Terms Employed in English History (A - C)

Historical terms and meanings taken from 'History of England and Great Britain', 1899.

[A to C]

Aids. - A feudal tax levied by the king on special occasions. Henry I., e.g.. levied on the marriage of his daughter an aid consisting of three shillings on each hide or allotment of land.

Alod. - This was the name given to a hereditary estate, the right to which was derived from primitive or original occupation. Thus, Robinson Crusoe's island was the "Alod" of Robinson Crusoe; or (2) it might be a private estate, created out of the public land by legal process, the possession of which was confirmed by a charter.

Angevin. - A native of, or belonging to, Anjou.

Annates. - When a bishop or archbishop was presented to a see, it was customary for him to pay his first year's income to the Pope. This was known as the exaction of "annates" or "first fruits." The practice was begun about the time of Henry III, and was abolished by statute of Henry VIII. in the year 1532.

Assize of Arms. - A revival in 1181 of the old fyrd (q.v.) or national militia. All men, citizens, burgesses, free tenants, villeins, and others, were bound by the Assize of Arms to provide themselves with arms proper to their class, and to place themselves, when required, at the services of the local authorities.

Atheling. See Etheling.

Attainder, Bills of, like other Parliamentary bills, might be introduced in either of the Houses of Parliament. After being passed both by the Lords and the Commons, they had to receive the royal sanction before they could take effecf. Their purpose was to "attaint" of high treason political offenders, who might or might not be heard in their own defence. See Impeachment.

Sir John Fenwick (1697) was the last person condemned by Bill of Attainder. This procedure had to be resorted to, as his wife had conveyed out of the country one of the witnesses against him. A charge of high treason cannot be proved without two witnesses at least.

Bail. - A sum of money lodged in Court as a pledge that an accused person will appear in Court on the day appointed for his trial. If he does not appear, he is said to break his bail, and the money deposited is confiscated by the Court.

Banneret. - A superior degree of knighthood. This rank might be, and was, conferred on peers; but did not entitle the holder to sit in the House of Lords.

Baronet is a title first conferred by James I., who made it a mere matter of sale and purchase. Any one who paid into the Treasury a sum sufficient to support for three years one hundred soldiers of the army in Ulster was created a baronet. The title is hereditary, but does not confer upon its possessor any special privileges. It need hardly be said that baronetcies are no longer offered for sale.

Benefit of Clergy. - Persons in holy orders enjoyed the privilege of being tried by ecclesiastical instead of by secular courts. The privilege was greatly abused, being claimed at length by all who could read a verse of the Psalms "like a clerk." It was found, moreover, that ecclesiastical courts were far too lenient in dealing with ecclesiastical offenders. Henry VII. and Henry VIII. greatly limited the privilege; it was finally abolished under George IV.

Benevolences, or forced loans, were employed by many of the kings of England as a means of raising money without the necessity of an appeal to Patliament. They were nominally requests, but really commands, to the king's subjects to contibute to the royal needs. They were declared illegal by Richard III.'s Parliament, but they continued to be extorted as late as the reign of James I.

Billeting of soldiers and sailors upon civilians was one of the grievances complained of in the Petition of Right. An Act of Charles II. in 1681 provided that no person should be compelled to receive soldiers or sailors into his house against his will; but this law, so far as it concerns innkeepers, is annually suspended by the Mutiny Act.

Bills are legislative proposals introduced in either of the Houses of Parliament. They do not become law until they have been passed by both houses and have received the royal assent. After they have been so sanctioned they become Acts of Parliament or Statutes. They have to pass three "Readings" in each House. If the Bill passes, the Clerk of the House of Lords says, in Norman French: "La Reyne le veult."

Black Mail was levied by Border and Highland marauders from their more peaceable neighbours. A farmer, on payment of black mail to a plundering chieftan, received a guarantee that his cattle should not be carried off nor his house pillaged.

