Human Rights

glossary document index

A complete list of all the supporting documents for the time periods between 1215 and 1945.


Explanation of some of the terms used in the Human Rights exhibition.

Corresponding societies
Reform societies instigated in the 1790s in such places as Derby, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Perth, Norwich, Nottingham and Sheffield. Inspired by the work of the radical writer, Thomas Paine, the Corresponding Societies met regularly to discuss the need for political reform and ways in which it could be achieved.
In medieval England, an estate (unit of land) under the jurisdiction of a lord of the manor. The demesne was usually retained by the lord for his own profit, while the remainder was granted to tenants in return either for rent or for services such as cultivating his demesne and attending the manorial court.
The process of enclosing (with hedges, ditches, fences, and so on) open lands that had formerly been subject to common rights. Farmers found it difficult to introduce farming innovations on scattered strips of land subject to such rights, and larger holdings were built up over several centuries of consolidation and enclosure. Between the 1730s and 1830s enclosure was authorised by individual acts of Parliament, as well as through the earlier formal and informal agreements of landowners. Although enclosure promoted modern farming methods, the reduction and elimination of common rights was devastating for many smallholders and wage workers.
Period between two monarchs’ reigns when the throne is unoccupied (literally: 'between reigns').
The movement - both in Scotland and England and in France - to restore James II and his descendants to the throne (Jacobus being Latin for James). There were three main Jacobite risings: in 1689-90, in support of James himself; in 1715, in support of his son James Francis Edward Stuart (the 'Old Pretender'); and in 1745-6, led by Charles Edward Stuart (the 'Young Pretender'), more popularly known as Bonnie Prince Charlie.
English craftsmen and other workers in the northern and Midlands counties who engaged in destroying textile machinery (1811-13), so called because their manifestos and handbills were sometimes signed 'Ned Ludd' or 'General Ludd'. The introduction and spread of the new textile technology reduced wages and standards of living. Initially the workers had sought government regulation of the technology; but when it became clear that the government favoured non-intervention, groups of organised workers began to destroy the machines.
Luddites attacked new machinery and mills in an attempt to maintain the price (money) paid to them as textile workers and control over their work practices.
New Model Army
Parliamentarian army of the English Civil War commanded by Sir Thomas Fairfax, formed in February 1645.
New Poor Law
See Poor Law Amendment Act
Peasants' revolt
Uprising in the summer of 1381. It was sparked by the raising of a third poll tax, but grew into a protest against the state of English society in general, including the unpopular Statute of Labourers, passed by Parliament in 1351. It lasted less than a month.
Poor Law Amendment Act
Act of 1834, grouping the parishes of England and Wales together to form poor law ‘unions’, thus centralising the system. The Act appointed three commissioners to put the new system into effect. The commissioners grouped parishes into 600 poor law unions and appointed boards of guardians to oversee workhouses.
Putney debates
Debate between supporters of the Levellers and members of the New Model Army before Oliver Cromwell, at St Mary's Church, Putney, in October and November 1647. Discussion centred on the Levellers' 'Agreement of the People', proposing constitutional reform.
Reform acts
Parliamentary acts, which expanded the electorate for the House of Commons. The three parliamentary reform acts introduced in the 19th century (in 1832, 1867 and 1884 respectively) satisfied moderate reformers rather than radicals. The Great Reform Act (1832) increased the United Kingdom electorate from around 500,000 to around 800,000. However overwhelmingly the poor and working class people were still excluded from political representation.
Rotten boroughs
Name commonly used for boroughs where the population had declined to such an extent that it was easy to gain election to Parliament by bribing or otherwise manipulating the electorate. Boroughs where the nomination of the MP or MPs was effectively in the gift of a wealthy landowner or powerful family were known as 'pocket boroughs'. Electoral anomalies and abuses of this kind were abolished by the Reform Act of 1832.
Supporters of Parliament in its dispute with Charles I concerning exercise of the royal prerogative and in the Civil War. They were popularly known as 'Roundheads', because of their cropped hair - in contrast to the more luxuriant hairstyle favoured by the Royalists (or 'Cavaliers'), who supported the king.
Royal minority
When a king or queen is succeeded by a minor (under 21) this is known as a period of royal minority. ‘Regents’ may be appointed to help the minor rule, until they reach the appointed age. This happened when King John died in 1216, and was succeeded by the nine-year old Henry III.
Spa Fields riot
Mass meetings which took place at Spa Fields, North London. The meetings were planned to encourage rioting, including an uprising in which the Bank of England and the Tower of London were to be seized. The leaders were arrested and charged with high treason, although they were later acquitted.
The right to vote in parliamentary elections. Also known as 'the franchise'. The Levellers (1645-9) and Chartists (1838-48) campaigned for manhood (adult male) suffrage. The Representation of the People Act of 1918 gave the vote to men over 21 and women over 30. In 1928 women were given the same voting rights as men.
Name, coined by the Daily Mail, for members of the militant Women's Social and Political Union - founded by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia in 1903 - who fought for female suffrage. In protest at the continued refusal to give women the vote, the suffragettes resorted to extreme tactics, including chaining themselves to railings, refusing to pay taxes and disrupting political meetings. When imprisoned, many of them went on hunger strikes and were force-fed. They halted their activities following the outbreak of the First World War.
The North Briton
Radical newspaper founded in 1762 by John Wilkes.
Originally an Irish term suggesting a papist outlaw. It was applied to those who supported the hereditary right of James despite his Roman Catholic faith. By the 18th century it denoted politicians who favoured royal authority, the established church and who sought to preserve the traditional political structure and opposed parliamentary reform.
Trades Union Congress (TUC)
National forum for co-ordinating trade union demands, founded in Manchester in 1868. The 1871 Trade Union Act, introduced by William Gladstone's Liberal government, established the legal status of trade unions.
Wars of the Roses
The bitter intermittent struggle between the royal houses of York and Lancaster for the crown of England. The Wars of the Roses are traditionally regarded as beginning with the first Battle of St Albans in 1455 and concluding with Henry VII's victory against the Yorkist claimant, John, Earl of Lincoln, at the Battle of Stoke in 1487. So called because the emblem of the Yorkists was a white rose and that of the Lancastrians a red rose.
In the late 17th century, those opposed to the religious policies of Charles II and the succession of his Catholic brother James, Duke of York (later James II) were nicknamed 'Whigs'. By the early 18th century, the Whigs had become a loose political alliance made up of members of the aristocracy and the moneyed middle classes that supported the Hanoverian settlement. From the late 18th century, the Whigs favoured some measure of political reform, and this connection with parliamentary change was reinforced with the 1832 Reform Act. They came to adopt the term 'Liberals' quite early in the 19th century, although official usage dates from the 1860s.