The Amethyst Dragon Series

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Medieval Glossary

This glossary is still under construction.


ADSCRIPTICIUS: A type of serf. One who is bound to the soil.

ADULTERINE CASTLE: A castle built with out one's lord's approval.

ADVOCATE: Cleric with a doctorate in Roman or Canon Law with a monopoly of pleading in the Church courts.

AFFOREST: To make into a forest by application of forest law.

AHD: Covenant or pact, usually used for political treaties and arrangements such as the appointment of an heir apparent, the safeguards conceded in a surrender on terms, and the limited rights granted to non-Muslims, whether inside Islam (See: "dhimma"); or outside it (See: "aman"). The person or group granted 'ahd is called mu'ahad.

ALDERMAN: Most towns were divided into wards, and each ward had its own elected alderman. The names and functions of Borough Courts varied slightly from town to town, but generally the courts of the aldermen (often called a ward moot) dealt with the settlement of minor offences.

AMAN: Safety, protection, or, in battle, quarter, sometimes also the pardon given to a rebel or similar offender. It is used technically for the safe-conduct or pledge of security given to a non Muslim from outside Islam. See: "harbi." It may be given at the termination of hostilities or, more commonly, to an outsider visiting the Muslim lands for a limited period. The recipient of aman is called musta'min.

AMERCEMENT: A financial penalty inflicted at the MERCY of the king or his justices for various minor offences. The offender is said to be IN MERCY and the monies paid to the Crown to settle the matter is called amercement. See also: "Fines."

AMIR: An Arabic title literally meaning "commander," often translated "prince." Amir al-Mu'minin, "Commander" or "Prince of the Believers," was one of the earliest and most distinctive titles of the Caliphs. The title "amir" was variously used of high military officers, governors of provinces, and of the virtually independent rulers who emerged in many parts of the Islamic Empire under the nominal suzerainty of the Caliph. In the tenth century the title Amir al-Umara', "amir of amirs," was adopted by the military rulers of the capital to indicate their primacy over the other amirs in the provinces.

AMOND: Free.

ANGYLDE: The money compensation which a wronged person is entitled to receive.

APPEAL: Private accusations by an injured party or his or her kinsmen for a criminal offence. Through the Middle Ages, the majority of criminal cases were brought on appeal.

ARATHRA: The amount of land that could be ploughed by a plough in a year.

ARRADA: A medieval siege weapon, in which a projectile is propelled by a shaft driven forward by the release of a rope. Something close to a gigantic crossbow.

ASCETICISM: Severe self-denial undertaken for spiritual reasons.

ASSART: To turn woodlands into pasture or cropland. To assart lands within a forest without license is a grave offence.

ASSIZE: The meeting of feudal vassals with the king; it also refers to decrees issued by the king after such meetings. In English contexts it can also signify an inquest into certain matters held under authority of an Assize law, such as the Assize of Bread and Beer, or the Assize of Weights and Measures.

ASYLUM, Right of (also called Right of Sanctuary): The right of a Bishop or Abbot to protect a fugitive from justice or to intercede on his behalf, provided he has fled to the altar of a church and claimed sanctuary. Once asylum is granted the fugitive cannot be removed, until after 40 days' time. Fugitives who find asylum must then either give themselves up or pledge an "oath of abjuration" never to return to the realm. They are then given ten days to find passage to the borders of the realm (they are marked out by wearing certain conspicuous clothing). If found within the borders after this time they may be hunted down as before, but this time with no right of asylum.

ATHAS: Oaths.

ATHELING: Eldest son of a king.

ATTORNEY: The attorney represented clients in formal aspects of litigation, managing suits for absent clients, representing their interests in the various Courts of Law, taking out writs, and instructing pleaders. Professional attorneys appeared much earlier than professional pleaders, and down to the fifteenth century any person (usually a family member or friend) could represent another as his or her attorney even though they themselves were neither professionally trained nor retained.

AVER: Animal used in agriculture.


BAILIFF: (1) A manorial official, frequently charged with collecting rents for the landlord or exercising other administrative responsibilities, including the oversight of the agricultural and pastoral activities of the manor. Sometimes a salaried employee, in contrast to the Reeve, who was usually a serf and rewarded with rent reductions or a tenement. (2) A town official, usually in charge of raising the borough farm owed the king or the local lord, along with being the mayor's principal aides. In many towns the bailiff also had his own criminal court. See also: "Borough Courts."

BALISTA: Same as ballista.

BALISTARIUS: A cross-bow man.

BALLISTA: A cross-bow.

BALLISTARIUS: Same as balistarius.

BAN: A King's power to command and prohibit under pain of punishment or death, mainly used because of a break in the King's Peace. Also a royal proclamation, either of a call to arms, or a decree of outlawry. In clerical terms, an excommunication or condemnation by The Church.

BARD: A minstrel or poet who glorifies the virtues of the people and chieftains.

BARON: A vassal who holds directly from the Crown. It is not, of itself, a title, but rather a description of the "Tenants-in-Chief" class of nobility.

BARROW: An earthen burial mound.

BASTARD FEUDALISM: In the Late Middle Ages, the fief (usually land) given in return for military service, evolved into an annual monetary payment by a Lord to his vassal in return for service.

BAY'A: Recognition of authority, especially the act by which a new Caliph or heir apparent is proclaimed and recognized.

BENEFICE (L. "beneficium"): A grant of land given to a member of the aristocracy, a bishop, or a monastery, for limited or hereditary use in exchange for services. In ecclesiastic terms, a benefice is a Church office that returns revenue.

BENEFICIUM: A benefice.

BLA AND BLOT: Blue and bloody; an offense.

BLOT: A sacrifice or offering to idols.

BOC-LAND: Land, the possession of which was secured by book, i.e., charter. See also: "Bookland."

BOLD-GAETAL: Lord's estate.

BONDES: Heads of families; freemen serving as vassals.

BOOKLAND: In Anglo-Saxon times, land held by charter and normally alienable. See also: "Folkland" and "Laenland."

BOOKS OF HOURS: The most common book to survive from the Middle Ages, this was a portable and usually highly decorated and illuminated prayer book for lay people, especially for women. They are usually the size of the modern pocket-book.

BOONWORK: Free but known services of boon tenants, those liable to boonwork.

BORH: Surety.

BORHBRYCE: Breach of surety.

BOROUGH (also burg, burgh and burh): In Anglo-Saxon England, specifically a planned town designed as a military strong point and center of political control in a designated region. Later, a town with the right of self-government granted by royal charter.

BOT: Amends, reparation, compensation.

BOVATE: Amount of land which could be worked by a team of oxen in a year.

BROTBAN: Bread money.

BRYCE: Breach, violation.


BRYTENWEALDA: The holder of this "office" had important religious and, in some sense, political powers. The holders came from different kingdoms in turn and there was no apparent continuity.

BURDATIO: A tax corresponding to the English relief or heriot; a tax, tribute, rent, or burden.

BURGBRICE: Violation of the peace of a royal borough, a king, or a great man.

BURGESS: The holder of land or house within a borough.

BURGH-BRYCE: Same as burgbrice.

BURGHERITHE or BURGHRITE: Jurisdiction over the burgh.

BURH: Castle or dwelling.

BYRBAN: Beer money.


CAMERA: A workshop for men, a term mostly used in Italy.

CAMERARIUS: A chamberlain, keeper of accounts.

CAN, CANNE: Clearance, averment.

CANON: A member of the chapter of a cathedral; or of a collegiate church; or of certain religious orders.

CAPITALE: Capital, property in cattle or other chattels.

CARDINAL VIRTUES: Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude and Justice.

CARICA: A measure of weight.

CARTULARY: Volume containing copies of charters, deeds, and other legal documents giving title to property. Commonly compiled by monks for their monasteries, but lay lords had them too.

CARUCATE: A measurement of land, equal to a hide (used in the Danelaw), fixed at 100 acres in England in the year 1194.

CASTLE: The main center of military and political control in the High and Later Middle Ages. Castles consisted of the following:

  • Arrow Loop: A narrow vertical slit cut into a wall through which arrows could be fired from inside.
  • Bailey: The yard or ward within the walls.
  • Barbican: The gateway or outworks defending the drawbridge.
  • Bastion: A small tower at the end of a curtain wall or in the middle of the inner curtain.
  • Batten: A sloping part of a curtain wall. The sharp angle at the base of all walls and towers along their exterior surface.
  • Battlement: A narrow wall built along the outer edge of the wall walk for protection of the defenders.
  • Berm: Flat space between the base of the curtain wall and the inner edge of the moat.
  • Cesspit: The opening in a wall in which the waste from one or more garderobes was collected.
  • Corbel: A projecting block of stone built into a wall during construction.
  • Crenelation: Another term for a battlement.
  • Curtain Wall: The outer wall, usually lower and not as strong as the inner curtain.
  • Daub: A mud and clay mixture applied over wattle to strengthen and seal it.
  • Drawbridge: A heavy timber platform built to span a moat between a barbican and the surrounding land. It could be raised when required to block entrance to the castle.
  • Dungeon: The jail, usually found in the base of the main tower.
  • Embrasure: The low segment of the alternating high and low segments of a battlement.
  • Finial: A slender piece of stone used to decorate the tops of the merlons.
  • Garderobe: A small latrine or toilet either built into the thickness of the wall or projected out from it over the moat.
  • Gate House: The complex of towers, bridges, and barriers protecting entrance to a castle.
  • Great Hall: The building in the inner ward that housed the main meeting and dining area for the castle's residents. Often the residents slept here as well.
  • Half-timber: The common form of medieval construction in which walls were made of a wood frame structure filled with wattle and daub.
  • Hoarding: A temporary wooden balcony suspended from the tops of walls and towers before a battle, from which missiles could be fired toward the base of the wall.
  • Inner Curtain: The high wall that surrounds the inner ward. Inner Ward: The open area in the center of a castle.
  • Merlon: The high segment of a alternating high and low segments of a battlement.
  • Moat/Motte: A deep trench dug around a castle to prevent access from the surrounding land. It could be either left dry or filled with water.
  • Mortar: A mixture of sand, water, and lime used to bind stones together permanently.
  • Outer Curtain: The wall that encloses the outer ward.
  • Outer Ward: The area around the outside of and adjacent to the inner curtain.
  • Palisade: A sturdy wooden fence usually built to enclose a site until a permanent stone wall could be constructed.
  • Portcullis: A heavy timber grille that could be raised or lowered between the towers of each gate house to open or close the passage.
  • Postern Gate: A side or less important gate into a castle.
  • Putlog Hole: A hole intentionally left in the surface of a wall for insertion of a horizontal pole.
  • Rubble: A random mixture of rocks and mortar.
  • Scaffolding: The temporary wooden framework built next to a wall to support both workers and materials.
  • Siege: The military tactic involving surrounding and isolating a castle, town or strong point by an army until the trapped forces are starved into surrender, or taken by treachery or assault.
  • Truss: One of the timber frames built to support the roof over the great hall.
  • Turret: A small tower rising above and resting on one of the main towers, usually used as a look out.
  • Wall Walk: The area along the tops of the walls from which soldiers defend both castle and town.
  • Wattle: A mat of woven sticks and weeds.


