Abjuring the realm
A criminal who had claimed sanctuary could confess
his crime and agree to leave the country. After abjuring (renouncing)
the realm, he was only able to return with the sovereign's permission.
Leading figures of the anti-slavery movement in Britain included the Yorkshire
MP William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson (who devoted most of his life
to the movement) and the former slave Olaudah Equiano (Gustavus Vassa).
The Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was founded in 1787,
and the Anti-Slavery Society in 1823. After vigorous campaigning, the
British slave trade was abolished in stages, starting with the Atlantic
slave trade in 1807. Slavery was abolished in the British West Indies
and Cape Colony (South Africa) on 1 August 1834, leading the way to the
abolition of slavery in other British colonies during the 19th and 20th
Taxes levied between 1440 and 1487 on foreign nationals resident in England.
Anti-Corn Law League
Pressure group founded in 1839 by 'free traders' Richard Cobden and John
Bright to campaign for the repeal of the 'corn laws'. Regulations forbidding
grain exports had been introduced as early as the 14th century. Although
much legislation followed, in this context 'corn laws' refers to the measures
introduced in the late 18th and early 19th century. When domestic prices
reached specified levels, grain exports were prohibited. Alternatively,
to ensure artificially high prices, import duties were imposed on grain
coming into the country. The result was that grain cheaper than domestic
price levels was discouraged and bread became expensive.
An assize trial was a trial by jury. In its most settled and enduring
form 'the assizes' meant the routine of bringing royal justice to various
parts of the country. Two commissioners travelled one of six circuits
twice a year during the vacations of the royal courts at Westminster.
The commissioners were given powers to 'hear and determine' criminal cases,
try or release prisoners in gaols ('gaol delivery'), and hear civil cases
that would otherwise have come to the royal courts. See also Oyer
Joint declaration made by Roosevelt and Churchill in August 1941, setting
out broad principles for the conduct of international relations in the
postwar world. Drawn up at sea, off the coast of Newfoundland, it provided
a foundation for the United Nations Charter. Its eight principles included
non-aggression, self-determination, free trade, freedom of the seas, and
renunciation of territorial expansion.
In medieval times, the extinction of civil rights took place when judgement
of death or outlawry was recorded against a person
who had committed treason or a felony. It involved the forfeiture and reversion
to the Crown of the land and goods belonging to the person attainted. It
could also result from a Bill of Attainder brought against an individual
Benefit of clergy
A legal fiction extensively used prior to the 18th century, whereby a
claim to being a member of the clergy allowed a person sentenced to death
to be branded (burned in the hand) and discharged.
A virulent bubonic plague pandemic, originating in China, that swept Asia
and Europe in the 14th century, killing more than 50 million people. It
reached England in 1348.
Another term for villein or serf. A man in bondage to a manor or individual
lord. See villein.
From Norman times, a town granted rights and privileges by charter.
Later, boroughs became entitled to parliamentary representation. See also
Originally, a formal written record of a grant. Royal charters were used
to confer status (e.g. that of borough or city) and to grant rights and
privileges to institutions such as banks, colleges and guilds.
In 1838, the 'People's Charter' was drafted by William Lovett, one of
the founders of the London Working Men's Association. The resulting movement
was at the centre of the demands for parliamentary reform during the late
1830s and throughout the 1840s. The Chartists' six main demands were:
votes for all men; equal electoral districts; abolition of the requirement
that Members of Parliament be property owners; payment for MPs; annual
general elections; secret ballots. Chartism also promoted the cause of
trade unions and factory reform, and was vehemently against the new Poor
Law. See also John
Lovell and the People's Charter.
The basic human or civil rights of the individual. In Britain, the Human
Rights Act of 1998 guarantees the right to life, freedom from torture,
freedom from slavery and forced labour, the right to liberty and security,
right to a fair trial, right to privacy, freedom of conscience, freedom
of expression, freedom of assembly and association, and the right to marry
and have a family.
Legislation introduced in 1661-5 in order to repress nonconformism and
ensure the supremacy of the Church of England. Named after the Lord Chancellor,
Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, although he objected to its harshness,
it consisted of the Corporation Act, the Act of Uniformity, the Conventicle
Act and the Five Mile Act. See Religious
A writ under the Great Seal sent folded and closed by the seal on the
outside, so its contents could be read only by the person or persons to
whom it was addressed. Unclosed letters, proclamations or writs issued
under the Great Seal were termed 'patent'. These were open, with the seal
appended on a tag or cord, so the text could be read by any literate person.
