Sussex is traditionally divided into six sub-divisions known as rapes. From the 12th century the three eastern rapes and the three western rapes each had separate quarter sessions, with the county town of the three eastern rapes being Lewes. This situation was formalised by Parliament in 1865, and the two parts were made into administrative counties, each with distinct elected county councils in 1889 under the Local Government Act 1888. In East Sussex there were also three self-administered county boroughs: Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings.
In 1974 East Sussex was made a ceremonial county, and the three county boroughs became districts within the county. At the same time the western boundary was altered, so that the Mid Sussex region (including Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath) was transferred to the county of West Sussex. In 1997, Brighton and Hove became a self-administered unitary authority; it was granted city status in 2000, whilst remaining part of the ceremonial county of East Sussex.
East Sussex is divided into five local government districts. Three are larger, rural, districts (from west to east) are: Lewes; Wealden; and Rother. Eastbourne and Hastings are mainly urban areas. The rural districts are further subdivided into civil parishes.