Glossary of medieval words
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There are 254 items in the glossary
A
achievement a full display of an entire coat of arms. An achievement of arms

acre The amount of land which one team can plough in a day. 120 was the average to maintain one family but this varied depending on the land.

advowson right of presentation to a church dignitary

ailette armour - originally meaning little wing, a piece of leather or parchment laced to the shoulder, probably more decorative than protective and usually bearing the arms of the wearer

aketon a padded and quilted garment, usually of linen, worn under or instead of plate or mail

allure a walkway on the battlements of a castle

almoner The Lord Almoner of England was responsible for receiving property forfeit to the crown and the belongings of suicides. These were given as alms to the poor.

alms penance imposed by a priest on a member of the nobility requiring payment of a sum of money to the benefit of the poor

amercement a fine in law

ancere tub for washing etc.

angel English gold coin worth 6/8 (6 shillings and 8 pence - 33p). Also a messenger of God

argent Silver in heraldry

ark a wooden coffer (see coffer)

armiger a person who has been granted and is entitled to bear a coat of arms

arquebus early firearm consisting of a tube sealed at one end with a touch-hole. Sometimes fitted with a small bar at the sealed end which was placed against a surface

arrowsmith maker of arrowheads

ashlar smooth and flat masonry blocks

attainder bill of attainder. A bill passed by Parliament acting as judge and jury and imposing sentence on a single person. The Bill required signing by the monarch and the minimum sentence was loss of all titles and lands, the maximum death

aumbry a cupboard designed to show off fine silver and pewter

azure Blue in heraldry

B
bailey an enclosed courtyard

baldaquin a canopy over the highest place on the top table in dining

banker embroidered cover for a bench or chair

barbican a projecting outwork designed to protect a gateway

barker A worker of, and dealer in, leather

baselard Thrusting sword used in Europe having a strong, short, diamond sectioned blade

bastard sword long double edged sword which can be used single or doubled handed. Sometimes called a hand and half sword

bastion part of the defences of a castle standing proud from the wall and giving a good field of coverage for defenders

batter a sloping thickening at the base of a wall

belfry a mobile wooden tower used to transfer troops onto a wall

bellows armour - a visor which is named because the alternate raised and lowered horizontal ridges resemble those in the leather bag of traditional fire bellows

berm the space between a ditch and a wall

bevor plate protection for the neck and chin forming a complete closure with the helmet

bill a pole weapon based on a hedging tool having a straight blade and one or more hook-like blades

blancmange see blank-manger

blank-manger unlike the sweet pudding of today this was made from pounded poultry or other white meat boiled with rice and almond milk and sweetened with honey

blazon the description of an armorial bearing

bocland land given by the king and recorded in a book (bookland). A perpetual right which could be bequeathed and inherited. Sometimes recorded as "Buckland" as in Devon.

bodger one who makes rough and ready items from rough hewn timber

bodkin long, sharply pointed arrowhead designed to concentrate all the power of the arrow into a single point to open mail or puncture plate armour

book of hours highly decorated book containing the prayers required for each hour of the day. This was usually commissioned for or by a single person

bookland see bocland

bordar cottager

borough a town which has been granted a royal charter giving it the right to self government

bracer small arm protector for archers

braies short underpants tied at the waist

brattice wooden hoarding built out from a battlement

breastplate armour - plate covering the upper chest down to the diaphragm

broadhead wide arrowhead with a sharpened edge used mainly for harassing horses at a distance

broadsword sword having a double edged, wide blade. Common term for the medieval arming swords

buckler small, usually round, shield

bushell eight gallons

butte a generic middle English name for a flatfish. This was combined with the middle English haly meaning holy to give the name for the largest flatfish which was favourite dish on holy days - the halybutte (halibut)

buttery storage for wet goods such as ale, wine, beer

buttress a stone support built against a wall

C
caltrop spiked device which always presents an upward facing spike used to impede men and, particularly, horses

cannon hollow tube used to launch a missile using gunpowder. From the latin cannon meaning a reed

canonical hours the church bell was rung eight times at each of the following - midnight (matins), 3 am (lauds), 6 am (prime), 9 am (tierce), midday (sext), 3 pm (nones), 6 pm (vespers) and 9 pm (compline)

canting arms arms which are designed as a pun on the name of their bearer. For example, the arms of the Queen Mother show bows and a lion reflecting her name Bowes-Lyon

