Manuscripts and Special Collections


Decorative border from the Wollaton Antiphonal

This select glossary provides definitions for words used within this resource relating to women. Some words in this glossary also have other meanings. Only the meaning which is relevant in the medieval context is given here.


A religious house containing monks and nuns living apart from the world, ruled by an abbot or an abbess


The committing of a sexual relationship with a married person


A sum of money paid to a lord by his feudal tenants


The table dedicated to the celebration of Holy Communion or Mass in a church


The established church in England after the Reformation


A language, a dialect of northern French, which developed in England after the Norman Conquest established a French-speaking aristocracy. It was spoken and written in England between the Norman Conquest in 1066 and the 15th century


Words set to music and sung in a church, usually by two choirs or singers alternating a verse and response


A service book containing the words and music (chants) to be used in the daily offices, a Calendar of saints’ days, and texts for the observance of feasts throughout the year


'Things' belonging to a property, e.g. yards, gardens, rights etc


Belonging to the upper classes, the titled nobility


Symbols on a shield or other decorative feature, representing a family in heraldry


Relating to the legends of King Arthur


A narrative poem set to music


An adjective describing the communities of monks and nuns following the Rule of St Benedict

bill of complaint

A written statement of a legal case

Black Death

The severe outbreak of bubonic and pneumonic plague which peaked in Britain between 1348-1350. The plague is estimated to have killed between 30-50 percent of the population, and acted as a catalyst for long-term economic and social change.


A Roman Catholic service book containing the 'Divine Office' of daily psalms, collects and readings.


See Roman Catholic


A written legal document


Gallant conduct and courtesy supposed to be exhibited by knights; also the martial skills such as jousting practised by knights

clandestine marriage

A marriage contracted outside the rules laid down by the church, e.g. by trothplight only, without a ceremony carried out by a priest

common law

The unwritten legal code in England, developed over time, and based on 'precedent', i.e. previous cases brought before the courts


A religious house containing monks and nuns living together; the word is also used to describe the monks and nuns as a community of religious people


A bond tenant of a cottage and small plot of land, for which he or she had to do labour service. Similar to a 'villein'


The members of the household or retinue of monarchs or aristocrats. Also applied to the code of conduct, manners and entertainment expected at court, e.g. 'courtly'

courtesy book

A 'book of manners' giving advice on courtly behaviour

customary terms

The conditions (rents and services) on which a landholding within a manor was held, 'by the custom' of that particular manor

Dissolution of the Monasteries

The closure of the Roman Catholic religious houses in England and Wales between 1536 and 1541 by Henry VIII, and the appropriation of their assets by the Crown


Land or money to which a widow was entitled after the death of her husband


Land or money given by the bride's family to her husband's family on their marriage


Religious festival celebrated on 6 January, commemorating the Magi (wise men) visiting Jesus Christ


A gentleman entitled to bear arms, but not otherwise distinguished by a noble title


The first woman created by God. The Bible tells how Adam and Eve are expelled from Paradise after she is tempted to eat the forbidden fruit by the serpent, and how, as a further punishment, women are cursed to endure pain in childbirth and to be subordinate to their husbands


A list of the land, rents, profits and assets owned by a manor or other landholder


A type of bawdy, entertaining literature, featuring stereotypical characters of a low social class, and themes of trickery and sexual deceit


A framework enabling very wide skirts to be worn by women, held out from their hips on all sides, popular in the 16th century


A type of crime punished severely, in contrast to a lesser 'misdemeanour' or 'trespass'


System of landholding and society under which each person was bound to a superior lord, and received benefits (land or position) in exchange for service (labour or military)


A leaf in a bound volume. The first side is known as the 'recto' and the reverse side the 'verso'


Having a sexual relationship outside marriage


The type of inheritance custom popular in Kent, by which all sons inherited an equal share of their father's property, in contrast to 'primogeniture'


A man of good family, entitled to bear arms, but not otherwise distinguished by a noble title


The four books in the New Testament written by the evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), and telling the story of the life of Jesus Christ


The sport of falconry, or catching game with trained birds of prey


The person entitled to property after the death of the current owner


A woman entitled to property after the death of the current owner. The property inherited by an heiress would automatically pass to her husband if she was married


System of symbols associated with a particular family entitled to bear arms. The symbols would appear on coats of arms, shields and other decorations

Holy Grail

In legend, the dish used by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper. Arthurian legends are focused around the 'quest for the Holy Grail', and the adventures of various knights searching for it


The community of people living in a house. Large aristocratic families had a household that extended to servants, retainers and guests as well as the immediate family

Hundred Years War

The period of intermittent warfare between England and France lasting from 1337 to 1453


A type of deed which had an 'indented' (wavy) top edge. There were usually two copies prepared, one to be kept by each party


Transmission of property after the owner's death to another person, usually a family member. A person's 'inheritance' is their property received, or expected to be received, after the death of another


The French or Anglo-Norman word for a travelling minstrel who sang and played music


A sport in which knights fought with lances on horseback in a tournament


A feudal tenant holding land from his lord in return for military service; more generally, a title given by the King to a man of high rank


