from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition
- n. A historical subdivision of some northern counties in England, corresponding roughly to the hundred in other shires.
from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License
- n. An administrative subdivision in northern English counties, developed under Norse influence, and corresponding to hundreds in the rest of England.
from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English
- n. In some northern counties of England, a division, or district, answering to the hundred in other counties. Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, and Nottinghamshire are divided into wapentakes, instead of hundreds.
from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia
- n. Formerly, in certain counties of northern, eastern, and midland England, a division or subdivision of a shire, generally corresponding to a hundred in other counties.
I remember seeing Tolkien use it in a military context, leading me to say, "Oh! He assumes wapentake is a kind of war counsel."
As you seem to have intuited from your own research on your site, the exact meaning of wapentake is a little obscure.
The people, in imitation of their ancestors, the ancient Germans, assembled there in arms; whence a hundred was sometimes called a wapentake, and its courts served both for the support of military discipline and for the administration of civil justice. [
Tolkien seems to use only the modernized form; at least I haven't found an actual "wapentake" in my copy of LOTR, or in the few reference works I have taken out of storage; nor in "Unfinished Tales" or, or parallel passages "The History of Middle Earth."
So what did Tolkien think that wapentake originally meant?
My aside on Tolkien's use of wapentake has led to some really interesting and substantive posts at Gypsy Scholar and Wormtalk and Slugspeak.
How many understand what Tolkien means by the wapentake, and how Tolkien's use of the term indicates what he thinks it must have meant?
Now (to forebare for ever solittle of Iris Trees and Lili O'Rangans), concerning the genesis of Harold or Humphrey Chimpden's occupational agnomen (we are back in the presurnames prodromarith period, of course just when enos chalked halltraps) and discarding once for all those theories from older sources which would link him back with such pivotal ancestors as the Glues, the Gravys, the Northeasts, the Ankers and the Earwickers of Sidlesham in the Hundred of Manhood or proclaim him offsprout of vikings who had founded wapentake and seddled hem in Herrick or Eric, the best authenticated version, the Dumlat, read the Reading of Hofed-ben-Edar, has it that it was this way.
He sat down on the little metal chair and opened the dictionary to the page he had carefully saved “wapentake…subdivision of certain counties…wapentake”.
Each tree is covered with the coats of arms of the great families of that time in the wapentake.