"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Friday, 19 February 2010

Hundreds and Hides

Ignoring the use of the word to mean ten times ten this is about its use as a parcel of land - an English adminstrative area larger than a village and smaller than a county. It was at one time the most basic unit of administration in the realm but its initial purpose is obscure. It may have been intended as that amount of land which could provide a hundred warriors for the king's host (the word army is a comparatively recent invention) or to cover one hundred hides of land. (The hide was a unit used in assessing land for liability to "geld", or land tax, in Anglo-Saxon England from the 7th to the 11th centuries. A very old English unit of area, a hide was of variable size depending on localation and the quality of the land. It was the amount of land to support a family, and ranged from 60 to 180 acres. After the Norman conquest in 1066 it became standardized at around 120 acres.)

Whatever it's origins, the most important aspect of a hundred by the fourteenth century was that it had its own court.

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