carucate as much land as a team can plough in a year

ceorl a freeman who is not a noble

chainmail see mail

cheminage A toll for obtaining right of way for land travel

childwite a fine paid by men to the lord of the manor for illicitly impregnating his bondswomen

cobbler a repairer of footwear as opposed to a maker of footwear

cocket the cheapest white wheat bread (see also pain demain and wastel)

coffer a chest usually of metal (see ark)

coif a cap made of linen which covers the head, also a mail hood

constable the principle officer of the household of a noble or king, a hundred or a town

corbel a stone bracket

cordwainer maker of fine shoes using soft Cordovan leather

counterscarp outside slope of a ditch (see scarp)

couter armour - articulated plate covering the elbow

cranage a fee paid for the use of a winch to load or unload a ship

crenel the open section of a battlement

crenellation a battlement

cresset a projecting stone which is hollowed out to take oil and a wick, cresset lamp

cuirass plate armour for the body generally consisting of breast and back plates and protection for the hips

cuisse armour - plate covering the upper leg, thigh to knee

curtain a wall surrounding a castle enclosure

D
demesne the manor house and adjoining lands which the lord of the manor kept for his own purposes

distrain to compel the performance of a duty

donjon great tower or keep (usually) but can also be a lord's private area

dosser ornamental cloth on a chair

E
ell a measure of length for cloth equal to one and a quarter yards

ell a cloth measure of 45 inches (114.3 cms) or, if the cloth is Flemish, 27 inches (68.58 cms)

embrasure opening in the defences of a castle used for shooting at attackers

embrasure an opening in a wall soetimes for the use of archers

enceinte an area enclosed by castle walls

essoin an excuse or exemption, especially from attending court

essoin rolls records of the excuses offered for failure to attend court when summoned

estoc long, straight and sharp thrusting sword. First mentioned in the latter part of the fourteenth century and used for attacking the joints in plate armour

ewer a jug for pouring water over the hands when washing before and after a meal

ewerer a servant who assists in the washing of hands before and after a meal

F
falchion a heavy broad-bladed sword designed for hacking blows

fief an estate which could be anything from a small plot of land to a whole country which is held by homage and service to a lord

fistmeile a measurement derived from making a fist with the thumb raised. The distance between the lower part of the little finger and the tip of the thumb

fletcher maker of the arrow shaft including applying the feathers to the shaft

fletchings the feathers on an arrow, usually, in medieval times, glued and bound on

flummery another name for frumenty a dish made from wheat meal boiled with water or milk and seasoned

freehold an estate held without any feudal obligation

fripper A dealer in frippery. One who deals in old clothes

fructed bearing fruit in heraldry

frumenty a dish made from wheat meal boiled with water or milk and seasoned

fuller groove in a blade to strengthen and lighten it. Sometimes erroneously called a blood groove. Also one who prepares wool by combing it to thicken it.

G
gallon liquid measure which differed for wine, ale and beer.

gambeson heavy jacket designed to fit under armour, usually with arming points to actually hang armour

garderobe a toilet in a castle

gathering a collection of pages forming part of a book before binding

glebe Cultivated land (common use glebe-land) within a parish assigned to support its priest (Thanks to Addison of /dictionary.kids.net.au for this suggestion)

gorget plate armour protecting the throat and neck above the breast plate

greave armour - plate covering the lower leg, knee to anke

groat English silver coin worth 4d (4 pence - about 1½p)

gules Red in heraldry

H
haberden cod especially in its salted form. Also used as haberdine

haberdine cod especially in its salted form. Also used as haberden

half angel English gold coin worth 3/4 (3 shillings and 4 pence - 17p)

half groat English silver coin worth 2d (2 pence - about 1p).

half noble English gold coin worth 3/4 (3 shillings and 4 pence - about 17p)

half penny Also known as a ha'penny (pronounced haypenny). English silver coin worth ½d

half ryal English gold coin worth 5/- (5 shillings - 25p)

hanop a two handled drinking cup

haulage toll or tax on transportation of goods

herce a frame supporting candles

heriot a tribute or service rendered to a feudal lord on the death of a tenant

hide the amount of land needed to support the family of a freeman. This varied from place to place depending on the quality of the land. Usually recorded as 120 acres or 4 virgates.

