Everingham Family History Record Reprint... (c)July 2000

Old World & Medieval
Legal Terms

information gathered from many different sources.

ABJURATION: A renunciation, under oath, of heresy to the Christian faith, made by a Christian wishing to be reconciled with the Church.

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

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.

ALIEN PRIORY: A religious house subject to control of a monastery on the Continent.

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."

AMOND: Free.

ANATHEMA: A condemnation of heretics, similar in effect to major excommunication. It inflicts the penalty of complete exclusion from Christian society.

ANCHORITE/ANCHORESS: A person (not necessarily a cleric) living a solitary religious life involving abstinence, chastity, and solitude. Sometimes they are attached to a monastery or church, living in a cell attached to the structure, and sometimes they live alone in the wilderness.

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

ANNONA: Annual levy on the wheat crop; tribute levied on proprietors of land to sustain the army.

APOSTATE: The term used to describe one who leaves religious orders after making solemn profession. It is considered a serious crime in the eyes of The Church, being not only a breach of faith with God but also with the founders and benefactors of the religious house.

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.

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 in some cases.

ATHAS: Oaths.

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.

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.

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.

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.

BORH: Surety.

BORHBRYCE: Breach of surety.

BRYCE: Breach, violation.

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

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

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.

CALIPH: An Arabic term meaning both deputy and successor, adopted as a title by the successors of Muhammad.

CANON LAW: The system of governing The Church, including its clerics and lay persons in areas governed by Church jurisdiction.

CAPITALE: Capital, property in cattle or other chattels.

CARTULARY: Volume containing copies of charters, deeds, and other legal documents giving title to property.

CAVAGIUM: Head tax.

CENSITAIRE: One paying a fixed quit-rent.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

COMMON LAW: The term referring to laws and procedures common to the entire realm; often also known as "Royal Law."

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.

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.

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.

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).

COURT OF COMMON PLEAS: In England, a court applying Common Law to hear disputes (or "pleas") between individuals but not involving the king.

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).

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.

DANEGELD: Tribute originally paid to the Danes (Dane Gold); later the system of personal taxation used to finance the king's activities.

DANELAW: That part of England roughly North and East of a Line from London to Chester where the Danes settled and hence where Danish Law held sway.

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

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

DOWER: In England, an amount of property or money or goods conveyed as a gift from the bridegroom to his bride upon marriage.

DRINCLEAN: Payment due from tenant to lord for ale.

EALDORMAN: The chief magistrate of a shire. "Earl."

EARL: The highest title attainable in medieval England by a nobleman not of royal blood.

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

EWAGE: Obligation of military service to a lord.

EXCHEQUER: The financial department of the royal government, originating as an office in the twelfth century.

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.

FAIDA: Blood-money.

FARM: A fixed sum, usually paid annually, for the right to collect all revenues from land; in effect, rents or taxations paid in advance. Lords may farm land to vassals, receiving a fixed annual rent in place of the normal feudal obligation.

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.

FICHT-WITE: Fine incurred for homicide.

FIEF: Heritable lands held under Lordship tenure; the lands of a tenant-in-chief. Sometimes this can apply to an official position

FLEMENEFERTHA: The sheltering or harboring of outlaws.

FLYMA: Runaway, fugitive.

FLYMANFYRMTH: Harboring a fugitive.

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

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

FOSTERLEAN: Remuneration for rearing a child.

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.

FREDUM: A fine for disturbing the public peace.

FRITH-BRICE: Breach of the peace.

FRUMTYHTLE: First accusation.

GAFOL: Rent.

GAFOLLAND: Rent-land.

GAIRTHINX: Donation, gift.

GAOL: Jail, prison, detention for persons awaiting trial... (Gaiole, Jaiole, Jaile) often miss-spelled GOAL

GRITHBRECH: Breaking of the peace.

GYNAECEA: Women's quarters.

HALSEANG: A fine to avoid punishment.

HAMSOCNE: Breaking into a man's house.

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

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.

HIGH COURT OF CHIVALRY: This had jurisdiction over disputed coats-of-arms, and followed Roman Law.

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

HUE AND CRY: The requirement of all members of a village to pursue a criminal with horn and voice.

HUNDRED: An Anglo-Saxon institution, and subdivision of a shire. Theoretically, it equaled one hundred hides; but hardly ever did so in practice. Generally each hundred had its own court which met monthly to handle disputes between its residents.

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.

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.

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

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.

INNS OF COURT AND CHANCERY: By the mid-fourteenth century the professional attorneys and pleaders of the central courts in Westminster had formed themselves into a kind of guild, based around their residences in various inns located in and around Chancery Lane in London

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

JUSTICES OF THE PEACE: Essentially a fourteenth-century creation, and originally known as the Keepers of the Peace, these were lawyers, magnates, and especially members of the Gentry appointed to suppress disorder, seek out and try felonies and trespasses, and enforce labor laws.

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.

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

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

LANDCEAP, LANDCOP: Purchase of land.

LAUDATICUM: A tax of unknown nature.

LOGRIA: Gain or profit.

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

MAEGBOT: Compensation paid to family.

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

MANORIAL LAW: The system of law controlling tenure of servile land, inheritance, marriage practices, and personal relationships within a manor.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

PASCUARIUM: Payment for pasturage.

PIE POUDRE COURTS: Courts held during the course of a fair, for resolution of disputes between merchants.

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

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.

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.

REAFLAC: Robbery.

REGALIA: Royal rights.

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

SAC or SACCUS: Jurisdiction in matters of dispute.

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

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

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.

SERJEANT: A servant who accompanies his lord to battle, or a horseman of lower status used as light cavalry.

SERVI: Slaves or serfs.

SERVILE DUES: Besides labor duties on the landlord's demesne and public roads--which usually amounted to three days of work per week, except during planting and harvesting, servile tenants were usually required render other rents and fines

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."

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.

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.

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

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

SOKEMAN: Another name for a free tenant.

SOR-PENNY: Customary payment for pasturage.

STERMELDA: Court officer (?).

STEWARD: The man responsible for running the day to day affairs of the lord's lands.

SURSISE: Penalty for contempt of court.

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.

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

THELONY: Toll levied on imports and exports.

THEODEN: Chief, lord, prince, king.

THEOW: A slave.

THING: A law-court or assembly. (a Viking term)

TIHTBYSIG: Of bad repute.

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

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.

USURY: The interest charged on a loan. Forbidden by Canon Law (based upon biblical injunction) to all Christians.

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

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.

VENALITII: Dealers (in slaves).

VICARIUS: A deputy.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Everingham Family History Archives