CAVAGIUM: Head tax.

CEAP: Bargain.

CEAPGELD: Sale price.

CHAMBER: One of the departments of the Household. Originally the king's personal quarters were his "chamber"--his apartments where he slept, as opposed to the Great Hall, where most of his household ate and slept. By the thirteenth century the chamber had developed into an office with clerks and servants. The importance of the Chamber in royal administration rose and fell over the centuries several times. The Chamber was presided over by the Chamberlain of England (a.k.a. of the Household). By the late fourteenth century the Chamberlain was one of the five main officers of the royal government, along with the Chancellor, the Treasurer, the Keeper of the Privy Seal, and the Steward.

CHANCERY: Originally part of the Household, by the thirteenth century it had gone "out of court." Its function was to issue charters, letters, and writs under the Great Seal of England. In combination with the Office of the Privy Seal, it provided the essence of a Department of State, Interior, and Defense. It kept copies of its letters on ten major rolls (membranes of parchment sewn together head to foot and rolled up for storage--though the lack of any index made these difficult to use): Charter, Close, Fine, Gascon, Liberate, Patent, Redisseisin, Scottish, Scutage, and Treaty. The officer of the responsible for the Chancery was the Chancellor. Up until the sixteenth century, most Chancellors were bishops. By 1380 over 100 clerks worked in this office, including some who came to play a significant role in later governmental administration, such as the Master or Keeper of the Rolls and the Keeper of the Hanaper. This office wrote the most formal letters, including appointments to office (from the highest to lowest), major grants (of land, money, privileges, franchises, annuities, etc.), and the many writs required to initiate legal action in the royal Courts of Law, or to conduct various types of judicial and criminal investigations.

CHANCELLOR: See: "Chancery."

CHANTRY: The endowment, either in perpetuity or for a term of years, of a priest to celebrate mass for the soul of the founder.

CHAPTER: (1) as prescribed in the Benedictine Rule, the daily meeting of a monastic community, which took place in the chapter house, for the reading of a chapter of the Rule, confession of faults, imposition of penance, and any other business of the community such as finances, property management, ongoing legal matters, and so forth. (2) Body of clerics, monks, or regular canons serving a cathedral church.

CHARTER: This is a public letter issued by a donor recording a title to property, frequently addressed to the general public.

CHARTER OF FRANCHISE: Documents granting liberty to a serf by his lord. The term also applies to the freedom granted to the inhabitants of a town or borough. The issue of a Charter of Franchise freed the town from servitude to its feudal lords

CHARTULARIUS: An officer who drew up documents; a serf freed by charter.

CHERISET: Originally an offering of corn at Martinmas. Afterwards this due was rendered in all kinds of produce.

CHIROGRAPH: This recorded an agreement between two parties, on virtually any subject. Each party received a copy of the agreement--written out in duplicate on the same piece of parchment, sealed, then cut in half by a wavy or indented line. Forgery could thus be checked by aligning the severed halves with each other.

CHIVALRY: The noble qualities a knight was supposed to have, such as courage, honor, loyalty, and readiness to help the poor and weak, especially women. See also: "Knight."

CHURCH: (1) The Catholic Church; (2) The most important building in any medieval town, village, or monastic complex. The nave was the western end of the church, with its own altar, used as a parish church. The choir was set off from the nave by a rood screen; in the choir the monks or nuns or priests sat in wooden stalls facing each other. East of the choir lay the high altar with its own carved screen or reredos behind it. Further to the east was the apse, where might be found a number of shrines and altars, including tombs of founders and patrons, abbots or abbesses (or bishops if this was a cathedral church), and perhaps a king or member of royalty.

CHURCH COURTS: See: "Courts of Law."

CINQUE PORTS: From the time of Edward the Confessor, these boroughs located on the English Channel gained special privileges in return for providing ships in time of war. From their position, the leaders of these boroughs, the "Barons of the Cinque Ports," came to have enormous political influence during the various civil wars of the Middle Ages.

CISTA: A chest.

CISTERCIANS: A reform order of Benedictines. Also known as the "White Monks."

CLAS: In Wales, a church staffed by secular canons (claswyr), who provided pastoral care for the church and its dependent chapels.

CLERICS OR CLERGY: Term used to include all members of the Church--both regular and secular clergy. The clergy are generally exempt from jurisdiction of royal courts as well as from military service. See also: "Benefit of Clergy."

CODEX: The usual form of book in the middle ages was the codex--the typical modern book. In medieval times this would consist of gatherings of parchment sewn together. A number of these gatherings could be bound together to form a book, with covers of either limp parchment or wooden boards, often covered by leather. Medieval books might range in size anywhere from small, palm-sized highly-portable volumes, to excessively large, stationary ones. Books could also, though, exist in roll or other specialized formats.

COLLATION: The act by which a bishop presented and instituted a cleric to a benefice in the bishop's jurisdiction.

COLLEGIA: Roman corporations of workmen.

COLONUS: A free man bound to the soil; in the Middle Ages regarded as unfree.

COMITATUS: Retinue, company of attendants.

COMMON LAW: The term referring to laws and procedures common to the entire realm; often also known as "Royal Law." In England, the term specifically applies to the system of law based on both statutory law and judicial precedent and administered by professional judges drawn from the ranks of professional lawyers.

COMMUNE CONCILIUM: Norman equivalent of the Anglo-Saxon Witan. Decisions taken at such meetings, either judicial or military, are binding on the vassals. This later developed into the "King's Council."

COMPURGATION: The clearing of an accused by the sacred oaths of others as to his or her innocence. See also: "Ordeal."

CONFESSION: The public or private acknowledgment of sinfulness regarded as necessary to obtain divine forgiveness.

CONFRATERNITY: An agreement reached between monasteries, or a house and a lay person, for the sharing of spiritual benefits.

CONSTABLE: The title of an officer given command of an army or an important garrison. Also the officer who commands in the king's absence.

CONVENT: See: "Nunnery."

CONVERSUS: (1) Adult convert to the religious life (cf., "oblate"); (2) Lay brother (in the Cistercian and other "new" regular orders).

CORONER: There were four coroners for each county (though many boroughs also had their own coroner). Their primary duties were to keep a separate roll of the pleas of the Crown (or Corone--hence Coroner) as a check on the Sheriff. But they also came to have the duty of examining all dead bodies and determining cause of death, along with any possible amercements.

CORRODY: A pension, in the form of lodging at a monastery, or an allowance of food, clothing, etc., granted to a lay person.

CORVESAR: A cordwainer.

COTTAGER: A peasant of lower class, with a cottage, but holding little or no land.

COUNT (L. Comes): The continental equivalent of the English Earl. Originally an office, it evolved into a title of nobility, ranking below a Duke but above both Baron and Knight.

COUNTY: An administrative unit stemming from Late Roman government originally governed by a Comes. In time, this evolved first into the region governed by the Count, then into the hereditary lands held by the

Count (which by this time had become a title of nobility). In England, this is equivalent to the "shire"--originally governed by the Shire-Reeve or Sheriff (in Latin known as the Vice-Comes to designate the man who did the actual work, from the Comes/titular sheriff who held the title as a matter of honor and profit but did no work--under the Angevins the titular English sheriff disappeared leaving the Vice-Comes with both the title and power of "Sheriff").


COURTS OF LAW: The medieval English, like most medieval people, were subject to a wide variety of courts. Though the "central royal courts" which met at Westminster were the most important for the future development of the Common Law, most medieval Englishmen only had contact with one of the many others.

