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palatinates

palatinates were border regions where the demands of security dictated that the local rulers should have special powers, particularly to raise troops and to administer justice to all levels. The earldom of Chester, created in 1071, gradually acquired palatinate privileges, its tenants-in-chief holding directly of the earl and paying all taxes to him. But after 1237 the earldom was taken into the crown and became in due course part of the territories of the princes of Wales. Not until 1543 however were Chester and Cheshire given representation at Westminster and the palatine courts survived until 1830. The privileges of Durham, the other great palatinate, go back beyond the Conquest to an independent Northumbria. The palatine powers were exercised by the bishops. Durham was not brought into the Westminster Parliament until the later 17th cent. and its privileges were not totally extinguished until 1836. The county of Lancaster was granted palatine status in 1351, though its privileges were less than those of Cheshire or Durham, and it was represented at Westminster from the outset. The palatine status remained with John of Gaunt and then descended through Henry IV with the crown. Certain palatine powers were claimed for the earldoms of Kent and Shropshire, for the viceroys of Ireland, and for the proprietors of some of the American colonies. Though the palatinates have often been described as ‘imperia in imperio’, where ‘the king's writ did not run’, many of the privileges were shared at a lower level with other landowners. The monarch, after all, appointed the bishop of Durham and could dispose of the earldoms. The earls and bishops palatine were powerful men, but subjects they remained.

J. A. Cannon

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