The body of law evolved by judges from precedent and custom - as opposed
to statute law (law enshrined in Acts of Parliament).
From late medieval times, 'incorporated' boroughs (i.e. those enjoying
corporate status) were governed by municipal corporations entitled to
pass by-laws, hold land and use a common seal. They could also sue and
be sued. Urban government was reformed by the Municipal Corporations Acts
of 1835 and 1882, which standardised regulations concerning the election
of councillors and aldermen and the appointment and responsibilities of
The granting of limited rights of citizenship to a denizen - a person
habitually dwelling in a foreign country. In England, from the 16th century
denization was granted by letters patent.
The transfer of power or responsibilities from central government to regional
or local government.
Dissolution of the monasteries
Between 1536 and 1540 Henry VIII ordered the closure of the religious
houses of England and Wales (around 800 monasteries, nunneries and friaries).
He claimed their property on the false grounds that the Crown had founded
them all. Henry at first added to the existing Crown lands and sold some
of the land to his supporters; later he sold more monastic land to fund
his wars with France.
The process of enclosing (with hedges, ditches, fences, etc.) 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.
Britain's only republican period during the past 1,000 years. Established
following the execution of Charles I, it lasted until the Restoration
in 1660. It included the 'Commonwealth or Free-State' declared by the
Rump Parliament on 19 May 1649.
Grants of subsidies or taxes to the Crown for extraordinary purposes,
such as the knighting of the king's son, the marriage of his daughter,
or to ransom the king if he was captured. These were linked to the structure
of feudal lordship, since Magna Carta had determined that a lord could
demand such contributions from his inferiors on only three occasions.
Some kings manipulated the right by retrospectively claiming such feudal
taxes during times of greater need.
Under the feudal system, a lord granted land (known as a 'fee' or 'fief')
to a servant in return for military service and other obligations. These
privileges, burdens and customs, attached to land, office, estates or
manors, were known as feudal incidents. They included such practices as
the royal right to wardship and the payment of
a fine (called 'livery of lands') upon an heir's entry into inherited
A system of landholding, common throughout Europe in medieval times, 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.
Penalties payable for breach of the laws protecting the royal forests
and hunting reserves, introduced following the Norman conquest. The more
extreme penalties for offences against these laws were abolished by the
Forest Charter of 1217.
Name given to the events surrounding the 'abdication' of James II in 1688
and his replacement by his daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange
(as joint sovereigns) in 1689. As part of the constitutional settlement,
William and Mary were presented with the Declaration
of Rights, asserting the authority of Parliament and limiting the
powers of the sovereign.
See white paper.
Guilds were medieval associations consisting of the chief traders of a
town. The early merchant guilds excluded craftworkers. The later craft
guilds therefore sought to include employers, day workers (journeymen)
and apprentices. The aim of the guilds was to regulate wages, prices and
the number of apprentices entering the trade, as well as upholding standards
A writ ordering that a detained person be brought before a court or judge,
at a specified time and place, in order to determine whether such detention
is lawful. The right of any citizen to obtain the issue of such a writ
is regarded as one of the most fundamental civil liberties. In England,
writs beginning with the instruction 'Habeas corpus' (Latin for 'Have
the body…', meaning 'You are to produce the person detained') were
first issued in the 13th century. The law relating to them was formalised
by the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679.
Private courts held on a hereditary basis by certain noble Scottish families,
which offered readily available access to justice. They were abolished
See corporate towns
A form of contract between two or more parties. Originally, such deeds
of agreement were drawn up as two or more copies on a single parchment,
then cut in such a way that the matching of the pieces could be used as
a test of authenticity. Contracts of service for soldiers, servants, apprentices
and employees were often drawn up in the form of indentures.
The movement - both in Scotland and England and 'over the water' 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.
A policy of (governmental) non-intervention. In the field of economics,
laissez-faire policies such as free trade were persuasively advocated
by Adam Smith in his book Wealth of Nations (1776).
Supporters of the House of Lancaster, descending from John of Gaunt, Duke
of Lancaster, fourth son of Edward III. In 1399 Gaunt's son, Henry Bolingbroke,
deposed Richard II to become Henry IV, the first king of the new dynasty.