  • BOROUGH COURTS: These were developed forms of hundred, county, or manorial courts, with some additional privileges granted by charter. The precise rights and constitution of these courts varied from borough to borough. Generally, the aldermen (ward-moots), bailiffs, and mayors had their own courts, with additionally a Hustings Court (or its equivalent with a different name) which acted similarly to a county court. Boroughs with their own sheriffs, such as London, also had courts presided over by the latter officer.
  • CHURCH COURTS: The system of courts set up by the Church to enforce Canon Law. Generally deacons trained in the law served as the judges, advocates pled the cases, and proctors prepared the cases. Summoners served, in essence, as process servers. Church Courts had jurisdiction over most family matters and wills, sexual offences, marriage and divorce, bastardy, testate and intestate succession to personal property, defamation, battery of a cleric, and breach of faith. In case of conflict, the king's law prevailed.
  • COUNTY or SHIRE COURTS: From Anglo-Saxon times, each shire had its own court to which all freemen of the county had an obligation to attend. Its jurisdiction was originally limitless, including the right to outlawry, but these did not develop into royal courts until Angevin times. Shire courts usually only met twice a year--at Easter and Michaelmas--and judgments and pronouncements were given by those designated as "suitor" or "juror." Originally the local Earl, Bishop, or Abbot (or their representatives) presided, but in Norman times the sheriff took on this function, and with the Angevins a royal justice had to be present. Thus, by Late Medieval times, in practice the meeting of this court would involve the sheriff and some of his clerks and officers, the coroners, some of the bailiffs, the lords' stewards, those involved in suits, a royal justice, and enough of freemen owing suit of court to conduct business. By the fourteenth century rolls and files were kept of the proceedings, and professional pleaders and attorneys practiced before it. This court did not deal with criminal matters, though it did pronounce outlawry. Most intra-county disputes between the freemen of the shire were heard in these courts, along with criminal proceedings, tax collections, and so forth.
  • COURTS BARON: See: "Manorial Courts."
  • COURT OF CHANCERY: In the fourteenth century, the Chancellor, sitting in Chancery, began to hear various pleas for legal redress either not actionable in any other court (such as suits against the king or his officers), or for which no remedy existed (since the Chancery issued the writs which began every legal case in the royal courts--there existed a specific form of writ for each action, so where no writ existed the Chancellor might order one granted to fit the facts of a peculiar case). This court followed a modified form of informal complaint and procedure common to the Church Courts, though it was never a court of Canon Law. This informal procedure, with no limits on evidence or procedural matters, allowed the Chancellor to provide swift and inexpensive justice, especially for the poor and oppressed, the weak and foolish. Each case turned on its own facts, and there was no interference with any of the central royal courts (Common Pleas, Exchequer, King's Bench). By the end of the fifteenth century the Court of Chancery had became so flooded with suits that it became the third major court in the kingdom, ahead of the Court of Exchequer.
  • COURT OF COMMON PLEAS: In England, a court applying Common Law to hear disputes (or "pleas") between individuals but not involving the king. Almost all civil litigation was within its term of reference, as was supervision of manorial and local courts. This was the court which more than any other made the Common Law, and the chief of the "central royal courts." From the early thirteenth century (with brief exceptions) this court met in Westminster Hall for 15-20 weeks during the four law terms (Hilary, Easter, Trinity, and Michaelmas), and only in the mornings. When not in session, the justices of this court would be sent out on various commissions and circuits in the counties. The "Serjeants-of-the-Law" had a monopoly of pleading in this court.
  • COURT OF EXCHEQUER: Probably the oldest of the three "central royal courts," it normally held pleas relating to revenue or debts owing the king (or those where a plaintiff claimed to be "in debt to the king").
  • COURT OF KING'S BENCH: In England, a court applying Common Law to hear disputes (or "pleas") between individuals and the king, or in cases in which the king had an interest (thus including criminal law). This was the second of the "central royal courts" and met in Westminster Hall as well, for about the same periods as the Court of Common Pleas. Both attorneys and serjeants-of-the-law could plead in this court.
  • COURT OF THE EARL MARSHAL: This began in the mid-fourteenth century with jurisdiction over martial affairs such as treason, prisoners of war, ransom, and army contracts. It was presided over by the Marshal of England.
  • HIGH COURT OF ADMIRALTY: This began in the mid-fourteenth century with jurisdiction over naval affairs, but also many mercantile matters, especially involving those between foreign merchants on English soil, or between foreign and English merchants. It was presided over by a judge of the Admiralty, usually a Doctor of Law applying the Roman Law of the Sea.
  • HIGH COURT OF CHIVALRY: This had jurisdiction over disputed coats-of-arms, and followed Roman Law.
  • HUNDRED COURTS: Dating from ancient times, these met every three weeks or so in each hundred, and were attended by 40-50 people (those owing suit of court, bailiffs, various officials, and others with business to be heard), presided over by the hundred's bailiff. This court dealt summarily with minor criminal and civil cases, trespasses, debt less than 40s., breaches of contract, slander, and offences against the Assizes of Bread, Beer, and Weights and Measures. See also: "View of Frankpledge."
  • HUSTINGS COURTS (O. Eng., "House-Things"): Often but not always found in most boroughs, this court originally was set up for the settlement of trading matters and disputes arising from trade.
  • MANORIAL COURTS: Usually each manor held its own court, which regulated the agricultural affairs of the community and the enforcement of the bye-laws, labor services, transfer of manorial land, petty offences within the manor and against the servile dues, election of a reeve, etc. Such courts usually followed Customary or Manorial Law. In theory there should have been two types of manorial court, the Court Baron for free tenants, and the Court Customary for servile tenants, but in practice there was normally but one, meeting every three weeks or so, presided over by the lord's steward. The court also sometimes dealt with assault, trespass, and slander intra-manorially, and if the lord had a franchise, those rights were exercised through this court too.
  • PIE POUDRE COURTS: Courts held during the course of a fair, for resolution of disputes between merchants.
  • VIEW OF FRANKPLEDGE: A court held twice annually (at Easter and Michaelmas) by the sheriff in the hundred court in his tour (or "tourn") of the county or, especially by the thirteenth century, by a manorial lord including the right to oversee the activities of the members of local tithing groups and the enforcement of the assizes of bread and beer. Additionally, lesser offences such as failures in the Frankpledge system, obstructing highways, diverting watercourses, failing to raise the hue and cry, assaults, and breaches of local customs could be tried here and punished by pillory, stocks, or amercement.
  • WARD-MOOTS (or COURTS): Usually found in most boroughs, each ward usually had its own court over which its alderman would preside. These courts dealt with the settlement of minor offences.

CRANNOCK: A measure equal to a Bristol barrel.

CRANNOG: An Irish dwelling residing on a natural or man-made island.

CROFT: A small piece of arable land, sometimes, but not always, next to a house.

CROP ROTATION: In those areas that practiced 3-field crop rotation, the cycle consisted of 1) fall-sown grain, 2) spring-sown grain, 3) fallow. The principal fall-sown crops were wheat and rye, sown in October and harvested in mid-summer. The spring-sown field would get barley or oats or peas, and be harvested soon after the fall-sown field. The third field would lie fallow.

CUBIT: A unit of length equal to 0.443 meters or 18 inches.

CULDEE: In Scotland, either a hermit or a member of a collegiate-type establishment.

CULTURA: A cultivated field.

CUPA: A large vat, tun, cask, or pipe.

CUSTOMARY LAW: See: "Manorial Law."

CUVELLA: A bucket, pail, or tub.

CYMRAEG: The name for the Welsh language in Welsh.

CYMRU: The name for Wales in Welsh.

CYNE: Kin.

CYNEBOT: The atonement to the nation for the killing of the king.

CYNEDOM: The royal dignity.


DANIQ: A coin or weight, one-sixth of a dirham or, more frequently, of a dinar.

DEACON: The order just below a priest, one of the Major Orders. Deacons (and Archdeacons) assisted in matters of the parish not having to do with worship, such as care of the sick and poor, administration and maintenance of the local church and its lands, and administration of the Canon Law in the Church Courts.

DEMESNE: The part of the lord's manorial lands reserved for his own use and not allocated to his serfs or free tenants. Serfs work the demesne for a specified numbers of days per week. The demesne may either be scattered among the serfs' land, or a separate area, the latter being more common for meadow and orchard lands.

DESCRIPTIO: A tax on city property according to old valuations which were too high after the pestilence in the Eastern Empire.

DHIMMA: The pact or covenant accorded by Islam to the followers of other revealed religions living under their rule, according them protection and certain limited rights on the condition of their recognition of the supremacy of Islam. Members of religious communities benefiting from the dhimma are called dhimmi.

DHIRA': The cubit, or arm's length, subdivided into 24 digits. The length of the cubit varies in different regions and for different purposes. It is usually in the neighborhood of 50 to 60 centimeters

DIGIT: A measure of length equal to 10.48 mm.

DILATURA: Damages; a plea designed to create delay, generally founded upon some matter not connected with the merits of a case.

DINAR: From the Greek "denarion", Latin "denarius", the unit of gold currency under the Caliphate. The term went out of use between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries.

DIOCESE: A district subject to the jurisdiction of a bishop (with the "Archdiocese" governed by an "Archbishop"). The name is derived from the administrative districts created by the Roman emperor Diocletian. As Roman rule collapsed, often the local bishops either took control themselves in the face of anarchy, or were deputized to so govern by one of the Roman Emperors.

DIRHAM: From the Greek "drachma", the unit of silver currency used in the Islamic states from the beginning to the Mongol conquests. The term is also used to designate a weight, which varied greatly at different times and places and for different commodities

DISSEISIN: The forcible dispossession of a lawful possessor of land from enjoyment of the rights and profits of that land or other valuable perquisites.

DIWAN: An Arabic word of Persian origin, probably from a root meaning "to write." In early Islamic times the term was used of the central register of Muslim warriors and pensioners; later it denoted government departments in general. In the Ottoman Empire the diwan was a kind of state council, presided over by the Sultan and later by the Grand Vizier. The collected poems of a poet are known as his diwan.

DOLIUM: A cask of about 208 gallons.

DOUBLE MONASTERY: Peculiar to England, a combined monastery for men and women, with separate sleeping quarters for them. Sometimes this took the form of two foundations side by side having their own buildings and cloisters but with a church in common. In either form both would be ruled in common by an abbot or abbess.

DOWER: In England, an amount of property or money or goods conveyed as a gift from the bridegroom to his bride upon marriage. Such property was controlled by her husband subject to the laws of waste, but upon divorce or his death it remained the property of the bride.

DOWRY: (1) A gift of land or an entrance fee offered to a religious house (especially a nunnery) with a new entrant. (2) The amount of land or money that accompanied a bride upon marriage from her family to her husband. cf. "Dower."

DRENG: The name given to a free peasant in Northumbria and sometimes in Yorkshire and Lancashire. The name usually implies that land is held in return for military service.

DRIHTINBEAH: Lord-ring, lord's compensation.

DRINCLEAN: Payment due from tenant to lord for ale.

DUKE: A title deriving from the Roman Dux, originally designating the governor of a special military district. Like comes, in time this first evolved into an office with supervisory powers over a number of counts and counties, and then into an hereditary title of nobility with rank superior to the count and second only to the King. In England, where the title did not appear until the time of Richard II, the title was reserved for members of the royal family until Tudor/Stuart times.

DYKKER: A bundle or last.


"EALLE HORDAS BUFEN EORTHAN AND BENEOTHAN": All treasures above the earth and beneath.

EARL: The highest title attainable in medieval England by a nobleman not of royal blood. Also known in earlier times as Ealdorman, which evolved into Eorl (or "Jarl") with the coming of the Danes. Originally an office, with supervisory powers over a number of sheriffs.

EDOR: Homestead, farmhouse.

EIRE: The name for Ireland in Irish.

ENCLOSURE: The ceremony by which an enclosed one, anchorite or anchoress, is immured in a cell.

EORL: A nobleman. See also: "Earl."

EORLCUNDMAN: A man of noble birth, a thegn or knight.

EREMITICISM: The religious life as lived by hermits, individually or in groups (cf. "cenobiticism").

ESCHEAT: The right of a lord to confiscate property held by a free tenant found guilty of a felony.

ESCHEATOR: The escheator's main duty was to safeguard the revenues gained from royal escheats. The escheator was to take the lands into the king's hands, discover their value by inquisition, and collect the revenue arising from the lands until he was commanded to deliver the lands to the rightful landholders.

ESNE-WORKMAN: Laborer, servant.

EWAGE: Obligation of military service to a lord.

EXCOMMUNICATION: Exclusion from the membership of The Church or from communion with faithful Christians.

EXTENT: Valuation of land for tax purposes; value assigned to such land and property; the tax itself; to seize in satisfaction for debt; a survey.

EYRE (Latin Iter): The right of the king (or justices acting in his name) to visit and inspect the holdings of any vassal. This was done periodically, usually at irregular intervals of a few years. These were all-inclusive, comprehensive affairs, during which the powers of local officials such as sheriffs and coroners were suspended (and required to render account subject to heavy amercement). Large numbers of people would attend, to make account or to seek justice, and the justices would inquire into all manner of things--crimes and unexplained deaths, misconduct and negligence by officials, irregularities and shortcomings of all kinds, the feudal and fiscal rights of the Crown, and private disputes. Such eyres were known to provoke utter terror among the populace, many boroughs and counties preferring to pay heavily to ensure the eyre would not visit them (the 1233 Eyre of Cornwall caused most of the populace to flee to the woods to escape the eyre).



FAH: Foe.

FAIDA: Blood-money.

