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Glossary


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A

Alien subsidies Taxes levied between 1440 and 1487, specifically on foreign nationals resident within England. After 1487 aliens paid higher rates than citizens on all subsidies granted to the crown by Parliament.
 
Angevin Empire The lands held by Henry II and his sons Richard I and John, including England, Anjou, Normandy and Aquitaine. Most were lost to the French king Philip Augustus in 1203-4, leaving John with only England and parts of Aquitaine in his possession.
 
Aquitaine, Gascony Aquitaine was a duchy covering much of south-western France which came into the possession of the English Crown in 1152. Its borders extended from the Isle of Oléron near La Rochelle in the north to the foothills of the Pyrenees. Parts of this territory were later called Gascony.
 
Armada The Spanish navy, used in particular for the force that attempted to invade England in 1588.
 
Assizes The process whereby itinerant royal justices were sent round the country twice a year on regional circuits to hear serious criminal and civil cases.
 
Auld Alliance The agreement between Scotland and France for mutual help against their common enemy, England, established by treaty in 1296, and remained an important feature of politics throughout the Middle Ages and beyond.
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B

Barons' War The Barons' War (1258-65) was fought between magnates led by Simon de Montfort, who supported a reform of central government, and royalist adherents of Henry III.
 
Black Death The name given to the outbreak of the bubonic plague that swept across Europe in the 1340s.
 
Border riders, riding clans, reivers, reiving The ancient clans who inhabited the frontier lands between England and Scotland existed in a world of constant robbery, feuding, kidnapping and violence. This way of life became known as reiving, and the perpetrators of such crimes as reivers. Their actions have given words such as 'bereaved' (bereived) to the English language.
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C

Cadwaladr Cadwaladr of Gwynedd, the last king of the Britons, was killed in Northumbria in 682. Until his death, an ultimate British victory over the Germanic invaders was entirely possible. The memory of this alternative outcome stayed alive among the Welsh, and was as powerful as the memory of King Arthur, an earlier British fighter against the eastern invaders.
 
Chancery The king's administrative office.
 
Common law The unwritten law of England derived from general customs. The reign of Henry II witnessed developments in the legal system, when Glanville wrote the first treatise on the common law.
 
Court of Chancery A court that developed in the fifteenth century to give ordinary people better access to justice.
 
Courts of Common Pleas The main court for cases between individuals about land and debt rather than prosecutions by the crown.
 
Court of King's/Queen's Bench The supreme common law court at Westminster Hall.
 
Court of Wards and Liveries A court that handled matters of inheritance: lands, estates and underage heirs.
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D

Dauphin The title given to the eldest son of the King of France from 1349 to 1830.
 
Debateable Land The specific area of land between the Rivers Esk and Sark in the English and Scottish west march. This area was claimed by both kingdoms before 1603.
 
Dissolution of the Monasteries The disbanding and destruction of the religious houses (monasteries, nunneries etc.) of England and Wales. The smaller houses were dissolved in 1536, and the larger in 1538-40.
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E

Exchequer The Exchequer originated in Normandy and was introduced to England by Henry I in about 1106. It was a financial institution set up to collect and audit royal revenue.
 
Eyre Royal judicial circuits that existed before assizes.
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F

Feudal system A system of landholding whereby freehold land was held or occupied in return for personal service to a lord or goods paid in kind, assured by oaths of homage.
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G

Gaelic The languages spoken by the indigenous populations of Ireland and Scotland are closely related, although different, and both called Gaelic. They share a common origin with the Welsh language.
 
Gentleman-pensioner A servant of the royal household. At court he stood guard outside the monarch's Privy Chamber. However, he was often used to conduct royal business in the localities and abroad.
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H

Habsburg Empire At the height of their power in the sixteenth century, the Austrian Habsburg family ruled the area of modern Germany and the Low Countries. Through marriage they also had control of the Spanish kingdoms of Aragon and Castile with their rich colonies in the New World.
 
Harold, Earl of Wessex Harold Godwinson, 1022-66, was Earl of Wessex 1053-66, and in this capacity he was King Edward the Confessor's chief military leader. Harold was chosen as king by the English nobles in January 1066. He was defeated and killed by William of Normandy, October 1066.
 
Hereward the Wake One of the few Anglo-Saxons who offered prolonged resistance to the Norman Conquest, running a guerrilla campaign from his base in the Fens, in particular the Isle of Ely.
 
Hundred Years' War A major, although intermittent, conflict between the kings of England and France. It began in 1337 and actually lasted 116 years.
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L

Land, realm A land was a territory subject to a superior authority, rather than one sovereign and independent of any other influence (a realm).
 
