Mordaunt Genealogy and Family History Resource

Glossary of archaic and obsolete terms

1197 - 1475
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With acknowledgement to the Oxford English Dictionary On-line, available in the U.K. through local libraries.

advowson:The ‘patronage’ of an ecclesiastical office or religious house; the right of presentation to a benefice or living.
alienation:a.The action of transferring the ownership of anything to another. b. The taking of anything from its owner.
appurtenant: Belonging as a property or legal right (to); spec. in Law, constituting a property or right subsidiary to one which is more important.
assize: 1. Legislative sitting, statute, statutory measure or manner.2. The decree or edict made at such a sitting.
butler:An officer who originally had charge of the wine for the royal table; hence the title of an official of high rank nominally connected with the supply, importation, etc., of wine, but having different duties in different countries and at various times.
calendar: A list or register of documents arranged chronologically with a short summary of the contents of each, so as to serve as an index to the documents of a given period. CSPI - Calendar of State Papers of Ireland.
Carew MSS: The manuscripts of George Carew, later 1st Earl of Totnes.
cartulary:‘A place where papers or records are kept’; whence the whole collection of records (belonging to a monastery, etc.); or the book in which they are entered; a register.
carucate: A measure of land, varying with the nature of the soil, etc., being as much as could be tilled with one plough (with its team of 8 oxen) in a year; a plough-land. Usually estimated at 120 acres. See 'hide'.
copyhold: A kind of tenure in England of ancient origin: tenure of lands being parcel of a manor, ‘at the will of the lord according to the custom of the manor’, by copy of the manorial court-roll.
danegeld: An annual tax imposed at the end of the 10th c. or in the 11th c., originally (as is supposed) to provide funds for the protection of England from the Danes, and continued after the Norman Conquest as a land-tax. Usually identified in modern times with the gafol or tribute paid to the Danes in 991, and on two subsequent occasions, to buy them off.

danelaw:1. The Danish law anciently in force over that part of England which was occupied or held by the Danes. Hence, 2. the part of England over which this law prevailed, being the district north-east of Watling Street, ceded by the Treaty of Wedmore, 878, or perhaps the Northumbrian territory in Danish occupation.

demesne: 1. Law. Possession (of real estate) as one's own. Chiefly in the phrase to hold in demesne (tenere in dominico), i.e. in one's own hands as possessor by free tenure. 2. An estate held in demesne: land possessed or occupied by the owner himself, and not held of him by any subordinate tenant. a. In the wider sense, applied to all land not held of the owner by freehold tenants, i.e. including lands held of him by villein or copyhold tenure. b. In a more restricted sense, excluding the land held by the villeins or copyholders, and applied only to that actually occupied or held ‘in hand’ by the owner.