FAIR: A market held at regular intervals, usually once to twice a year. Fairs tend to offer a wider range of goods than normal markets. They are generally licenced by either the king, a local lord (including a bishop or abbot/abbess, or a borough). The Law of Merchants, often held in the Pie poudre courts, held sway over all trade conducted during the Fair.


FEALTY (Oath of): The oath by which a vassal swore loyalty to his lord, usually on a relic of saints or on the Bible.

FEAXFANG: Seizing by the hair.

FELDE: Field.

FEOH, FIOH: Money, payment.

FELONY: In feudal law, any grave violation of the feudal contract between lord and vassal. Later it was expanded in Common Law to include homicide, arson, rape, robbery, grand larceny, and aiding and abetting. Felons (along with Traitors) were uniformly punished by death and forfeiture of land and goods to the king. See also: "Trespass."

FIEF: Heritable lands held under Lordship tenure; the lands of a tenant-in-chief. Sometimes this can apply to an official position. Often called a Holding. Normally a land held by a vassal of a lord in return for stipulated services, chiefly military. Sometimes unusual requirements were stipulated for transferring a fief.

FIEF-RENT: Money paid by a lord to his vassal annually in return for homage, fealty, and military service (usually knight service), or perhaps a butt of wine, a wheel of cheese, an animal, or a cord of timber. This became more common in the later middle ages, under the system known as Bastard Feudalism.

FINE: A sum of money paid to the Crown to obtain some grant, concession, or privilege. Unlike amercement, a fine is not a monetary penalty, although failure to offer and pay a customary fine for some right, will undoubtedly lead to an amercement.

FISCALINUS: A serf of the fisc; a serf on a royal or ecclesiastical estate.

FITZ (Latin Filius, French Filz): An Anglo-Norman prefix meaning son, most commonly associated with sons of the nobility.

FLEMENEFERTHA: The sheltering or harboring of outlaws.

FLET: House, home.

FLYMA: Runaway, fugitive.

FLYMANFYRMTH: Harboring a fugitive.

FODRUM: Money paid to king or emperor in lieu of lodging and provisions for them; a military tax imposed on vassals.

FOLKES-MOTE: Meeting of the folk or people in the shiremoot.

FOLKRIGHT: In Anglo-Saxon times, the term applied to Customary Law.

FOLLES: Byzantine coins, sometimes of gold.

FORATHE: Oath taken by plaintiff and defendant at the beginning of the suit.

FORESTEL: (1) Hindering the pursuit of a criminal; (2) an assault on the king's highway.

FORFEITURE: The right of a feudal lord to recover a fief when a vassal fails to honor his obligations under the feudal contract.

FORFENGUS: Rescuing of stolen or strayed cattle.

FORISFACTUM:. Forfeiture upon transgression.

FOSTER: Nourishment, support.

FOSTERLEAN: Remuneration for rearing a child.

FRAELLUS: A rush basket; also the quantity of figs or raisins in such a basket.

FRANCHISE: A grant of royal judicial authority to a private individual. Over and above the right of each lord/bishop/abbot to exercise judicial authority over his or her own vassals or tenants (both free and servile), some exercised the authority of royal jurisdiction as limited or unlimited according to the nature of the original grant. The most frequently specified juridical rights included: sake and soke (jurisdiction in general--usually over the hundred court--which in practice included most police, social, and economic functions); toll (the right to take tolls on goods sold within the franchise, and to hear questions of dispute over such tolls); team (the right to supervise vouching to warranty or the presentation of evidence of the right to sell presented goods); and infangenetheof (the right to hang a thief caught red-handed within the franchise with the goods on him). Some also had jurisdiction over pleas of the Crown (i.e., criminal offenses against the King's Peace).

FRANKALMOIGN: Land granted in free alms, i.e., in exchange for prayers.

FRANK PLEDGE: The legal condition under which each male member of a tithing over the age of twelve is responsible for the good conduct of all other members of the tithing. Failure to control tithing members can lead to amercement of the entire tithing.

FREDUM: A fine for disturbing the public peace.

FRITH: Peace.

FRITH-BRICE: Breach of the peace.

FRITH-GEGILDAS: Members of an association for mutual protection.

FRUMTYHTLE: First accusation.

FUL: Unconsecrated ground.


GAENGGANG: Pregnant.

GAFOL: Rent.

GAFOLLAND: Rent-land.

GAIRTHINX: Donation, gift.

GEBUR: A dependent cultivator of the soil.

GEMOT: A meeting.

GENEAT: A dependent cultivator of the soil.

GENERAL CHAPTER: Annual meeting of the heads of all houses of an order of regular clergy.

GENTRY: See: "Knight."

GESITH: Companion or personal follower of the king. Later became the thegn.

GHULAM: A young, male slave. The term is variously used of a servant or bodyguard, a palace guard or attendant, a young mamluk, or an artisan bound to a master.

GRANGE: (1) A farm estate of a monastery, worked by hired labor and supervised by lay brethren; (2) a system of farming, created by the Cistercians and followed by other orders, which existed outside the manorial system.

GRITH: Peace, protection

GRITHBRECH: Breaking of the peace.

GUILD: A term applied to medieval trade associations. The aims of such associations were to protect members from the competition of foreign merchants and maintain commercial standards. The first guilds were merchant guilds, then later came craft guilds as manufacturing became more specialized. Guilds maintained a system of education, whereby apprentices served a master for five to seven years before becoming a journeyman at about age nineteen. Journeymen then worked in the shop of a master until they could demonstrate to the leaders of the guild that they were ready to become masters. Guild members were forbidden to compete with each other, and merchants were required to sell at a just price. There was a heavy religious component to most guilds, each of which honored their own patron saint through sponsoring festivals, and floats or even plays on major feast-days.

GYNAECEA: Women's quarters.


HADBOT: Compensation for injury to a person in holy orders.

HADITH: A tradition relating an action, utterance, or decision of the Prophet. The corpus of hadith

constitutes one of the major sources of Islamic law.

HALSEANG: A fine to avoid punishment.

HAMSOCNE: Breaking into a man's house.

HANAFI: See: "fiqh."

HANBALI: See: "fiqh."

HAUTBAN: A measure of wine.

HEALSFANG: A pillory.

HEARM: Hue and cry

HEMINA: Medieval measure equal to about 10 fluid ounces.

HEORTHFAEST: Having a fixed dwelling.

HERBAGE: Pasturage.

HERESY: Any religious doctrine inconsistent with, or inimical to, the orthodox beliefs of The Church.

HERIBANNUM: Originally military service; later a corvée.

HERIOT: Originally a deceased customary tenant's best beast or chattel due to his lord; later a death duty.

HERSE: A knight or minor noble in Scandinavia.

HION: Membrane, covering.

HLAFAETA: A loaf-eater, or servant. HLAFORD: Loaf-giver, lord.

HLAFORDESGIFU: Gift to a lord, a form of rent.

HLOTH: A following, any number of men from eight to thirty-five.

HODIUM: A measure of grain among the Belgians.

HOMAGE: The ceremony by which a vassal pledges his faith to his lord, and acknowledges all other feudal obligations, in return for a fief.

HOMOLA: One whose head has been shaved.

HONOR: The lands held by a tenant-in-chief of the Crown, which comprised a complex of rights and duties.

HORDERE: Treasurer.

HOSPITAL: The medieval hospital was especially common in towns. These were places for the elderly and infirm to live out their days in some relative comfort--essentially a church, with the sick lying on their beds in the nave, from which they could observe and profit from the liturgy of as performed daily. Some hospitals were reserved for certain groups, such as guild members or women. Leper hospitals were commonly sited near the town gate or beyond the town walls, to isolate the lepers from the rest of the population.

HOUSEHOLD: Specifically, the King's Household. Because medieval government was originally directed personally by the king, his household and its members had a role in government. All medieval governmental departments began as a division of the Household, including Chancery, Exchequer, the Chamber, the Wardrobe, and the royal Courts of Law. At some point, some of these "went out of court" and ceased to be part of the Household; that is, they had permanent offices at Westminster and no longer traveled with the king, though remaining subject to his authority (often prescribed by statute) in some way. These latter included, notably, the Chancery, the Exchequer, the Courts of Law, and the Office of the Privy Seal. The size of the king's household varied from 400-700 men and women in the Middle Ages--servants, clerks, and officials, along with the latter's own servants and hangers-on. Most worked in the network of departments that provided food, drink, laundry, stable, beer, music, medicine, chaplains, and so forth, each department responsible for keeping and rendering their own accounts. The Steward of England (or of the Household (normally a nobleman)) had overall responsibility for running the Household, and, hence, became one of the five principal officers of State (along with the Treasurer, Chancellor, Chamberlain, and Keeper of the Privy Seal.

HUDEUAT: Fish-tub.

HUE AND CRY: The requirement of all members of a village to pursue a criminal with horn and voice. It was the duty of any person discovering a felony to raise the hue and cry, and his or her neighbors were bound to assist in pursuing and apprehending the felon. Those who did not partake in the pursuit were subject to amercement, as was the entire village if the felon managed to escape.

HUNDRED LAGHE: Law of the hundred.

HYNDE: An association of ten men.

HYNDENMAN: The head man over ten hyndes.


'ID: Festival. There are two major religious festivals in the Muslim year: the festival of sacrifices ('Id al-adha), which is connected with the Pilgrimage to Mecca, and the festival of breaking the fast ('Id al-fitr) after the end of Ramadan

IJAZA: License, that is, to teach; the document given by a Muslim teacher to a disciple certifying that he has satisfactorily attended a course and is therefore able to teach it. The certificate is often appended to the disciple's transcript of his master's lectures.

IMAM: A leader, especially in prayer, and hence by extension the sovereign head of the universal Islamic state and community. Imam is one of the titles of the Caliph. The term is also used by the Shi'a for their own claimants to the headship of Islam and in this sense connotes an extensive spiritual authority absent from Sunni usage.

IMPOSITIO: A tax on lands deserted by owners because of death or departure.

INBORH: Security, pledge.

INDULGENCE: Originally the remission of a temporal penalty incurred as a canonical penance for sin. By the late middle ages it had come to mean the commutation of a deed of penance for a payment of money.

INFANGTHEF: Same as infangentheof.

INFANGENTHEOF: Jurisdiction over a thief caught within the limit of the estate to which the right belonged.

INFIDEL: Any one having a strong adversity to Christianity.

IN-LAND: Demesne land; land retained by the lord instead of being let out.

INQUILINUS: One who belonged to a class of tenants lower than coloni.

INTERDICT: The ecclesiastical banning in an area of all sacraments except for baptism and extreme unction. In general it does not ban high feast days. Used to force persons, institutions, communities, or secular lords to a view dictated by The Church.