It was during the reign of Gaunt's grandson, Henry VI, that the Wars
of the Roses were fought. The direct Lancastrian line ended when Henry
VI's son, Edward, Prince of Wales, was killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury
in 1471 by Edward IV. However, when Henry Tudor (Henry VII) defeated the
Yorkist usurper, Richard III, at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 he claimed
Lancastrian descent via his mother, Margaret Beaufort, who was the granddaughter
of John of Gaunt.
See close writ.
A republican and democratic movement dedicated to levelling out social
and political inequalities, which Oliver Cromwell and other Parliamentarians
viewed with mounting concern. The Levellers' political creed, Agreement
of the People (1647), found wide support among the lower classes
and the soldiers of the New Model Army. The leaders of the movement, such
Lilburne, were savagely punished by Cromwell. As a result, the Levellers
effectively ceased to exist after 1649.
'Lollard' was a contemptuous name for the followers of John Wycliffe,
and those who developed his heretical beliefs about the relationship of
the Church and God in the 15th century. The term derives from 'loll' -
in this sense, meaning to idle.
The parliament summoned by Charles I that assembled on 3 November 1640
and sat through the Civil War. It was ejected by Oliver Cromwell in 1653,
restored for a short time in 1659, and eventually voted for its own dissolution
in 1660. See also Rump Parliament.
Lord of the manor
Artisans 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.
In medieval England, an estate (unit of land) under the jurisdiction of
a lord of the manor. Usually, part of the manor, known as the demesne,
was 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 granting of freedom to a villein, who often
had to pay a 'quit rent' to the lord of the manor
to compensate him for the resulting loss of services.
The granting of citizenship to immigrants after a specified period of residence.
In Britain, naturalisation is at the discretion of the Home Secretary and
is dependent on criteria such as residence, language, employment and good
character. Originally, it required a private Act of Parliament.
A judgement declaring a person an outlaw (someone outside the protection
of the law). Where an indictment had been found against a person and summary
process failed to compel him or her to appear in court, the process of
outlawry might commence. Those declared outlaws were stripped of all civil
rights. In addition, their lands and goods were forfeited. Although this
procedure had long ago fallen into disuse, in criminal proceedings outlawry
was not formally abolished until 1938. See Outside
Oyer and Terminer
The system whereby justices commissioned by the Crown were instructed
to 'hear and determine' general or particular offences, as specified in
the commission, usually in a particular county or counties. This commission
distinguished them from justices empowered to try or release prisoners
in a specified gaol, who received a commission of 'gaol delivery'. See
1. An area with its own church and incumbent (vicar or
rector), sometimes called an ecclesiastical parish. 2. A
unit of local government, sometimes called a civil parish.
The supporters of Parliament in its dispute with Charles I concerning
exercise of the royal prerogative and in the Civil War. Popularly known
as 'Roundheads', because of their cropped hair - in contrast to the more
luxuriant hairstyle favoured by the Royalists (or 'Cavaliers'), who supported
Historically, the powers, privileges and immunities of the sovereign.
The scope and exercise of the royal prerogative was a source of frequent
dispute first with the barons and then with Parliament, which sought to
assert its own authority and to limit the powers of the monarch.
Princes in the Tower
Following the death of Edward IV in 1483, his sons, the 12-year-old Edward
V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York, were consigned to the
Tower of London and never seen again. Shortly afterwards their uncle,
Richard, Duke of Gloucester, persuaded Parliament to endorse his claim
to the crown and he ascended the throne as Richard III. Skeletons, believed
to be those of the two princes, were unearthed at the Tower in 1674 and
interred in Westminster Abbey. Whether they were murdered on the orders
of Richard III or Henry VII is still a matter of debate.
Extreme Protestants who sought to 'purify' the Church of England of all
traces of Catholicism, such as elaborate vestments and ritual. Some even
urged the abolition of bishops. Their austerity and moral fervour won
them many Parliamentarian followers during the Civil War, especially among
Cromwell's New Model Army.
Term applied to the views, principles and policies of progressive and
democratic campaigners (such as the Levellers,
Corresponding Societies and Chartists)
intent on a programme of political, social and economic reform. In the
second half of the 19th century, the term was used for the progressive
wing of the Liberal Party.
A bailiff or steward appointed by a landholder to manage or oversee his
estates and tenants.