Lay The opposite of 'cleric', that is, people who were not part of the church hierarchy.
 
Lollards A supporter of the teaching of John Wycliffe, whose main achievement was the translation of the Bible into English.
 
Lord Burghley Sir William Cecil (1521-98), England's leading minister during Elizabeth I's reign. He served as secretary of state from 1558 to 1572, and as lord treasurer from 1572 to 1598. He was created Baron of Burghley in 1571.
 
Lords of the Congregation Protestant Scottish nobles who co-operated after 1557 to oppose French influence in Scotland and, with English help, to promote reformation in religion. In the Scottish parliament of 1560 they abolished the Catholic mass and the authority of the Pope in Scotland, and confiscated much church land.
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M

Magna Carta The Great Charter to which King John agreed in 1215 was a series of measures designed to restrict the powers and abuses of the crown.
 
Magnates The most important men of the kingdom, who held their land directly from the crown, and therefore owed various bonds of allegiance such as military service.
 
Manor A distinct unit of land under the jurisdiction of a lord.
 
March lands, marcher lordships, marches The border or frontier area between two countries or territories, which separated one area of jurisdiction from another. The lands on the border between England and Scotland were designated 'march lands', and those between England and Wales 'marcher lordships'.
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N

New World The term used to describe North and South America as they were 'discovered' by European explorers in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.
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O

Ordinance A decree or command issued by local or municipal authorities for the regulation of local affairs.
 
Ordinance of the Staple A legislative act issued in 1353 designed to remove the monopolies on trade, which were highly unpopular.
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P

Parliament Taking its name from the French 'parler', meaning to speak, Parliament developed from general councils of nobles into a wider representative body in 1265, during the Barons' War, when knights, citizens and burgesses were summoned.
 
Partible inheritance The system by which sons inherited equal shares of their father's land (the opposite of primogeniture, in which only the eldest son inherited).
 
Passant A heraldic term describing a beast walking and looking to the right, with three paws on the ground and the right front paw raised.
 
Pipe A large cask of varying capacity used to transport goods and provisions. For fish it was generally 84 gallons or 375 litres.
 
Pipe roll The record of audit of royal income for one financial year. It was called a pipe roll because, when stitched together and rolled up, it resembled a pipe.
 
Planted, plantations Early colonists were 'planted' in 'plantations' or colonies, to repel or supplant previous inhabitants of a conquered land.
 
Plea roll A parchment roll recording details of legal suits or actions in a court of law.
 
Protestant The generic term for someone who did not adhere to the Catholic faith in the sixteenth century.
 
Provost marshal An officer attached to a military force responsible for preserving troop discipline, the custody of prisoners, administering punishment, and preventing looting.
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Q

Quarter sessions Court sessions held four times a year in each county, where Justices of the Peace dealt with petty offences and routine county administration. They referred more serious matters to the assize justices.
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R

Ratification The formal act of confirmation or approval of a treaty previously negotiated.
 
Recusant An individual (usually Catholic) who did not subscribe to the religious laws in Elizabethan England, and who was therefore liable to financial penalties and imprisonment.
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S

Saltire A stile to stop cattle from straying. Now associated with the x-shaped cross on which Saint Andrew was crucified, and the same symbol on the Scottish flag.
 
Simon de Montfort Simon de Montfort led the magnates in the Barons' War (1258-65).
 
Sheriff The Anglo-Saxon 'shire-reeve' was an official appointed by the crown to govern a county, or group of counties, in the king's name. The earliest references to sheriffs date from the late tenth century.
 
Staple A monopoly which gave the merchants of a particular town exclusive rights to buy certain kinds of goods for export.
 
Statute of Labourers (1351) In response to the shortage of labour and spiralling prices caused by the Black Death, Edward III's government introduced legislation to ensure a regular supply of labour on the land with fixed wages.
 
Stone of Destiny The strongest symbol of Scottish nationhood (also known as the Stone of Scone). The stone had been used in the coronation ceremony of Scottish kings at Scone for many centuries before Edward I took it south in the summer of 1296. It was finally returned to Scotland in 1996.
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T

Trade guilds (or gilds) These were professional societies for individual trades or occupations that regulated rates of pay and set standards of quality. They were usually established in urban areas.
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V

Vagrancy laws Population growth in the mid-sixteenth century led to rural unemployment, and harsh laws were passed to prevent bands of vagrants roaming the countryside.
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W

Wars of the Roses A bloody dynastic struggle between the royal houses of York and Lancaster that began in 1453 and concluded with the death of Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.
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