IQTA': An administrative grant, often misleadingly translated fief. The term is used generically for a number of different types of grant, each with its own designation. The grantee paid no tax to the state but held in lieu of payment from the public treasury for service. His grant was thus in principle limited, functional, and revocable and carried only fiscal rights over the land and its inhabitants. At times such iqta' became long-term or even hereditary. A third type was a form of fiscal autonomy whereby the taxes for a region or group were commuted for a fixed annual payment


JIERESCHEVE: A payment made by burgesses to a royal official.

JURY: In essence, a body of men sworn to give a true answer (a "veredictum" or verdict) to some question. There were juries of accusation, juries of inquest, grand juries, and petty juries. The latter became the jury of 12 common in criminal trials. Jurors were sworn to try evidence in court, and were expected to know about the case before coming to be sworn. However, if any communicated with a sworn juror during a trial, their verdict could be quashed. After hearing all evidence and charged to render a verdict, jurors were confined "without meat, drink, fire or candle" or conversation with others until they agreed on a verdict; and if they did not do so they were to be carried round the circuit in a cart until they did. The merest suspicion of juror misconduct was punishable by heavy amercement.

JUSTICIAR: The head of the royal judicial system and the king's viceroy when absent from the country. After the time of King John in England, there were no more Justiciars.


KAA'BA: Cubelike building, almost in the center of the great mosque in Mecca. The Black Stone, venerated as a sacred object is inside the building, built into the wall at the eastern corner The four inside walls are covered with black curtains (kiswa) fastened to the ground with copper rings. It is regarded as the focal point of the ceremonies of pilgrimage

KERMES: Red dye.

KHADIM: Servant or attendant, whether slave or free, male or female. At certain times and places the term connoted a eunuch; at others, a black slave or slavewoman.

KHAN: (a) a large building for the accommodation of travelers, merchants, and their wares. In Persia the usual term was karavansaray. (b) a Turkish title, originally a contraction of "khaqan" which, as a title of sovereignty, usually denoted supremacy over a group of tribes or territories. The title khan was used by Turkish Muslim rulers in central Asia from the tenth century onward. With the Mongols it was first used by Genghis and his descendants, later, by other rulers too. The Mongol rulers of Persia were known as Il-Khans, a term indicating subordination to a superior authority

KHARAJ: A generic term for taxes and tribute, later coming to mean the land tax as opposed to the poll tax

KILDERKIN: A cask of from 16 to 18 gallons.

KNIGHT: Originally the companion of a noted warrior who could afford to equip himself with arms and armor. As military tactics changed to favor the warrior mounted on a heavy warhorse, these evolved first into warrior retainers given at least enough land to support themselves and their warhorses as full-time professional warriors. Their status was below that of the barons (or nobility) of the realm, but above that of free peasants. With the rise of Chivalry and its ideals of loyalty and martial prowess within the context of generosity and "courtesy" the knighthood---until then considered thuggish and uncouth by the baronage--took on an idealism so powerful that not only did knightly behavior change, so did that of the baronage who now took up the new "knightly values" as their own. Over the course of time, knighthood evolved into an hereditary status, and stratified by 1500 into three hereditary ranks: knights, squires, and gentlemen. In the sixteenth century these "knightly classes" came to be called the Gentry.

KNIGHT'S FEE: In theory, a fief which provides sufficient revenue to equip and support one knight. This is approximately twelve hides or 1500 acres, although the term applies more to revenue a fief can generate than its size; it requires about thirty marks per year to support a knight.

KNIGHT HOSPITALLER: Holy order of knights pledged to administer to the sick and protect holy places during the Crusades.

KNIGHT TEMPLAR: Similar to the Knights Hospitallers, but more likely to provide protection and currency exchange for travelers to the Holy Lands. These were suppressed throughout Europe at the instigation of the King of France (who desired their wealth) in 1316. Their monastery in London, "the Temple," was then split into three, and the Inner and Middle Temples became the site for two of the five Inns of Court.

KUNEN: Same as cunen; possibly from tuna, a marten. (Polish.)

KUNYA: Part of the Arab personal name. The kunya was an appellation consisting of Abu ("father of") or

Umm ("mother of") and followed by a name, usually that of the bearer's eldest son


LAADRING: Guide, avant-courier.

LAD: Purgation, exculpation; also, a form of service consisting in supplying the lord with beasts of burden.

LÆNLAND: Land held on conditional lease. See also: "Folkland," and "Bookland."

LAETUS: A member of the general class of coloni.

LAGAN: The right to things thrown up by the sea, lying on the shore, i.e., jetsam.

LAHSLIT: Fine for offences committed by Danes, corresponding to Anglo-Saxon wite.

LANDCEAP, LANDCOP: Purchase of land.

LANDGABLE: The basic money rent paid for a messuage of land in a town, normally due whether or not houses had been built on the tenement, and the total amount paid was determined by the number of tenements in the town, not the uses to which they were put. Sometimes this is known as hawgable.

LANDRICA, LANDHLAFORD: Lord of the soil, landlord.

LASTAGE: Toll exacted in markets or fairs, perhaps for buying and selling goods by measure. A custom exacted on a ship's lading.

LAUDATICUM: A tax of unknown nature.

LAW COURTS: See: "Courts of Law."

LECTIO DIVINA: A "sacred reading;" reading of the Scriptures and works of the Christian Fathers, for which St. Benedict allotted portions of the day, including during meals.

LEET: The term used for a subdivision of land in Kent equivalent to a hundred.

LEOD: Man, people.

LEODGELD or LEUDGELD or WERGELD: Fine paid for killing a man.

LESTAGE: See: "Lastage."

LEVE: Mercantile levy or impost; a fee for permission to trade.

LIBERTI: Freedmen.

LIBLAC or LYBLAC: Witchcraft.

LIDUS: One of the general class of coloni.

LITURGY: Public, as opposed to private, prayer.

LITUS: One of the general class of coloni.

LIVERY: To be given land as a gift from the king. Also the means to be given the right to wear a lord's livery (a modified form of his coat of arms).

LOGRIA: Gain or profit.

LORDSHIP: The system of governing whereby semiautonomous landed nobility have certain well-defined responsibilities to the king, in return for the use of grants of land (fiefs) exploited with the labor of a semi-free peasantry (serfs).

LOT: The share of taxation imposed upon an individual payer toward making up the aggregate required of the community.

LUMINARIUS: A man who pays a tax in wax for lighting the church.

LUNARIUS: A man who ploughed a field which took a month to complete.

LYSWE or LEASWE: Injury of kin.


MAEGBOT: Compensation paid to family.

MAEGBURG: The kindred, kin.


MAN: In this sense to be a lord's man, to owe obligations to, in the forms of labor or service. A woman can be someone's "man."

MAN-AT-ARMS: A soldier holding his land, generally 60-120 acres, specifically in exchange for military service. Sometimes called a Yeoman.

MANBOT: Compensation for crime.

MANCIPIA: Goods, possessions, hence, slaves.

MANCUS: 30 pence.

MANOR: An administrative agricultural unit, which could be both exceedingly tiny or exceedingly large. Generally it had its own manorial court for 1) the settlement of disputes between peasants (both free and serf) holding land in the manor, and 2) for the regulation of the manor by the lord's bailiff or steward. It probably had its own hall, but not necessarily a manor house. The manor as a unit of land is generally held by a knight (knight's fee) or managed by a bailiff for some other holder. Often several manors might be under the supervision of a steward.

MANORIAL LAW: The system of law controlling tenure of servile land, inheritance, marriage practices, and personal relationships within a manor. Though this system was not recognized as a valid form of "law" by the king's courts at Westminster (See: "Courts of Law"), its various restrictions and requirements were recognized de facto by the manor's lord, and was the system under which the majority of medieval Englishmen lived.

MANUMISSION: The act of freeing a serf.

MANUNG: A district or population under the jurisdiction of a reeve.

MAQSURA: Box or compartment erected in the mosque for the ruler; usually near the prayer niche

MARK: A measure of account accepted throughout western Europe as equivalent to 8 oz. of silver (no coins known as Marks ever circulated in England). In England a mark was two-thirds of a pound or 13s. 4d. or 66.66 pence.

MARKET: A place where goods may be bought or sold, established in a village or town with the authorization of a king, or secular or ecclesiastical lord. This noble extends his protection to the market for a fee, and allows its merchants various economic and judicial privileges. See also: "Fair."

MARTINMAS: November the eleventh.


MAYOR: Most boroughs or towns were headed by a mayor, elected annually by the burgesses in the borough court, as administrative chief and representative to the king or the local lord (depending on the status of the town). The mayor usually had his own court.

MENDICANT ORDERS: A general term for the various orders of Friars, indicating they lived by begging.

  1. Friars Minor or Franciscans: Founded by St. Francis of Assisi, these emphasized preaching. As a consequence, they were instrumental in the establishment of the University. Commonly called the "Greyfriars" from the color of their habits.
  2. Friars Preacher or Dominicans: Founded by St. Dominic, these emphasized the pursuit of learning and intellectual activity for combating heresy, and were equally important to the development of the University. Commonly called "Blackfriars" from the color of their habits.
  3. Austin Friars: Originally eremetical, these followed the Rule of St. Augustine, and emphasized urban preaching.
  4. Carmelites: Originally eremetical in Palestine, they were another urban mendicant order, but allowed more time for study and meditation than the others. Commonly called "Whitefriars" from the color of their habits.

MESA: A measure larger than a cupa; a doliolum.

MESSER: A custodian of the harvest.

MESSUAGE: A piece of land, varying in size, but large enough to accommodate a dwelling.

METHEL: Council, meeting.

MIGERIA: A liquid or dry measure.

MILLENUM:. The number 1000.

MILLEROLE: A varying liquid or dry measure of Provence.

MILREIS: A coin used in the western part of the Mediterranean.

MINISTERIAL: One of a class of freedmen, peculiar to Germany, emanating from the fiscalinus and performing military and Domestic services.

MINOR ORDERS: Any of the four lower orders preceding the subdiaconate, required for entry into the Major Orders. All those matriculated into a university or college at the minimum were in one of these orders: Porter (i.e., doorkeeper), Lector, Exorcist, and Acolyte.

MINSTER CHURCH: A parish church or cathedral staffed by a chapter of regular clergy, instead of the more usual secular clergy.

MINSTREL: A poet and singer, also called a jongleur or troubadour, who lives and travels off of the largess of the aristocracy.

MISKENNINGA: A penalty for a mistake in repeating the set formula in which a litigant was expected to state his case.

MISSI: Royal agents under the Carolingians.

MITHQAL: Unit of weight, particularly for precious metals, based on the Byzantine solidus. The dinar weighed one mithqal of an average standard weight of 4.231 grams.

MONASTERY: A place where Monks or Nuns live for a religious life. The physical components consisted of: Chapter House: The place where the daily meeting of the community took place.

