, so that by the late 19th century the title was mostly a ceremonial one.
By the 14th century, the growth of some towns had led to strong opposition to their government by local counties. While charters giving various rights were awarded to each borough, some were awarded complete effective independence including their own sheriffs, Quarter Sessions and other officials, and were sometimes given governing rights over a swathe of surrounding countryside. They were referred to in the form "Town and County of ..." or "City and County of ...", and so became known as the counties corporate. Other counties corporate were created to deal with specific local problems, such as border conflict (in the case of Berwick-upon-Tweed) and piracy (in the cases of Poole and Haverfordwest).
In the late 19th century the status of counties corporate changed. By the Militia Act 1882 the lieutenancies of the cities and towns were combined with those of adjacent counties, with two exceptions: the City of London, which retained its separate status, and Haverfordwest, which had a separate lieutenancy until 1974. Then the Local Government Act 1888 created the new status of county borough in England and Wales, with administrative functions similar to counties corporate. Some smaller counties corporate (Berwick upon Tweed, Lichfield, Lincoln, Poole, Carmarthen and Haverfordwest) became part of the administrative county in which they were situated. The City of London retained its previous status. Other counties corporate became county boroughs.
In England and Wales counties corporate were not formally abolished until 1974, although the only vestiges of their existence were the right of the city or borough corporation to appoint a ceremonial sheriff; and the fact that the letters patent appointing lord lieutenants still included the names of the town or city. For example, the Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire's full title was "Lieutenant of and in the County of Gloucester, and the City and County of Gloucester, and the City and County of Bristol".
In Ireland, eight counties corporate were extant by 1610. Each contained rural "liberties" outside the municipal boundary; these were transferred to the adjacent county-at-large in 1840–2, except in the case of Carrickfergus. The extant baronies of Cork and Dublin are approximately coterminous with the territories transferred from the respective cities in 1840. The 1842 report of the Select Committee on Grand Jury Presentments of Ireland found none of the counties corporate except Drogheda derived any advantage from their status, and recommended they be absorbed as baronies of the adjoining county-at-large. The counties corporate were explicitly abolished in 1899 under the terms of the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898. Cork, Dublin, Limerick and Waterford became county boroughs. Carrickfergus, Drogheda, Galway and Kilkenny became parts of administrative counties. The barony of Carrickfergus is coterminous with the former county of the town.
List of counties corporate
The counties corporate (listed with date of creation where known) were:
- Borough and Town of Berwick upon Tweed (1551)
- County of the Town of Bristol (1373, City since 1542)†
- County of the City of Canterbury (1471)
- County of the Town of Chester (1238/1239, City since 1541)
- County of the City of Coventry (1451, abolished 1842)
- County of the City of Exeter (1537)
- County of the Town of Gloucester (1483, City since 1541)
- Kingston upon Hull (County of Hullshire) by charter of 1440, restricted to Town and County of Kingston upon Hull 1835
- County of the City of Lichfield (1556)
- County of the City of Lincoln (1409)
- City of London (1132 until 1965)†
- County of the Town of Newcastle upon Tyne (1400)
- County of the City of Norwich (1404)
- County of the Town of Nottingham (1448)
- County of the Town of Poole (1571)
- County of the Town of Southampton (1447)
- County of the City of Worcester (1622)
- County of the City of York (1396)
† The City of London retains its separate shrievalty and lieutenancy; the City of Bristol regained its separate shrievalty and lieutenancy in 1996.
- County of the Town of Carrickfergus (sherrifdom within Earldom of Ulster by 1326; earliest extant royal charter 1570)
- County of the City of Cork (1608)
- County of the Town of Drogheda (1412)
- County of the City of Dublin (1548 )
- County of the Town of Galway (1610)
- County of the City of Kilkenny (1610)
- County of the City of Limerick (1609)
- County of the City of Waterford (1574)
Although the 1604 charter of Derry incorporated the city and liberties as the "city and county of Derry", this was never acted upon, and was superseded by the 1613 charter, which renamed the city Londonderry and merged it with the county and town of Coleraine into the new County Londonderry.
- Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Act 1840 (3 & 4 Vict. c.108); Counties and Boroughs (Ireland) Act 1840 (3 & 4 Vict. c.109); Dublin Baronies Act 1842 (5 & 6 Vict. c.82)
- House of Commons Select Committee on Grand Jury Presentments of Ireland (1842). Report, minutes of evidence and appendix. Command papers. Vol.42 Sub-vol.1 No.386. HMSO. p. xliv.
- A Handbook of Local Government in Ireland (1899) p.51
- F A Youngs, Guide to Local Administrative Units of England, 2 volumes, London, 1979 and 1991
- Newcastle-upon-Tyne (1911 Encyclopædia Britannica)
- Norwich, England (1911 Encyclopædia Britannica)
- Worcester, England (1911 Encyclopædia Britannica)
- York, England (1911 Encyclopædia Britannica)
- McSkimin, Samuel (1811). The history and antiquities of the county of the town of Carrickfergus. Belfast. p. 64, fn.4.
- "Kilkenny, County of the City of". Appendix I (South-Eastern and part of the North-Eastern Circuit). Reports from Commissioners. 8: Municipal Corporations (Ireland). 1835. p. 743.
- "Charters". Cork City Council. Retrieved 15 December 2010.
- Johnston, L. C. (1826). History of Drogheda: from the earliest period to the present time. Drogheda. p. 37.
- "II: Charters; 21: Edward VI". Appendix to the Report of the Commissioners: Report on the City of Dublin; Part I. House of Lords Sessional Papers. 9, Pt 1. London: HMSO. 1835. p. 5.
- Hardiman, James (1820). The history of the town and county of the town of Galway. Dublin. p. 99.
- "Kilkenny, County of the City of". Appendix I (South-Eastern and part of the North-Eastern Circuit). Reports from Commissioners. 8: Municipal Corporations (Ireland). 1835. p. 535.
- Fitzgerald, Patrick; John James McGregor (1827). The history, topography and antiquities, of the county and city of Limerick: with a preliminary view of the history and antiquities of Ireland II. Limerick: George McKern. p. 221.
- Smith, Charles (1774). The ancient and present state of the county and city of Waterford (2nd ed.). Dublin. p. 134.
- Commissioners appointed to inquire into the municipal corporations in Ireland (1836). "Londonderry". Appendix: Part III: Conclusion of the North-Western Circuit. Command papers. Vol.XXIV. HMSO. p. 1117, §§9,10. Retrieved 1 June 2013.