hilt the handle or grip of a sword

historiated capital on a manuscript page, an initial letter which contains an illustration within itself

homage a ceremony where a tenant aknowledges his allegiance to his lord

hundred an area of land equal to a hundred hides

hundredweight in mediaeval times this was a measurement of exactly 100 pounds

I
illuminator artist who applied decoration including gold to a manuscript

impleaded instituted and prosecuted a plea at law

indenture a written legal agreement so called because two copies were made on a single sheet and these were cut in an indented pattern so that they could be shown to fit together. This was necessary in a time when only a few could read and the fact that the indents fitted was proof of agreement.

inkhorn the top of a horn used to contain ink or paint. Used mainly by wedging into a hole in the writing slope

J
jack defensive coat, either of several layers or quilted leather or linen, often reinforced with metal studs or small plates

jupon a tightly fitted garment worn over armour (particulary mail) in the 14th century

K
kettle hat light weight, open-faced helmet, having a conical crown and wide brim

kirtle a long gown or dress

klappvisier visor for a bascinet featuring a pointed (pignose) or rounded (roundnose) snout to deflect arrows and bolts and a raised area around the eyes

L
lastage a fee paid for storage of goods

lawmoot General court session for the presenting of offences against the community

liripipe elongated point of a hood, sometimes extremely elongated.

livery the provision of food and clothing to retainers. Also refers to distinctive clothing worn by retainers

longbow traditional, especially Welsh and English, bow. Usually made from a single bough of yew and usually the height of the archer plus a fistmeile

loop an opening in a wall which is wider internally designed to admit light or for archers

wastage A toll on the value of a cargo

M
machicolation battlement supported on corbels (see corbel) to allow command of the base of a wall

mail from the medieval French maille meaning net. Linked metal rings which are assembled into garments as armour. An early form of armour which was gradually replaced by plate.

mantling short lengths of cloth, usually in the livery colours, hung from the torse on the helmet as an aid to identification. This is usually shown as torn and ripped in battle when displayed in heraldry.

march borderland usually used to refer to the Welsh and English border

marcher lord the lords holding lands usually on the Welsh and English border

mark money of account (not a physical coin). The silver mark had a value of 160 pence (about 66p)

maslin bread made from a mix of rye and wheat

mazer silver bound drinking vessel

mead alcoholic drink made from fermenting honey and water, sometime flavoured with the meadowsweet plant

meadow a vital piece of land for a farming community, always kept in grass to provide hay when mown

melee a massed combat at a tournament where individuals or groups of individuals meet together

mercer a dealer in cloth and fabrics

merlon solid section of a battlement

messuage a dwelling house and its adjacent buildings and the adjacent land used by the household

moat a ditch either dry or full of water

motte a mound of earth

murage a toll to pay for upkeep of the town wall paid by visitors

mural chamber a vaulted chamber in the thickness of a wall

mural passage a passage in the thickness of a wall

mural tower a tower on a curtain wall

N
noble an English gold coin worth 6/8 (six shillings and eight pence - about 33p). Also a person of high birth

O
or Gold in heraldry

Oyer and Terminer Legal term, literally to hear and determine. A commission for judges on circuit

P
pain demain the finest white wheat bread (see also wastel and cocket)

pannage a toll on imported cloth

pantler one who prepared bread for trenchers and soft bread for sopping up food

pantry storage for dry goods such as bread, spices, table linen

parapet the outer wall of a walkway along a main wall

parchment the skin of any animal which has been prepared as a writing medium. Common skins were sheep, goat, calf and rabbit. This term is completely interchangeable with vellum though some schools of thought regard the cheaper "split" skins as parchment

patten an undersole usually of wood which was strapped under the normal footwear to protect it in wet conditions

pavage a toll to pay for upkeep of the streets paid by visitors

pavise large free-standing shield used primarily by crossbowmen

pell a vertical pole designed for sword training. Practice at the pell. Pell-mell is derived from this word

penknife small knife used to cut and trim quills. In the UK this term became the common name for any small knife carried about the person (USA pocket knife)

penny English silver coin worth 1d (1 penny - ½p)

pickerel small pike (fish)

pilaster a shallow pier against a wall to strengthen it

pipe barrel containing 105 gallons

plackart armour - plate covering the lower torso below and overlaping the breastplate

plate the generic term for armour made from metal plates, articulated at the joints.

ploughland the amount of land ploughable by a team of eight oxen in a year. This obviously varies between areas.