  • Church: The most important building in the monastic complex where much of the day was spent in prayer and worship. For the components of a Church, see: "Church."
  • Cloister: The arched walkways built around a square of grassy land where the monks spent much of their time, especially in warmer days. On all four sides the central area was surrounded by a low wall with arcades and a roof which thus provided covered passageways all around.
  • Dormitory: The barracks-style sleeping quarters of the monks on the second floor of a building, generally on the east range of the cloister (novices usually had separate quarters). Below this was usually located the monks' Day room.
  • Infirmary: A place of recuperation for the sick, and retirement for the elderly monks.
  • Lavatorium: Trough with running water where the monks washed their hands before meals.
  • Library: Adjacent to the church, the books were usually kept here (including those liturgical books normally used for the liturgy). At first kept in chests, then in cabinets, eventually the books came to be chained on shelves with sloping desks.
  • Refectory: Building where the monks ate their meals in common and in silence, while listening to a reading.
  • Reredorter: Building containing the monastic latrines--usually located over a ditch or stream.
  • Scriptorium: Sometimes a special building, sometimes just a place on the south wall of the cloister, where the monks copied books and documents.
  • Warming Room: Particularly common in northern countries, a place next the fireplaces of the kitchen, for the monks to gather and warm-up.

MONEY: The common currency in England in the late middle ages and until decimalization in 1971 was the Pound consisting of a pound of silver which was divided into 20 shillings (20s.) or 240 pence (240d.). One penny equaled two half-pence or four farthings. Thus, for example, £1 11s. 6d. was the equivalent in decimal terms of £1.575.

MONEYER: A person licenced by the crown to strike coins, receiving the dies from the crown, and keeping 1/240 of the money coined for himself.

MORGENGIFU: Morning-gift, gift from husband to wife on the morning after marriage.

MORTH: Murder.

MORTHERAS: Murderers.

MORTMAIN: The grant of land into the "dead hand" of a corporate body, which, on account of its perpetual existence, could not be liable for the payment of succession dues. This applied to churches, monasteries, and universities.

MUND: The Old English term for the King's Peace. Breaches of the mund were punished by a fine called a mundbreche.

MUNDBRECHE: Violation of the king's protection.

MUND-BYRD: Guardianship.

MUQATA'A: Term used in a variety of technical senses, mostly connected with the collection of taxes in the form of a global, agreed sum instead of by variable, separate assessment. It often, but not always, connotes some form of tax farming.

MURDRUM: Originally, a heavy fine of 46 marks assessed on the hundred which did not apprehend the killer of a Norman in its area. Later, a killing done in ambush or in secret.

MURENA (murex): A kind of shell fish, the animal of which yields a purple dye.

MYSTICISM: There was another phenomenon of worship always present, always tending to slip outside the main structure. Mysticism was anti-intellectual--focussing on Faith, not Reason. The purpose was to reach an emotional state, to give to the individual an immediate experience, "touching" God. In Christianity, tremendous emphasis was placed upon the Passion and the Resurrection. By literal imitation of Christ's suffering you get closer to Christ, suffering patiently for your own salvation (for at the heart of Christianity is PAIN--the pain of a spiritual being forced to live on earth and die a horrible death). In Islam, from an early date, the desire for purity of intention had given rise to ascetic practices, perhaps under the influence of eastern Christian monks. Implicit in them was the idea that there could be a relationship between God and man other than that of command and obedience: a relationship in which man obeyed God's Will out of love of Him and the desire to draw near Him, and in so doing could become aware of an answering love extended by God to man. Such ideas, and the practices to which they gave rise, were developed further during these centuries. There was a gradual articulation of the idea of a path by which the true believer could draw nearer to God; those who accepted this idea and tried to put it into practice came to be known generally as Sufis.



NOVICE/NOVITIATE: (1) Member of a religious house who has not yet taken final vows; (2) the period spent as a novice.

NUMMUS: A generic term for coins, especially small coins.

NUN: A woman dedicated to the religious life, and usually a member of a religious order.

NUNNERY: A monastery for women. Also know as a Convent.


OBEDIENTIARY: Monk, Canon, or Nun who has been assigned particular administrative responsibilities in the running of the monastery.

  • Almoner: Distributed alms to the sick and poor.
  • Cellarer: Had charge of all the property, rents, and revenues of the house, supervised the servants and any lay brethren, and bought supplies.
  • Chamberlain: Provided clothes, shoes, and bedding for the monks and lay brethren.
  • Infirmarian: Oversaw the welfare of the sick and elderly in the Infirmary.
  • Kitchener: Oversaw preparation of all meals.
  • Novice-Master: Prepared postulants and novices for taking their vows.
  • Precentor: Responsible for the correct number of books for the liturgy.
  • Prior or Sub-Prior: The second-in-command to the Abbot/Abbess, who had general oversight of the monastery itself and those in it.
  • Sacrist: Responsible for the security and cleanliness of the monastic church, and the provision of vessels for the altar.
  • Succentor: Responsible for music and chant in the monastic church, and for the monastic library.     





OBLATE: Child placed by parents in a religious house with a view to taking vows when he or she reached the required age; the practice was rejected by the Cistercians and gradually died out.

OBOLE: One-half denarius or halfpenny.

OFERHYRNES: Contempt; disobedience; also, penalty attached thereto.

OFGANGFORDELL: Form of ordeal.

OPEN FIELDS: The normal system of cultivation in medieval Europe. These fields were made up of bundles of long narrow strips, the length of each representing the distance that the plow could be expected to travel before turning, with the width the amount of plowing that could be done in a day. Each community would normally have several such open fields, and each peasant possessed strips (determined by wealth and status) in each of them. See: "Crop Rotation."

OPUS DEI: Literally, the "Work of God"; the performance of the liturgy, the daily round of services in the monastic church.

ORA: The eighth part of a mark; sometimes reckoned at twenty pence, sometimes at sixteen pence. Fifteen orae equaled one pound in the tenth century.

ORDEAL: A method of trial in which the accused was given a physical test (usually painful or dangerous) which could only be met successfully if he or she was "innocent" in the eyes of God. For this a cleric had to be present. At the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 clerics were forbidden to take part in such trials, which in turn spurred the creation of the jury system in England and the tribunal system of Roman Law on the Continent (in England Trial by Combat remained until technically outlawed in the early nineteenth century--but since a cleric was never a part of this type of trial the 1215 decision had no effect on its use). See also: "Compurgation."

ORDELAS: Ordeals.

ORDINARY: The bishop of a diocese.

ORPIMENT: A yellow dye.

ORWIGE: Outlawed.

OUTLAW: Originally, a man declared to be "outside the law" and hence no wergild or other penalty might be attached to his killing. The king received all of his goods and chattels and his lord any land he held (of little deterrent to those who had none). From 1329 onwards, the outlaw could no longer be killed at will.


PALATINATE: In England, a county in which the tenant in chief exercises powers normally reserved for the king, including the exclusive right to appoint judges, hold courts of law, and coin money. The king's writ was not valid in a County Palatinate.

PANNAGE: The privilege or money paid for the privilege of feeding swine in the woods.

PARASANG: A Persian measure of length about 30 stadia or three miles.

PARCHMENT: Usually the soaked and scraped skin of a sheep, but it could be prepared from the skin of any animal. With proper care, parchment can last virtually forever.

PARISH: Each diocese was divided at its ultimate level into parishes, each with its own church and priest.

PASCUARIUM: Payment for pasturage.

PASSAGE: The toll upon goods or passengers.

PATRIARCH: The Patriarch was the head of the Church in the East, invested by the emperor in a magnificent ceremony befitting his high office. Under the Patriarch there were metropolitans, archbishops, and bishops. Each bishop supervised the administration of his own diocese and his court, which included such officials as an oikonomos (in charge of administration of church property), a chartophylax (in charge of the chancery), a skevophylax (in charge of vestments, relics, etc.) and many others.
PATRON: Founder of a religious house, his or her heir, or the person to whom his or her estates passed; the patron had responsibility for protection of the interests of a religious house in secular affairs.

PEDAGIUM: Toll on those using a public highway or crossing a bridge.

PICTURA: A portion of a field or vineyard.

PIPE ROLL(S): A record of an audit of the accounts of each sheriff held at Michaelmas each year at the Exchequer.

PISA: A weight of approximately one pound.

PITTANCE: Small dishes of food and drink allowed to members of a religious community on special occasions, for example, on the anniversary of a patron.

PLEADER(S): The pleader, also know as the narrator (in Latin) or the countor (in French), stood beside a litigant in court and narrated his tale (Fr., "count"), according to precise formulaic phrases, subject to correction. Use of the wrong plea or the wrong words in a plea could lead to dismissal or loss of the case--with no right of appeal. See also: "Serjeants-at-Law."

PLEDGE: A personal surety. An individual who guarantees the appearance in court or performance of an obligation by another.

PLOUGH-LAND: The amount of land which can be worked by a team of eight oxen in a year.

PONDERA: Measures used for wool and cheese.

PONTAGE: Bridge-toll.

PORTAGE: Carriage or transportation; fee for this.

PORT-REEVE: The chief magistrate of a mercantile town.

POSTULANT: One seeking admission to a religious community.

POTESTAS: Authority of a lord or father in Roman law.

PREBEND: A benefice in a cathedral or collegiate church. Part of revenue of a cathedral; portion of land; a tithe; holder of a prebend; provender; food allowance.

PRECARIUM: A charter whereby land is received in usufruct on condition of an annual payment; a customary tax originating in a payment on the request of the lord; corvee; payment in kind.

PRIMOGENITURE: The right of the eldest son to inherit the estate or office of his father. This did not become fully the custom until the thirteenth century. Before, inheritance was originally split equally among the surviving sons (called "Coparcenary" in East Anglia and "gavelkind" in Kent) or passed to the oldest surviving brother (witness King John's taking the throne instead of his older brother's eldest son), or to the youngest surviving son ("Ultimogeniture" or "borough English").
PRIORY: Any monastic house administered by a prior or prioress. A smaller monastic establishment than an Abbey.

PRIOR/PRIORESS: (1) Head of a monastic house of lesser status than an abbey; (2) in an abbey, the second-in-command of the abbot or abbess; sometimes called the claustral prior or prioress.

PRISAGE: Toll levied by royal officials on provisions, especially on wines.

PROCTORS: Legal representatives of individuals or corporate bodies, usually in association with the Church Courts, but also to the king's council. Effectively the equivalent of the attorney.

PURPRESTURE: A piece of land illicitly appropriated from the land of another.

PURVEYANCE: Provision of supplies or services for an overlord.


QALANSUWA: High, often conical cap worn by men, either under the turban or by itself.

QAYSARIYYA: From Greek "kaisareia," or "imperial," "belonging to Caesar"; a public building or group of buildings with markets, shops, workshops, warehouses, and sometimes living quarters.

QIRAT: From the Greek "keration", a grain or seed; one twenty-fourth part of a mithqal and, by extension, one twenty-fourth part of any whole.