The movement and events in western Europe in the 15th and early 16th century
that began with attempts - by thinkers such as Martin Luther and, later,
John Calvin - to reform the Catholic church and led to the foundation
of Protestant churches, which rejected the pope's authority. In Britain,
Henry VIII's decision to break with Rome (see Act
of Supremacy) divided the nation, religiously and politically, until
the Restoration and after.
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.
The members of the Long Parliament remaining after Pride's
Purge (December 1648), in which some 140 MPs were forcibly expelled.
It was the Rump that put Charles I on trial and, on 19 May 1649, declared
the 'Commonwealth or Free-State'.
In medieval times, those facing prosecution were allowed to take refuge
in a church or other sanctified place, for up to 40 days. Once that time
had elapsed, they had to either abjure the realm
or submit to the law. If they did neither, then they could be declared
Another name for villein or bondman. See villein.
In Anglo-Saxon England, each shire was governed on
the king's behalf by an ealdorman. In Norman times, the sheriff ('shire
reeve') replaced the ealdorman as the king's principal representative
in the shire. His responsibilities included assessing and collecting taxes
and the enforcement of royal writs.
The major unit of local government in Anglo-Saxon England. After the Norman
conquest, the shire was superseded by the county as an administrative
unit. However, the term shire continued to be used in certain contexts.
Star Chamber, Court of
So called because of the decorative pattern of stars on the ceiling of
the chamber where it met, the Court of Star Chamber acted as a 'court
of equity' in criminal matters. Founded in 1487, during the reign of Henry
VII, it consisted of the chief officers of state and the two chief justices.
Initially it had jurisdiction over unlawful riots and assemblies, offences
of sheriffs, and jurors. This was later extended to offences against royal
proclamations. The court was abolished by the Long Parliament
See common law.
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 (see Women's
rights). 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
Especially in the Scottish Highlands before the clearances, a tenant -
often a relative of the chief of the clan - who obtained a tack (lease)
of a sizeable tract of land from the owner of an estate and sublet it
Deportation of convicts to a penal colony. Transportation to the American
colonies was introduced in the 17th century, a number of death sentences
being commuted. From 1718 transportation became a sentence in its own right,
largely as an intermediate penalty between capital punishment and the branding
that was a requirement of benefit of clergy. Later,
from 1788, transportation to Australia was employed as a punishment for
trivial as well as serious offences, partly to ease pressure on the prison
system and partly as a way of getting rid of undesirable elements. This
form of punishment was abolished in 1868.
A serf or bondman. From the Latin villanus - relating to a villa
(farm or country estate). Villeins were owned either by, and attached to,
a manor (villeins regardant), or attached to an individual lord (villeins
in gross). Lords could dispose of their villeins, just like other items
of property, and ownership was also transferred as manors were bought and
sold. Villeins could not own property, and their lord's permission was needed
for most activities. They could sue anyone at law except their lord. Although
a lord protected his villeins (like any of his valuable possessions), villeinage
was a form of slavery that gave those bound very few rights and their quality
of life depended on the benevolence of his rule.
A ward was a minor (under the age of 21) who was placed in the care of
a guardian. For those wards who were children of tenants in chief (those
holding land directly from the Crown, and therefore normally heirs to
large estates), the Crown had the right to their wardship. This was usually
granted for a large fee to a nobleman or other aristocrat who would ensure
that the ward was educated and protected appropriately until coming of
age. Wardships were also frequently sold with the right to marry the heir.
Since very often this meant marriage within the guardian's family, the
manipulation of wardships could affect the balance of landholding society.
Henry VIII established the Court of Wards and Liveries in 1541 to regulate
the system of wardships and inheritances.
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.
An official paper outlining the government's policy on a matter to be
brought before Parliament. A green paper is a more provisional document,
intended to initiate or stimulate debate.
Members of the council of the Anglo-Saxon kings of England. Their assembly
was called the Witenagemot.
Supporters of the House of York. The Yorkist dynasty claimed descent through
the third and fifth sons of Edward III: Lionel, Duke of Clarence, and
Edmund, Duke of York. The first Yorkist monarch was Edward IV - son of
Richard, 3rd Duke of York (1411-60) and Cecily
Neville - who came to the throne after defeating the Lancastrian
forces at the Battle of Towton in 1461. In 1483 Edward IV's brother, Richard,
Duke of Gloucester, usurped the throne to become Richard III. He was defeated
at the battle of Bosworth by Henry Tudor (Henry VII) in 1485. See also
Wars of the Roses.