Glossary of terms

A handy reference to some of the medieval terms used in the MEONBRIDGE CHRONICLES.

Bailey – A courtyard of a castle or fortified house, enclosed by an outer wall.

Bailiff – The lord’s chief official on the manor.

Boon-work – Extra work done by tenants, typically at harvest time or hay-making, when the lord would usually provide food and drink for the workers. See also Week-work

Braies – The equivalent of men’s underpants, braies were a loose garment, usually made of linen and held up by a belt, and which might hang below the knees or be short to mid-thigh.

Brewet – Generally, a sort of meat stew, which, in wealthy households, might be rich and spicy. In peasant households, a brewet was likely no different from a vegetable pottage (that is, it would have little or no meat).

Bride ale – A wedding feast.

Barber-surgeon – A medical practitioner who, unlike many physicians of the time (who were more interested in the imbalance of humours), carried out surgical operations, often on the battlefield. Many had no formal training, and were often illiterate. Alongside surgery, the tasks they carried out included bloodletting, teeth extraction, performing enemas, treating all manner of ailments and selling medicines (as well as, presumably, cutting hair).

Canonical hours – The specified times for prayer but also used to mark the times of day:

Matins: Midnight or sometime during the night

Lauds: Dawn or 3 a.m.
Prime: The first hour, about 6 a.m.

Terce: The third hour, about 9 a.m.

Sext: The sixth hour, about noon 325

Nones: The ninth hour, about 3 p.m.

Vespers: The “lighting of the lamps”, about 6 p.m.

Compline: The last hour, just before retiring, around 9 p.m.

Carole – A dance with any number of participants who danced in a ring or chain, following a leader and singing the accompanying music, probably a well-known ballad.

Choler – Bad temper. See Humours


Compurgator – In medieval law, a witness who swears to the innocence or good character of a defendant. Compurgation was also referred to as oath-helping. The defendant would take an oath of his or her innocence and get a number of people, often as many as twelve, to swear that they believed the oath. They were not actually saying that they knew the defendant to be innocent.

Consistory court – An ecclesiastical court, which, in medieval times, had jurisdiction over both the clergy and ordinary people concerning matters of church discipline and morality, as well the management of church property. The judge was appointed by the bishop of the diocese.

Cotehardie – A fitted tunic worn by both men and women, the male version often quite short, the female’s trailing on the ground. It was worn over an undergarment of some sort, a shirt for a man, perhaps a chemise and a thin kirtle for a woman.

Cottar – The tenant of a cottage, usually holding little or no land, on the bottom rung of village society.

Crécy, battle of – One of the decisive battles of the Hundred Years War, fought in August 1346, the first of three notable English victories against the French.

Crespine and fillet – Elements of a headdress for a wealthier woman: a net, possibly made of wire, and a band of some sort to hold it in place.

Croft – The garden plot of a village house.

Demesne – The part of the lord’s manorial lands reserved for his own use and not allocated to his cottars or freeholders.

Dwale – An anaesthetic made from Atropa belladonna, or deadly nightshade..

Frankpledge – A policing system by which every member of a tithing over the age of twelve was responsible for the conduct of every other member. See also Tithing

Freemen – Free tenants were not only personally free, but had no obligation to do regular work on the demesne land of the lord.

Heriot – A death duty, usually the “best beast” or some other goods, paid to a dead man’s lord.

Frumenty – A sort of porridge, typically made from wheat and milk. Sometimes, in wealthier households, it might contain dried fruit or nuts, or be sweetened, and was often served as an accompaniment to meat.

Garderobe – A small chamber inside a prosperous house containing the privy.

Hue-and-cry – A way of apprehending a criminal, in which everyone within earshot of a person calling out for help, was required to give chase, and hopefully catch, any sort of malefactor.

Humours – Ancient medical theory held that the human body encompassed four humours, which needed to be kept in balance. Illness of whatever kind supposedly arose from an excess or deficit of one of the humours. The four humours were black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood, and corresponded to the four “temperaments”, respectively, melancholic, choleric, sanguine, and phlegmatic. The physician’s task was to attempt to correct any imbalance between the humours to restore a person to sound health.

Hundred – Administrative division of an English shire or county, in theory equalling one hundred hides though it rarely did. Generally a Hundred held its own court, which met monthly to handle civil and criminal cases.

Journeyman – A craftsman who has completed his apprenticeship and must undergo a few years of practising his craft.

Legerwite – A fine paid by a female tenant to her lord for fornication, often when she’s discovered to be pregnant outside marriage.

Leman – A man’s mistress.

Manor – A small-holding, typically 1200-1800 acres, with its own court and probably its own hall, but not necessarily having a manor house. The manor as a unit of land was generally held by a knight or managed by a bailiff for some other holder.

Mazer – A type of drinking cup made from hardwood.

Megrim – Migraine.

Melancholy – Generally speaking, a depressive state of mind. See Humours

Merchet – A fine paid by a tenant to his lord to allow his daughter to be married.

Mortrews – A spicy meat dish that could be either thin like soup or thick like paté.

Phlegm – Generally, an even-tempered disposition. See Humours


Prie-dieu – A small desk for private prayer, with a kneeling platform and a sloping top for a Bible or book of prayer.

Reeve – A principal manorial official under the bailiff, and always a villein.

Rouncey – An ordinary, everyday sort of horse, generally used for riding.

Routier – A mercenary soldier, typically organised into bands, but free of any association with governments or kings. The term is most associated with the companies of men who, during the Hundred Years War, roamed the French countryside terrorising the inhabitants.

Rushlight – A type of candle made by soaking the dried stem of a rush in some sort of fat, the cheapest, and commonest kind of light source used by medieval peasants.

Sanguine – An optimistic disposition. See Humours


Seneschal – Generally, the man who administered a noble or high-ranking household.

Sheriff ’s tourn – The circuit made by the sheriff of a county twice a year, in which he presided at the court in each Hundred, an Administrative division of an English shire or county, in theory equalling one hundred hides though it rarely did.

Solar – In a manor house or castle, the private living and sleeping quarters of a wealthy family, usually, though not always, on an upper floor.

Surcoat – An outer garment, much like a sleeveless coat, worn by both men and women.

Tippets – The cotehardie sometimes had hanging sleeves, which, over time, became longer and narrower like a dangling streamer, and called a tippet.

Tithing – A unit of ten or twelve village men mutually responsible for each other’s conduct. See also Frankpledge

Toft – The yard of a village house.

Villein – The wealthiest class of peasant. Villeins usually cultivated 20-40 acres of land, often in isolated strips.

Virgate – A unit of land theoretically large enough to support a peasant family, varying between 18 and 32 acres.

Week-work – The main labour a tenant carried out for his lord throughout the year, such as ploughing, hedging, sheep-shearing. See also Boon-work