A borough is an
administrative division in various
English-speaking countries. In principle, the term borough designates a self-governing walled town, although in practice, official use of the term varies widely.
Middle Ages, boroughs were settlements in England that were granted some
self-government; burghs were the Scottish equivalent. In
medieval England, boroughs were also entitled to elect members of
parliament. The use of the word borough probably derives from the burghal system of
Alfred the Great. Alfred set up a system of defensive strong points (
Burhs); in order to maintain these particular settlements, he granted them a degree of autonomy. After the
Norman Conquest, when certain towns were granted self-governance, the concept of the burh/borough seems to have been reused to mean a self-governing settlement.
The concept of the borough has been used repeatedly (and often differently) throughout the world. Often, a borough is a single town with its own local government. However, in some cities it is a subdivision of the city (for example,
New York City,
Montreal). In such cases, the borough will normally have either limited powers delegated to it by the city's local government, or no powers at all. In other places, such as the
U.S. state of
Alaska, borough designates a whole
region; Alaska's largest borough, the
North Slope Borough, is comparable in area to the entire
United Kingdom, although its population is less than that of
Swanage on England's south coast with around 9,600 inhabitants. In
Australia, a borough was once a self-governing small town, but this designation has all but vanished, except for the only remaining borough in the country, which is the
Borough of Queenscliffe.
A number of other European languages have cognate words that were borrowed from the Germanic languages during the
Middle Ages, including brog in
Irish, bwr or bwrc, meaning "wall, rampart" in
Welsh, bourg in
French, burg in
Catalan (in Catalonia there is a town named Burg), borgo in
Italian, and burgo in Spanish (hence the place-name
The 'burg' element, which means "castle" or "fortress", is often confused with 'berg' meaning "hill" or "mountain" (c.f.
inselberg). Hence the 'berg' element in
Heidelberg relates to a hill, rather than a fort. In some cases, the 'berg' element in place names has converged towards burg/borough; for instance Farnborough, from fernaberga (fern-hill).