Bookland. - Originally spelt boc land. Land of which the possession was confirmed by charter or legal documents. Bookland was private estate, created out of public land. See Alod (2).

Boycotting is the modern Irish method of "sending to Coventry" an unpopular landlord, his ageny, any of his tenants who pay him rent, or any person who may occupy one of his farms from which the previous tenant has been evicted. The first landlord to be treated in this way was a Captain Boycott, in 1880.

Bulls are official letters or proclamations from the Pope. The word is derived from the leaden seal (bulla) attached to the parchment on which the letter is written.

Cabinet is a select committee or council of Ministers and Secretaries of State, chosen by the Premier. (It was at first a kind of Committee of the Privy Council.) Although technically unknown to the Constitution, the Cabinet controls the entire Government, with the powers formerly exercised by the Crown. Its importance began after the Revolution. The number of members varies from twelve to fifteen, and the meetings are secret.

Canon Law. - Canon Law is distinguished from common law in that it professed to deal with spiritual questions only, and with all matters that related to the clergy and religion. It did not, however, confine itself to these matters, but had, for instance, almost entire control over marriage and will cases. The ultimate effect was that the clergy were set above the ordinary law, and gave obedience to none but the Canon Law.

Carucage. - A tax of from two to five shillings on each carucate or hundred acres of land.

Castellan. - The constable of a castle.

Cavalier was a name given to the supporters of Charles I. in his struggle with the Long Parliament. After the Restoration the Cavaliers became the "Church and King Party," or Tory Party. "The Courtiers having long hair and locks, and always wearing swords, at last were called Cavaliers."

Census. - All the inhabitants of the country are numbered every tenth year by a Census. The first Census was held in 1801. The last was in 1881. The first "Imperial Census" of the British Empire was taken in 1871, when the population was found to be about 235,000,000.

Ceorl (or churl, as it has now become) was a freeman with all legal rights, who was entitled to be the possessor of one hide (about 30 acres) of land. A ceorl was the lowest degree in the rank or freemen. (It is the Scotch word Carl; German, Karl; English, Charles.)

Champion of England is an officer who appears at the coronation of each sovereign, and challenges to combat any who dispute his right to the throne. Needless to say, the challenge is never responded to. From Richard II. to Victoria the office has been hereditary in the Dymoke family.

Chancery. - The Court of Chancery is the highest court of judicature in England. Its head is the Lord High Chancellor, who was always an ecclesiastic until Sir Thomas More was appointed. He was "the Keeper of the King's conscience." The Chancellors have since been laymen. At one time the Court of Chancery had most extensive powers, and came frequently in conflict with the House of Commons. Its power was gradually reduced, and it was remodelled under Victoria.

Chapter. - A cathedral chapter is the whole body of clergy connected with a cathedral. At the head of the chapter stands the Dean.

Cinque Ports were five Ports on the south-east coast - Hastings, Dover, Romney, Hythe, and Sandwich. Winchelsea and Rye were afterwards added. They were allowed to have a parliament, courts, and laws of their own, and to be exempt from taxation. In return they were bound to furnish the king with a fleet.

Clergy is a general name applied to all ministers of religion. In the Middle Ages they were divided into "regular clergy," who lived together in some monastic order, and "secular clergy," who attended to the wants of the common people.

Client. - A man who was included in the following of, or depended for protection on, some lord, who had to be responsible for the appearance of the client in court. Imprisonment in the modern sense was unknown among the Old English communities.

Common Lands are unenclosed lands belonging to no owner, but open to the people generally for pasturage and other uses. They are a survival of the old folkland, which belonged to all; but most of them have been enclosed by neighbouring landlords. The Commons Act of 1876 has put a stop to this.

The rights of these lands included pasturage, turbary (cutting turf for fuel), and estovers (the liberty of taking wood for fuel or for making furniture).

Commonwealth (=Common weal-th), the general good or interest of a nation. This title was given to the form of republic set up in England after the execution of Charles I. in 1649, and before the establishment of Cromwell's Protectorate in 1653.

