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Chapter 1. County and Shire. The Origin of Banff

The word shire is of Old English origin and meant office, charge, administration. The Norman Conquest introduced the word county—through French from the Latin comitatus, which in mediaeval documents designates the shire. County is the district ruled by a count, the king's comes, the equivalent of the older English term earl. This system of local administration was in England the result of a gradual, orderly and natural development; in Scotland, on the other hand, it was the result of the administrative Act of David I (1124-53), who, by residence in England was so "polished from a boy" that "he had rubbed off all the rust of Scottish barbarity." With an intimate knowledge of English methods of administration he sought to introduce some of these. He accordingly divided Scotland into sheriffdoms. This step marked the beginning of the Scottish county division as it is known today, although it took a long time to complete, for the Celtic chiefs in the north and in Galloway were as yet too powerful to allow royal officials to hold courts within their territories. The policy of David, however, led to the all but complete expulsion of the Celtic system from the whole of the east of Scotland up to the Moray Firth, including a not inconsiderable portion of Banffshire. Originally the civil counties were synonymous with the sheriffdoms or stewartries, the stewartry ceasing with the abolition of hereditary jurisdictions in 1748. By the Act of David, Scotland was divided into 25 sheriffdoms or counties. In the latter part of the thirteenth century they numbered 34; there are now 33.

The county of Banff existed at an early period of the new regime. In the twelfth century and in the thirteenth we find such varied forms of its name as Banb, Banef, Bamphe, Bane, Banet. Curiously divergent derivations have been given. The Celtic words for "white ford or beach," for "sucking-pig," and for "holy woman," have been suggested. Banba, a Welsh or Irish queen, has also been mentioned as bestowing her name. Amid such divergencies, who shall decide?

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