QIST: Measure of capacity, variously assessed at from 1.2 to 2.5 liters.

QUADRANS: A farthing.

QUARTANUM: One-fourth part of various measures.

QUESTE: Tax or tribute.

QUINTAL: A hundred-weight.

QUINTARIUM: A measure of weight; a fifth of various measures.

QU'RAN: This crystallized a language--Arabic--and was Arabic culture's crucial document not just because of its content but because one had to learn Arabic to read the Qu'ran. It is a visionary's book, but written down after Muhammed's death from his oral recitations. It is believed to contain all of God's message to Muhammed, word for word, and, as the full and final revelation of God's message, it contains all knowledge which any human being needs to know.

QURRA': Readers, especially of the Qur'an.


RATL: Unit of weight, varying greatly with time, place, and the material weighed and ranging from under a pound to more than 4 pounds.

REAFLAC: Robbery.

RECTOR: The incumbent of a parish in receipt of all its income, responsible for the pastoral care of parishioners.

REEVE: A manorial official charged with responsibility for the economic and agricultural management of a manor, similar in function to a bailiff, except that reeves were often of villein or servile status and were usually not paid a salary but instead released from labor services or granted a piece of property or both. Effectively, the manorial foreman.

REGALIA: Royal rights.

REGULAR CANONS: Communities of Secular Clergy living under a monastic rule, especially the Rule of St. Augustine.
REGULAR CLERGY: Monks or Nuns--whether Benedictines, Carthusians, Cistercians, Premonstratensians, etc., so called because they follow a rule (Latin, regula).

RELIEF: Monetary payment by the heir to a freehold tenement, paid to the lord for permission to enter into the property.

REP-SILVER: Reaping silver.

RIBAT: A fortified Muslim monastery, usually in the border areas between the Islamic world and its non-Muslim neighbors. Its inhabitants, called Murabit, were pious volunteers, dedicated to the jihad for Islam.

ROMFEOH: Peter's Pence.

ROTA: A measure, less than a quintarium.

RUM: Arabic word for Rome. In medieval times this was the normal Islamic term for the Byzantine Empire and was sometimes extended to European Christians in general. After the Turkish invasion of Anatolia, the term was commonly used for the former Byzantine territories under Turkish rule and sometimes even for the Turks themselves.


SAC: Jurisdiction in matters of dispute.

SACCUS: A sack, probably of definite size and varying in different times and countries.

SALAT: At first, salat was performed twice a day, but it later came to be generally accepted that it should take place five times a day: at daybreak, noon, mid-afternoon, after sunset, and in the early part of the night. The times of prayer were announced by a public call (adhan) made by a muezzin from a high place, usually a tower or minaret attached to a mosque. Prayer had a fixed form. After a ritual washing (wudu') the worshipper performed a number of motions of the body---bowing, kneeling, prostrating himself to the ground---and said a number of unchanging prayers, proclaiming the greatness of God and the lowliness of man in His presence. After these prayers had been said there might also be individual supplications or petitions. These prayers could be performed anywhere except in certain places regarded as unclean, but it was thought a praiseworthy act to pray in public together with others, in an oratory or mosque. There was one prayer in particular which should be performed in public: the noon prayer on Friday was held in a mosque of a special kind (jami') possessing a pulpit (minbar). After the ritual prayers, a preacher (khatib) would mount the pulpit and deliver a sermon, which also followed a more or less regular form: praise of God, blessings invoked on the Prophet, a moral homily often dealing with the public affairs of the community as a whole, and finally an invocation of God's blessing on the ruler.

SAUMA: A measure of capacity varying with locality.

SCEAT or SCAET: Four sceats equal one penny.

SCHEPEL: A bushel.

SCIPPOND: A measure; possibly "schippond," a unit of weight in Baltic trade varying from 300 to 400 pounds.

SCOT-ALE: Payment demanded of the vassals for entertainment in which they shared.

SCOT AND LOT: A traditional phrase to denote the rights and duties of a citizen. Scot may denote an assessment on a local community, lot the dues paid by the individual member.

SCUTA: A dish.

SCUTAGE: The sum that the holder of a knight's fee may pay his lord in lieu of military service. Sometimes used as a form of tax.

SCUTELLA: A little dish.

SECRETARY OF STATE: See: "Signet-Seal."

SECULAR CANONS: Communities of clergy, for example those serving a cathedral chapter, who do not live under a monastic rule, and may be allowed to hold private property.

SECULAR CLERGY: A cleric admitted to one of the Major or Minor Orders, not living under a monastic rule, for example, the parish priest.

SELION: A narrow strip of land of variable length lying between two furrows in the open field.

SELIQUA: Same as siliqua.

SERF: A semi-free peasant who works his lord's demesne and pays him certain servile dues in return for the use of land, the possession (not ownership) of which is heritable. Also known variously as villeins (French, from whence villain), boors (Old English gebur), churls (Old English ceorl), and naifs (Latin nativus)(or knaves).

SERJEANT: A servant who accompanies his lord to battle, or a horseman of lower status used as light cavalry. Also means a type of tenure in which service of a non-knightly character is owed a lord. The holders of such tenure in serjeanty might carry the lords' banner, serve in the wine cellar, make bows or arrows or any other of a dozen occupations. Serjeants pay the feudal dues of wardship, marriage, and relief but are exempt from scutage.

SERJEANT-AT-LAW: The specialized form of professional pleader in the central royal courts, especially the Court of Common Pleas, where they held a monopoly of pleading. These appeared especially at the end of the thirteenth century, and developed their own guild based on the Inns of Court in the fourteenth century. In medieval times they wore a "coif"--a white silk or linen head covering tied under the chin. In conjunction with the justices of the Court of Common Pleas (appointed from their ranks by the beginning of the fourteenth century), they made the Common Law.

SERVI: Slaves or serfs.

SERVILE LAND: Land requiring servile dues. Free peasants could hold servile land as long as they performed the servile dues required (dangerous for a free peasant as a lord might then claim the free peasant as his serf--with the evidence the performance of these servile dues), and serfs could hold free land (which had no servile dues--and again was dangerous, but this time for the lord as the serf could claim freedom--with evidence his lack of performance of servile dues).

SESTER: A measure of four gallons.

SESTIERE: A sixth part of the city of Florence.

SETIER: About three and a quarter liters.

SHAHID: A witness, more specifically one whose name appears on the list of trustworthy witnesses drawn up under the qadi's authority. See also: "'adala."

SHAHADA: First of them was the shahada, the testimony that "there is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Prophet of God". The making of this testimony was the formal act by which a person became a Muslim, and it was repeated daily in the ritual prayers. It contained in essence those articles of faith by which Muslims distinguished themselves from unbelievers and polytheists, and also from Jews and Christians who lay within the same tradition of monotheism: that there is only one God, that He has revealed His Will to mankind through a line of prophets, and that Muhammad is the Prophet in whom the line culminates and ends. A regular affirmation of this basic creed should be made daily in the ritual prayer, salat, the second of the Pillars.

SHAMBLES: The area of a town where the butchers threw out their waste products in the street to be consumed by dogs and other scavengers. Usually this was near the river, and thus drained directly into the town's water supply.

SHARI'A: The Holy Law of Islam

SHARIF or ASHRAF: Noble, well-born; at first used generally of the leading families, then more particularly of the descendants of the Prophet

SHAYKH or SHEIKH: Arabic word meaning "old man," "elder"; used in a wide variety of contexts: for the chiefs of tribes, religious dignitaries, for the heads of religious fraternities or of craft guilds and generally as a term of respect for men of position, authority, or advancing years.

SHERIFF (from "Shire Reeve"): The official who is the chief administrative and judicial officer of a shire. Many of the sheriff's duties were taken over by the royal justices, the coroners, and the keepers (later justices) of the peace. Sheriffs notably collected the king's taxes and forwarded them to the Exchequer. The sheriff also was responsible for administering justice and enforcing the laws; summoning jurors; apprehending felons; maintaining royal castles; enforcing various mercantile matters; executing judicial and administrative writs and decrees; holding inquests, assizes, the county court, the sheriff's tourn, and the view of frankpledge; seizing and attaching persons, lands, and chattels; supervising elections; enforcing obligations for public works; and keeping extensive administrative records.

SHI'A: Party or faction, hence specifically the party of 'Ali, the kinsman and son-in-law of the Prophet. The Shi'a began as a group of Muslims who advocated the claims of 'Ali, and later of his descendants, to the Caliphate. It developed rapidly into a religious movement differing on a number of points of doctrine and law from Sunni Islam. The Shi'a split into many subsects the most important of which are the Ithnsiashart (or "Twelver") Shi'a---so called because of their acceptance of twelve Imams, the Isma'ilis, and the Zaydis.

SICLA: Liquid measure.

SIGLA: Same as sicla.

SIGNET-SEAL, OFFICE OF THE: After the Office of the Privy-Seal went "out of court" in the fourteenth century, the signet-seal was developed to allow the king to continue to send instructions. Its keeper came to be called the Secretary of State by the sixteenth century--in medieval times he was always a clerk, never a bishop, with 4-10 clerks under him. This office wrote the king's more personal letters, along with instructions from the king to the Privy-Seal to issue letters or warrants, including warrants to get Chancery to issue a letter (thus, to make an appointment, the king would have to instruct the Secretary of State to issue a letter under the Signet-Seal to send to the Keeper of the Privy-Seal, ordering the latter to send a letter under the Privy-Seal to the Chancellor, ordering the latter to issue a letter of appointment under the Great Seal--a practice done for the benefit of the clerks of each office who largely worked under a form of commission).

SILIQUA: One and one-third silver solidi among the Visigoths.

SILIQUE: One twenty-fourth of a solidus.

SIMONY: The buying or selling of spiritual things, particularly Church offices and benefices.

SIPAHI or SPAHI: Persian word meaning "soldier" and later specialized to mean a horse soldier. In the Ottoman Empire the sipahi or spahi was a quasi-feudal cavalryman who received a grant known as timar.

SITULAE: Measures containing eight setiers.

SOC: Jurisdiction; a liberty, privilege, or franchise granted by the king to a subject; also the area within which that franchise is exercised.

SOCN: Sanctuary, right of protection.

SOKEMAN: Another name for a free tenant.

SOKEN: Same as soc.

SOR-PENNY: Customary payment for pasturage.

SPIRITUALIA: Church property such as churches, glebe (church land), tithes, burial dues, etc., from which income is derived (cf. "temporalia").

SPORTA: A basket.

STABILITAS: The right of a lord to force a vassal to live on his land.

STALLAGE: Money paid for permission to have a stall in a market or fair.

STATER: A gold coin worth three solidi among the Visigoths; a silver coin of various values.

STAUELA: Settle, bench.

STERMELDA: Court officer (uncertain).

STEWARD: The man responsible for running the day to day affairs of the lord's lands (usually supervising several manors).