A girl or woman of noble birth, living in the household of a family of higher rank, and attending on the lady of that household


A weapon, in the shape of a long pole with a metal point, held under the arm by knights on horseback, both in wartime and in jousting tournaments


A reading in a church service


A fine charged by the lord of a manor on the family of a bondwoman who lost her virginity, committed fornication, or cohabited with a man without marrying him. Also spelled 'lairwite', 'legerwite' or 'lecherwite'


A superior person, to whom other people owed service

Magna Carta

The charter, issued in 1215, in which King John specified various rights and freedoms which his subjects should enjoy


A unit of landholding. Tenants of a manor held their land from the lord of that manor, according to the customary terms of the manor


A unit of currency worth 13 shillings and 4 pence (two-thirds of a £)

marriage settlement

An agreement between the families of a bride and groom, relating to the inheritance of property, the lands to be subjected to dower, and the amount of dowry given by the bride's family


A person who is offered the chance to renounce their faith, but chooses death instead


In this resource, the period between the Norman Conquest in 1066, and the Reformation in the mid-16th century. There are many other interpretations of the 'medieval' period, most beginning with the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, and ending around 1485


A customary payment to the lord of the manor when a female bond tenant married a man from another manor


A property consisting of a house with some land attached


An entertainer employed by a patron to perform songs, dance, juggle etc.


A Roman Catholic devotional book containing the texts to be used in the celebration of the Mass


The system of people (monks, nuns and friars) living apart from the world according to the rule of a religious order, and devoting their lives to the service of God


A male member of certain religious orders, usually living in an abbey or priory. Members of 'mendicant' orders founded from the 13th century onwards were known instead as 'friars'

Norman Conquest

The invasion of England in 1066 by William, Duke of Normandy, his assumption of the throne as King William I ('the Conqueror'), and the process by which the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy was replaced by the Norman aristocracy


A female member of a religious order


A house in which a community of nuns lived. Sometimes called a 'convent'


A boy or young man living in the household of a family of higher rank, and attending on the lord of that household


A payment for a right to pasture pigs in an area of woodland


In bookbinding, a piece of paper or parchment (often re-used from an earlier volume), used as lining inside the cover of a bound volume


A public display of repentance for something considered by the ecclesiastical authorities to be a sin or a crime


An act of religious devotion involving travel (sometimes very long distances) to a shrine, church, or other sacred place


A style of singing used in church, in which the words of the liturgy are sung in unison


Household items, such as bowls and cutlery, made of metal. 'Plate' originally meant precious metals such as gold and silver, but the term was sometimes extended to any metal


A formal agreement to marry, in front of witnesses, which had the legal force of a marriage solemnized in church


Form of inheritance under which the whole estate passed to the first-born; often qualified to ensure that only the first-born male succeeded


A religious house containing monks and nuns living apart from the world, ruled by a prior or prioress. Often a small house, dependent on an abbey


In heraldry, dividing a coat of arms into sections, with each section containing the arms of different ancestral families, to represent alliances by marriage


In England, the process by which the Roman Catholic church was replaced by the Anglican church as the established church, during the 16th century


Items associated with a particular saint, such as hair, bones or personal possessions, kept in a shrine and venerated by pilgrims

Roman Catholic

The church of Rome, headed by the Pope


In the medieval period, a fantastical adventure story, with heroes and heroines drawn from the ruling classes


A sacred religious ceremony


An individual of exceptional and exemplary holiness, believed to be capable of intercession with God

saints’ day

A festival commemorating a particular saint, often celebrated on the birthday or death-day of the saint


A holy text, e.g. The Bible


A piece of wax, imprinted with an impression from a signet ring or personal stamp, used to authenticate documents


A lecture by a clergyman, based on a Biblical text, giving advice and instruction on religious belief and behaviour


An obligation owed by a person to their superior lord; service could include labouring on the lord's land, or providing military assistance

Seven Deadly Sins

Serious sins which, according to the church, would send a sinner to Hell, unless they confessed and repented. The modern Roman Catholic church recognises the sins of pride, avarice, envy, wrath, gluttony, sloth and lechery


Wrongdoing against God, or a transgression of His laws

Ten Commandments

Instructions on morality, which were, according to the Bible, given by God to Moses


A building; sometimes a sub-division of a messuage


A cottage, outbuildings, and surrounding small area of land


A type of crime punished less severely in contrast to a 'felony'


An agreement to marry; an engagement


An author and singer of lyric poems and ballads


A long shirt or coat-like garment worn by both sexes


A peasant or bond tenant, bound to a manor

Virgin Mary

The mother of Jesus Christ, venerated as a saint; also known as 'Our Lady'

Vulgate Bible

The translation of the Bible into Latin by St Jerome

Vulgate Cycle

A series of five stories of Arthurian legends, based on the quest for the Holy Grail, written in French in the early 13th century


The guardianship of a child until he or she comes of age; a guardian would be entitled to the profits and proceeds of their ward's estate during this time


A woman whose husband had died and who had not re-married


A woman's head-dress which covered the hair and the forehead and was fixed in place under the chin


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Manuscripts and Special Collections

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