pole measurement of land. The distance between the back of the plough and the nose of the ox

poleyn armour - articulated plate covering the knee

pomell counter balance weight at the hilt of a sword designed, along with the rest of the hilt, to balance the weight of the blade

pontage a toll paid to cross a bridge

portcullis a lattice made of metal or wood which is dropped to block a passage

posset a drink made from hot mlk curdled with wine and sweetened, considered a delicacy

postern a small rear door

potell a measure of liquid equal to four pints, half a gallon

pound Money of account (not a physical coin) equal to 144 pence or 20 shillings (another unit of account, see shilling)

purpure Purple in heraldry

Q
quarrel short square headed bolt or arrow used in a crossbow

quarter noble English gold coin worth 1/8 (1 shilling and 8 pence - about 8p)

quarter ryal English gold coin worth 2/6 (2 shillings and 6 pence - 13p)

quillon cross guard on a sword. This term was not used until the sixteenth century so is inappropriate when describing swords prior to around 1530. The original cross guard or simply cross is usually used prior to that date

quintain dummy with a shield mounted on a post. Used in combat training

quintel another term for hundredweight, a measurement which, in mediaeval times, was exactly 100 pounds

quitclaim to add or remove someone from the title of property

R
rampart a bank of earth

reeve the chief magistrate of a town or village or the supervisor of an estate

relic piece of material such as wood or bone, etc widely regarded as being from the body, clothing or associated artifacts of a saint

relict usually a widow but sometimes applied to a widower

revetted the side of a ditch which is faced by wood, stone or some other material

riser raised vein in a sword blade designed to give extra strength when thrusting

rubricator specialist artist or scribe whose task it was to apply red to a manuscript

ryal Also known as the rose noble. An English gold coin worth 10/- (10 shillings - 50p)

S
sable Black in heraldry

sake and soke a grant which allowed the granter to intercept fines relating to his own estate which would otherwise have gone to the crown

sallet an open faced helmet usually favoured by archers

salt as well as the obvious reference to the condiment (which was very expensive in medieval times) this term also meant the large decorated container for the salt which was placed on the table. The host and his favoured guests sat one side of the salt (above the salt) while lesser guests sat below the salt

sanguine Murrey or dark red in heraldry

scalage Fee for the inspection of goods by customs officials

scarp the side of a ditch

scribe a writer. Someone who can copy pages of text. Some monks were scribes and copied religious texts although they may not have been aware of the actual content. A scrivener on the other hand was literate, able to write original material and tended also to be numerate.

scriptorium room or building devoted to the production of manuscripts. In monastaries no fire was permitted in the scriptorium for heat or light for fear of damaging the valuable original manuscripts from which copies were made

scrivener able to write original material (unlike a scribe who was usually just a copier). Usually employed as a clerk or accountant.

scutage money paid by a feudal landowner to a lord in lieau of service

sendal a very fine silk

serf a tenant who is not a freeman. The serf went with the land if ownership changed

sheriff the country equivalent of a town reeve, in charge of a shire (shire reeve)

shilling unit of account (not a physical coin during the mediaeval period) equal to 12 pence, later the silver coin worth 12d (12 pence modern day 5p)

sovereign English gold coin worth 20/- (20 shillings or 1)

stallage a fee paid to have a stall at a market

T
tapet a bed cover made of carpet

targe round or oval shield

tasset armour - plate hinged from the fauld, overlapping the cuisse and covering the upper leg

tenné Tawney brown in heraldry

tithe one tenth of a persons income given to the church

torse winding of coloured cloth worn around the crown of a helmet. Usually of the livery colours this, together with mantling, aided identification.

tourney mock combat for knights

trebuchet siege engine operated by a counterweight

trencher large slice of hard bread used as a platter for food. Later became the term for wooden or other platters

tribute Payment by a vassal to his lord usually to ensure protection

tronage A fee or toll for the weighing of bulk merchandise

tyne a large bucket resembling a barrel with handles

V
vambrace armour - upper cannon of plate covering the upper arm, lower cannon of plate covering the forearm

vassal a person holding land under feudal tenure

vellum the skin of any animal which has been prepared as a writing medium. Common skins were sheep, goat, calf and rabbit. This term is completely interchangeable with parchment though some schools of thought regard the lower quality "split" skins as parchment.

vert Green in heraldry

vice a spiral stairway

villein a tenant farmer (a free man until late 13th century after which a serf)

virgate An area of land usually recorded as 30 acres

W
wardship control of an estate by its landlord during the minority of an heir

warhammer pole weapon having a blunt hammer head backed with a spike. Sometimes topped with a spike

wastel second best white wheat bread (see also pain demain and cocket

wether a castrated ram

wharfage a fee paid to use the wharf