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Shire is an Old English word which has long been used to denote a large division of the country, shorn off or separated by boundaries from the rest of the land. It is a share, to use another related word, of a wider area. From it is derived the Welsh word sir, for which the equivalent swydd is sometimes found, denoting first, office, and then, the sphere within which an office is exercised.
Previous to the Norman Conquest of England, shire was the English term regularly used. The Normans, however, brought with them the name county, signifying the district ruled over by a count, and applied this to the shire, which they took to be a very similar institution. Hence it is that we speak indifferently of Carnarvonshire or the County of Carnarvon, of the Shire Hall and of the County Council. The two terms now have precisely the same meaning.
Carnarvonshire is the county which has its centre in the town of Carnarvon on the Menai Straits. The town has a much longer history than the shire, for there was a fort here, near Llanbeblig church, in Roman times, and it is this which the name commemorates. Carnarvon is properly "Y Gaer yn Arfon," the fort in Arvon, i.e. in the region fronting Anglesey.
All the shires of Wales are of much later origin than those of England. In the days of Welsh independence, the country was divided into cantrefs and commotes, each of much smaller extent than the English shire. The turning of Wales into "shire ground " was a part of the process of conquest. Carnarvonshire belongs to the earlier of the two sets of Welsh counties, namely, those constituted by Edward I after his defeat of Llywelyn, the last native Prince of Wales. It came into existence in March 1284, as the result of the Statute of Rhuddlan, sometimes known as the Statute of Wales. By this act three Welsh cantrefs and two commotes were grouped together under the Sheriff of Carnarvon and a new county was created.
(SOURCE: Lloyd, John E Sir. Carnarvonshire. Cambridge: University Press, 1911.)
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