General Terms used in Historical Documents.

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See also Legal Terms, Inventory Terms, Occupations, Church Terms and Measurements.

General Terms

  • Armiger - an individual who has been granted and is entitled to bear a coat of arms.
  • Blank-manger - (French - White dish) A sweet pudding made from pounded poultry or other white meat boiled with rice and almond milk and sweetened with honey.
  • Bodger - Someone who makes rough and ready items from rough hewn timber.
  • Bolted bread - A finer, more expensive form of household bread, made from wheat flour or a mixture of wheat and rye flours, where around three-quarters of the bran had been sifted out using a ‘bolting cloth’.
  • Book of Hours - A prayer book used by laymen for private devotion, containing prayers or meditations appropriate to certain hours of the day, days of the week, months or seasons. They became so popular in the 15th century that they form a majority of illuminated manuscripts around today.
  • Butt or Ridge of land - A strip of land, of indeterminate area, lying between two furrows formed in dividing an open field.
  • Butte - A Middle English general name for a flatfish. This was combined with word ‘haly’ meaning holy to give the name for the largest flatfish which was a favourite dish on holy days - the halybutte (halibut).
  • Canonical hours - The church bell was rung eight times a day; at midnight (matins), 3 am (lauds), 6 am (prime), 9 am (tierce), midday (sext), 3 pm (nones), 6 pm (vespers) and 9 pm (compline).
  • Daub - Construction material made of horse-hair, clay, and animal dung mixed together. For house walls, it was applied onto a timber wattle lattice. The modern version of wattle-and-daub is lath-and-plaster.
  • Distrain - To compel the performance of a duty.
  • Fosse - Ditch.
  • Frumenty - A dish made from wheat meal boiled with water or milk and seasoned.
  • Hundredweight - In mediaeval times, this was a measurement of exactly 100 pounds.
  • Livery - Provision of food and clothing to retainers. Also distinctive clothing worn by retainers.
  • Lord of the Manor - the head of a manor who held his estate from the land owner usually the Crown or the Church.
  • Manor - An estate usually consisting of a village with a church and agricultural land consisting of large arable fields. A manor could be part of, the same as or greater than the corresponding parish boundary surrounding the church.
  • Mead - An alcoholic drink made from fermenting honey and water, sometime flavoured with the meadowsweet plant.
  • Mess - A group of people who dine together. In the Middle Ages, a portion of food, a serving or dish, was set between four people, and so the company at a meal was divided into groups of four. Nowadays a place where members of the armed forces or other official group meet to eat. From Old French mes - a portion of food.
  • Michaelmas - The 30th September. This day marked the end of the agricultural year at the point at which the last of the previous year’s harvest had been gathered.
  • Moat - A wide water-filled trench dug around a fortified building. It was often filled with sharp and dangerous objects like rusty metal and glass.
  • Palliass - Straw filled mattress.
  • Pattens - Wooden overshoes worn to protect a person’s shoes from mud.
  • Penknife - Small knife used to cut and trim quills for writing pens.
  • Perch - A unit of length, officially discouraged in favour of the ‘rod’ as early from the 15th century. Varied from 16½ feet upwards.
  • Prebendary - A canon with an administrative position at a cathedral or collegiate church. He was paid a stipend from church revenues.
  • Reeve - The chief magistrate of a town or village or the supervisor of an estate.
  • Rod - The length of an ox-goad, standardised in 1607 to equal 16½ feet. 160 square rods equals 1 acre.
  • Rood - A carved wooden crucifixion hung in a church. It was sometimes painted.
  • Sheriff - The country equivalent of a town reeve, in charge of a shire (shire reeve).
  • Tithe - Payment due by the inhabitants of a parish to support the parish church. Originally payable in kind as a tenth-part of all yearly profits. Rectorial or Great Tithe was payable to the rector, Vicarial or Little Tithe to the vicar. Over time, the payment was collected as a rent charge.
  • Waste - Uncultivated land, subject to the tenants rights over common land. Land not devoted to arable, meadow or woodland.
  • Villein - Agricultural workers tied to the land and owing obligations to manorial lords. If a new lord took control of a manor, the villeins of a previous lord would remain to work the fields for the new lord. In England ‘villein’ was often used instead of the term ‘serf’.

Medieval Terminology and Glossary at
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