Orkney, a collection of 67 islands situated in the northernmost part of Scotland, forms a maritime county. Of these islands, 29 are inhabited, while the others primarily serve as pasture for cattle. Orkney is bordered to the north by the waters separating it from Shetland, to the east by the North Sea, to the south by the Pentland Firth (which separates the islands from Caithness), and to the west by the Atlantic Ocean. Spanning approximately 50 miles in length and nearly 30 miles in breadth, the islands cover an area of 235 square miles or 150,000 acres.

During the Roman occupation, the Picts inhabited northern Scotland, including the Orkneys, until around 876 when the King of Norway's forces took control of the islands. They remained under Norwegian rule until 1472, following the marriage of James III of Scotland to Princess Margaret of Norway. As her father, Kristian I, couldn't fulfill her dowry, Norway ceded both the Shetlands and the Orkneys to Scotland.

The county comprises 18 parishes and is administered jointly with Shetland under a single sheriff, with a sub-sheriff for each. Kirkwall serves as a royal burgh and the county town, while Stromness is a burgh of barony. Various villages and fishing stations are scattered along the coast.

In 1851, the population of the islands was recorded at 30,507.