escheat: An 'incident' of feudal law, whereby a fief reverted to the lord when the tenant died without leaving a successor qualified to inherit under the original grant. Hence the lapsing of land to the Crown, or to the lord of the manor, on the death of the owner intestate without heirs.
escheator: An officer appointed by the Lord Treasurer to take notice of the escheats in the county to which he is appointed, and to certify them into the Exchequer.
fiant: A warrant addressed to the Irish Chancery for a grant under the Great Seal.
fief:Feudal law. An estate in land (in England always a heritable estate), held on condition of homage and service to a superior lord, by whom it is granted and in whom the ownership remains.
frankpledge: A system by which every member of a tithing was answerable for the good conduct of, or the damage done by, any one of the other members
free tenement: The fact of holding as a possession; tenure.
hide: A measure of land in Old English times, continued also for some time after the Norman Conquest, varying in extent with the nature of the ground, etc.: primarily, the amount considered adequate for the support of one free family with its dependants; at an early date defined as being as much land as could be tilled with one plough in a year. Usually estimated at 120 acres. See 'carucate'.
honour:A feudal lordship or dominion over several manors held under one baron or lord paramount
hundred:A division of a county
knight banneret:a. Originally, a knight able and entitled to bring a company of vassals into the field under his own banner, and who ranked next to a baron and above other knights: in this sense commonly used substantively, as a title of rank or dignity, and contrasted with knight, though sometimes with bachelor. b. Subsequently, the title and rank were conferred for valiant deeds done in the king's presence on the field of battle (perhaps, also, on other occasions or for other grounds), and, with the decay of the feudal system, came to constitute merely a rank or order of knighthood: in this use occur both banneret and knight-banneret, the latter opposed to knight-bachelor. On the institution of the order of baronets in 1611, precedence was given to these over all bannerets ‘except such as were made in the field, under the banner, the king being present,’ and after this the order of knights-bannerets was allowed to die out.
knight of the shire:In English and Welsh politics from mediaeval times until the Representation of the People Act 1884, Knights of the Shire were representatives of counties sent to advise the government of the day. (from Wikidedia)
The precursor to the English parliamentary system was a council of advisors to the King, consisting of noblemen and members of the aristocracy, and Knights of the Shire. This council evolved into the Model Parliament of 1295 which also consisted of representatives from the boroughs (burgesses) and had legislative powers. Two Knights of the Shire were sent from each county. In the reign of Edward III parliament split into its current day format of two houses—the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The Knights of the Shire, as well as representatives from the boroughs formed the former House. From then until the Great Reform Act of 1832, each county continued to send two Knights (apart from Yorkshire, which had its number of Knights increased to four in 1826). How these knights were chosen varied from one county to the next and evolved over time. The 1832 Act increased the number of Knights sent by some populous counties to as many as six.
knight's fee: Under the feudal system: The amount of land for which the services of an armed knight were due the sovereign. (Historical writers now agree that different knight's fees were not equal min extent: whether they were approximately equal in value is still doubtful).
manor:Originally (in Feudal Law): a unit of English territorial organization, consisting of the lands belonging to or under the jurisdiction of a feudal lord. Later: an estate in land consisting of demesnes and services.
messuage: Originally: a portion of land occupied, or intended to be occupied, as the site for a dwelling house and its appurtenances. In later use (chiefly Law): a dwelling house together with its outbuildings and the adjacent land assigned to its use.
Middle Temple:One of the four ancient "Inns of Court" which, under the English legal system have exclusive right to make men and women barristers. Several centuries ago the Inns of Court would consist of a sizable number of buildings or precincts where barristers traditionally lodged, trained and carried on their profession.
moiety:A half, one of two equal parts.
mort d'ancestor:An assize brought by the rightful heir against a person for wrongfully taking possession of his or her inheritance on the death of an ancestor.
overlordship:The position or office of a feudal superior ; the authority of an a feudal superior .
quitclaim:A formal discharge or release.
recusancy:Refusal, especially on the part of Roman Catholics, to attend the services of the Church of England; from c 1570 to 1791 this was punishable by a fine, and involved many disabilities. Hence "recusant" - one, especially a Roman Catholic (Popish recusant), who refused to attend the services of the Church of England
rent of assize:a fixed rent.
scutage: A tax levied on knight's fees; chiefly in restricted sense, such a tax paid in lieu of military service.
seise:To put in possession, invest with the freehold or absolute possession.
sokeman: A tenant holding land by services other than knight-service.
tithing:A company (originally) of ten householders in the system of frank-pledge; now only as a rural division (originally regarded as one tenth of a hundred) to which this system gave its name.
view of frankpledge:A court held periodically for the production of the members of a tithing, later of a hundred or manor.

virgate:An early English land-measure, varying greatly in extent, but in many cases averaging thirty acres. A quarter of a hide or carucate.
writer: East India Company civil servant. Two distinct meanings:
(1) The lowest of the four classes into which the East India Company's civil servants were divided, the others being (i) Senior Merchant, (ii) Junior Merchant, (iii) Factor. The term reflects the fact that in the early years of the Company copying and book-keeping comprised the greater part of a writer's duties but it continued to be used as a rank in the Company's service long after the duties of the Company's officials had ceased to be primarily commercial - it last appears as a civil service rank in the East India Register in 1841.
(2) A copying clerk in an office, either employed at East India House in London or by Central, Provincial and District authorities in India (definitions from National Library website)