Rape, England - Encyclopedia


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RAPE, a territorial division of the county of Sussex, England, formerly used for various administrative purposes. There are now six of these divisions, Hastings, Pevensey, Lewes, Bramber, Arundel and Chichester, but the latter two apparently formed a single rape at the date of the compilation of Domesday Book. The word, which in England is peculiar to Sussex, is usually said to be closely related to the Icelandic hrepp, a small territorial division which in most, but not in all, cases is identical with the parish; but this explanation, which is unsatisfactory on institutional grounds, has also been declared impossible for philological reasons. As an alternative explanation it has been suggested, that "rape" is an early form of the word "rope"; and that the divisions were so called because they were measured and allotted by the rope. Some confirmation of this is to be found in the words of the Norman chronicler, Dudo of St Quentin, who states that Rollo in distributing Neustria "suis fidelibus terram funiculo divisit" (J. P. Migne, Patrologiae Cursus completus, torn. cxli. p. 652). It is possible that the rapes represent the shires of the ancient kingdom of Sussex, especially as in the 12th century they had sheriffs of their own. But there is no evidence of the existence of the rape before the Norman Conquest, except such as may be gathered from Domesday Book, and this is far from convincing. After the Conquest each rape had its own lord, and all the land within it, save that which belonged to the king or to ecclesiastical tenants, was held of the lord. Thus the rape as a lordship only differed from other honours and baronies by the fact that the lands of its knights were not scattered over England, but lay together in a continuous tract. In form the rapes were parallel bands of land running north and south, and each of them contained a different number of hundreds. The place in which the lord's castle was situate ultimately gave its name to the rape; but in Domesday Book the rapes are often described by the names of their lords, and this is always so in that work in the case of Bramber, which belonged to William de Briouze (rapam Willelmi de Braoza). See the Victoria County History, Sussex, vol. i.; New English Dictionary; and M. A. Lower, History of Sussex (Lewes, 1870).

(G. J. T.)

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