STICA: A bundle of 20 eels.

STRIKE:. The rased bushel.


SUBDEACON: A member of one of the Major Orders, ranking below a Deacon. Essentially an assistant to the latter.

SUFFRAGANS: Bishops who were ordained so that they could conduct such services as required the possession of episcopal orders, such as ordinations and confirmations. They did not, however, possess jurisdictional powers such as those enjoyed by a diocesan bishop.

SULTAN: Abstract noun meaning "ruler" or "power", particularly that of the government. At first informally, then, from the eleventh century, officially, it was applied to the person of the ruler and came to designate the supreme political and military authority, as contrasted with the religious authority to which the Caliphs were increasingly restricted.

SULUNG: A measurement of land in Kent. Equal to two hides.

SURSISE: Penalty for contempt of court.

SYXHYNDEMAN: One whose wergeld is 600 shillings.


TABULARIUS: A serf freed by charter.

TAILLE: Any imposition levied by the king or any other lord upon his subjects; a tax upon the profits of the former; a property tax.

TAKBIR: To pronounce the formula Allahu Akbar, "God is very great."

TALLAGE: A tax levied on boroughs and on the tenants living on the royal demesne.

TARAWTH: Special prayers recited during the night in Ramadan.

TARIN: A gold coin.

TAYLASAN: A kind of hood or scarf, worn over the head and shoulders or the shoulders only. In earlier times it was regarded as the distinguishing mark of the doctors of the Holy Law.

TEAM: The right of compelling the person in whose hand stolen or lost property was found to vouch to warranty, i.e., to name the person from whom he received it.

TEMPORALIA: Possessions such as land, rent, mills, etc., from which income is derived (cf., "spiritualia").

TENANT-IN-CHIEF: A lord or institution (the Church being most common) holding land directly from the king. All Earls were Tenants-in-Chief.

TERUNCII: Small coins.

THEAM: See: "team."

THEGN OR THANE: Originally meaning a Military Companion to the King in Anglo-Saxon England. It has come to mean a land-holding administrative office. Originally a servant, especially an armed servant; then one who becomes noble by serving the king in arms; the possessor of five hides of land. The thegn before the Conquest occupied nearly the same position socially as the knight after it.

THELONY: Toll levied on imports and exports.

THEODEN: Chief, lord, prince, king.

THEOW: A slave.

THING: A law-court or assembly.

THRYMSA: A coin worth three pence Mercian.

TIHTBYSIG: Of bad repute.

TIHTLE: Accusation. A Furmtihtle is the first accusation, a Withertihtle is a cross-action.

TIMMERA: A measure; a quantity of small skins, 40-120 according to the skin, packed between two boards.

TINE: A tub or cask.

TINEMAN: Tithing man; a free man.

TIRAZ: Word of Persian origin meaning embroidery, hence embroidered or brocaded robes, and then the workshop usually state-controlled, in which these were manufactured. Tiraz was often embroidered with suitable inscriptions. The wearing of tiraz and the granting of tiraz to other persons were royal prerogatives.

TITHE: One tenth of a person's income given to support the local parish church.

TITHING: A group in rural society consisting of ten or more males twelve years of age and older responsible for producing its members in court and for reporting illicit acts by group members to the sheriff or his representative at the annual view of frankpledge.

TOFT: A small holding.

TONNA: A measure (ton-a measure of capacity for wine; also a weight measure for cheese).

TONSURE: The rite of shaving the crown of the head of the person joining the regular or secular clergy. It symbolized admission to the clergy.

TORSELLUS: A bundle, probably of definite size.

TOURNEY: Mock combat for knights. Regulated by the 1270 Statute of Arms, which aimed to prevent such tourneys from turning into the rape, pillage, and murder of the villages and towns where the tourney took place.

"TOWN AIR IS FREE AIR": Words used in many franchisal charters to proclaim the freedom of any serf who managed to live there for a year and a day with out being claimed by his or her lord.

TRESPASS: The medieval term for our modern "misdemeanor." In the Middle Ages these included assault, wounding, damage to property and others down to selling bad beer and bread. Most of these were heard in the various local courts. Punishment for trespassers consisted of an amercement, or time in the stocks. See also: "Felony."

TRIBUTARII: Freedmen; semi-serfs who formed part of the class of coloni.

TRIENS: One third of a gold piece or solidus in Gaul in the sixth century.

TROUBADOUR: Any of a class of lyric poets and poet-musicians who lived in Provence, Catalonia, Southern France, and Northern Italy in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries who wrote poems of courtly love and chivalry , usually with intricate stanza form and rhyme scheme.

TUN: Villa, dwelling, town.


UDAL: Allodial; freehold tenure in absolute ownership.

'ULAMA or 'ALIM: A scholar, specifically in religious subjects. The term 'ulama is used to describe the class of professional men of religious learning who form the nearest Muslim entity to a clergy.

UMM WALAD: Literally "mother of a child"; a slave-women who has born her master a child and thereby acquired certain legal rights.

UNCIA: Six solidi among the Visigoths.

UNCUS: A measure of land among the Danes, Prussians, and Poles.

'USHR: Tax imposed by the Holy Law on Muslim-owned property for charitable and other purposes.

USURY: The interest charged on a loan. Forbidden by Canon Law (based upon biblical injunction) to all Christians (thus Jews and others were exempt). Usually gotten around by giving the lender actual possession of property and its income during the life of the loan--thus the income served as the interest.

UTFANGENTHEOF: Jurisdiction over a thief caught outside the limit of the estate to which the right belonged.

UTWARE: Service.


VAS: A vessel, probably of definite content.

VASSAL: A free man who holds a fief from a lord to whom he pays homage and swears to be faithful. He owes various services and obligations, primarily military. But he is also required to advise his lord, attend his lord's court (i.e. suit of court), and pay him the traditional feudal aids required on the knighting of the lord's eldest son, the marriage of the lord's eldest daughter and the ransoming of the lord should he be held captive--wardship, relief, scutage, etc..

VAVASOR: An inferior baron, or vassal; holding of a baron.

VENALITII: Dealers (in slaves).

VICARIUS: A deputy.

VIERTALES: Quarters (of hodia).

VICAR: Incumbent of a parish church which has been appropriated to a religious corporation; the religious house receives all the income, and gives a portion of it to the vicar in return for his undertaking pastoral duties.

VILL: A geographical unit, equivalent to a civil parish.

VIRCA: Tenure by delivery of a wand.

VIRGATE: A unit of arable land, varying in size from 18-40 acres, though the "average" virgate was a 30-acre unit of land.


WALI: In the religious sense it means something like saint or holy man, that is, a "friend of God". In law it denotes a guardian or legal tutor. In political and administrative usage it means the authorized holder or executant of an office, a function, a duty, or a privilege.

WALREAF: Despoiling the dead.

WAPENTAKE: In northern England and the Midlands, a subdivision of a shire; the equivalent of a Hundred.

WAQF: Form of endowment or trust, of land or other income-producing property, the proceeds of which are assigned by the founder to a specific purpose. The endowment, which is irrevocable and permanent, may be either for some pious object, such as a mosque, school, or charity, or for the benefit of named persons, normally the founder's family.

WARDROBE: That part of the king's Household which was originally the space in the Chamber where the king's clothes and personal possessions were stored. Over the course of time it evolved and came to have its own clerks and servants, run by a Keeper of the Wardrobe, and his subordinates, the Controller of the Wardrobe, and the Cofferer of the Wardrobe. The Keeper of the Wardrobe was particularly important, as he was responsible for receiving money for the Household's expenses, for checking the accounts of its departments, and for rendering these accounts in the Exchequer. The Controller kept a second set of accounts as a control on the Keeper. The Cofferer was responsible for holding coin and accounting for it. The Wardrobe came to have two main subsidiary departments: the Privy Wardrobe in the Tower of London for military supplies, and the Great Wardrobe near Baynard's Castle for civil supplies such as cloth, furs, and spices. Like the Chamber, the Wardrobe's importance in royal administration rose and fell several times over the course of centuries.

WARDSHIP: The right of a lord to the income of a fief during the minority of its heir. The lord is required to maintain the fief and to take care of the material needs of the ward. When the ward comes of age, the lord is required to release the fief to him or her in the same condition in which it was received, without wasting it.

WASITA: Officer of state under the Fatimid Caliphs, corresponding approximately to the wazir.

WASTE: The term generally given to land which is unusable or uncultivated within a holding. It is not taxed. Land can also be wasted by the feudal guardian, or a lender to whom it was pledged as collateral for a loan. Such wasting was actionable at Common Law.

WAX TABLETS: This was the commonest form of writing surface in the middle ages--a wood tablet covered with a layer of wax in which were scratched letters using a stylus. The wax could be smeared over and prepared for new writing at will. Often tablets would be joined together with 1-5 other tablets.

WAZIR: A high officer of state, usually a civilian. The power and status of the office varied greatly. In some periods, as under the early Abbasids, the wazir was the head of the bureaucracy and virtually in charge of the day-to-day conduct of government. Under the Seljuq Sultans he was effectively head of the administration. At other times he was a relatively minor official. The Ottoman Sultans had several wazirs, the chief of whom came to be known as the Grand Vizier.

WED: A pledge.

WER: The pecuniary estimation of a man, by which the value of his oath and the payment for his death were determined.

WERGILD: In Anglo-Saxon times, all society was graded according to blood-price or wergild- the sum of money reckoned as proper compensation in case of homicide.

WEY: A measure of weight equal to a pondus.

WIC or WICH or WYCH: Town, especially one with a market.

WITAN (also called the Witenagemot): Council composed of nobles and ecclesiastics which advised the Anglo-Saxon Kings of England. By custom it also "elected" or ratified the successor to the throne. Resembles the commune concilium.

WITE: A mulct, a payment by way of punishment, opposed to bot, which is compensation to the injured.

WRIT: In England writs took the form of a letter couched in the form of a command. The king was the most frequent issuer of writs, usually in the form "Henry, king of the English, to ____, greeting. Do _____. Witness, the Chancellor. At Gloucester." Writs could be issued either "patent" (meaning any and all could look at it), or "closed" (meaning it was intended only for the person to whom it was addressed).

WUDE: Wood.

WUDEHEWET: Cutting of wood. 


YARD-LAND: Thirty or forty acres in possession of a gebur.

YEOMAN: See: "Man-at-Arms."

YOKE: A measurement of land in Kent equal to one quarter of a sulung.

YSENBRUN: Galebrun, French coarse brown cloth.


ZANJ, ZANJI: The people of East Africa, and hence more loosely, blacks in general.

ZINDIQ: Used extensively to denote the holders of unpopular or heretical beliefs, particularly those regarded as dangerous to the state and society.

ZUNNAR: The distinctive belt or sash which non-Muslims were required to wear.