Communa. - The communa was a collective term for the fully qualified members of a township, to whom a town-charter had been granted. Such would be the owners of land, houses, and shops, who had all a share in the internal government of their city, and reserved to themselves the privileges of trade and manufacture in their own district.

Congé d'élire. - When a See fell vacant, the Chapter of the Cathedral elected a new bishop; but before doing so they had to obtain the king's permission by Congé d'élire or leave to elect. In 1534 an Act of Henry VIII. gave power to the king to send, along with the Congé d'élire, the name of the man he desired to see elected.

Consols is a shortened term for the Consolidated Government Stock. Different government stocks used to bear different rates of interest; but it was found convenient to equalise them. See National Debt.

Constable. - See Marshal. The duties of a constable were substantially the same as those of a marshal.

Consuls are British officials placed in sea-ports and other important towns in foreign countries. Their duty is to protect the interests of British subjects who may be staying or trading there. They attend principally to commerce, and report to the Foreign Office on the price of living in the countries they are placed in; but they have no diplomatic duties.

Convocation was the name given to the general assembly of the clergy, which consisted of the archbishop, the bishops, and representatives of the clergy from each diocese, called proctors. There were two convocations, one of Canterbury and the other of York.

Coracle. - A primitive (British) boat made of hides stretched on a frame of wickerwork.

Council, Privy. - Composed of the officers of the Royal household, the judges, some of the bishops and barons, and other members, clerical and lay. It was the special instrument of the kingly power, and acted side by side with, and often in opposition to, the National or Royal Council. Powers:

(a) It acted as a standing council of advice to the king;
(b) It received petitions and remitted the petitioners to the proper courts;
(c) Its ordinances had temporarily the force of laws;
(d) It possessed a large civil and criminal jurisdiction.

Council, Royal. - The successor to the old Witenagemot. It was composed of bishops, abbots, earls, barons, and knights, who were there nominally to advise and deliberate with the king, and vote on measures proposed; and nominally also the king had to get their consent before making any move. Actually it was only the most distinguished of the Council whom the king consulted with, if he chose to consult at all. Sometimes other men - strangers of special skill or knowledge - were admitted; and on some occasions the Council consisted of a general muster of the landowners of the kingdom.

County Court. - "In the County Courts and under the guidance of the Sheriff, was transacted all the business of the Shire" (Stubbs) - matters judicial, military, and fiscal, and generally those that related to the working of the county. In the County Court, too, the election of Knights of the Shire was vested.

Court Baron "was the ancient gemot of the township, in which by-laws were made, and other local business transacted." - (Stubbs.) This court probably answered to the Justices of the Peace Court of the present day, which tries petty cases, and disposes of other small local matters.

Court Leet. - A local court dealing with matters of petty criminal jurisdiction; and especially concerned with the maintenance of the frank pledge or frithborh - a surety entered into by ten men, or a "tithing," to produce, or be responsible for any of their number in a Court of Law, if required. "An association of ten in common responsibility." - (Stubbs.)

Court of the North. - This court was established by Elizabeth for the government of the northern counties. It met at York. When Strafford became President of the Court of the North its powers were used in an arbitrary way to support the authority of Charles I. In consequence it was abolished by the Long Parliament.

Covenant was originally an agreement for mutual support ("a bond to stand by one another to the death") among the Scottish Protestants against the Roman Catholic Church. The First Covenant - signed by James VI. - was framed in 1581. In 1638 when the Scottish Presbyterians rebelled against Charles I. they signed the National Covenant. An alliance in 1643 between the Scots and the English Parliamentary Party was called the Solemn League and Covenant. After the Restoration, all Covenants were declared unlawful.

Covenanters were the popular Presbyterian party in Scotland, who carried on the civil war against Charles I. They were severely persecuted under Charles II.

Coyne and Livery was an ancient custom or privilege by which the Irish Chiefs quartered troops on their tenants. It was finally abolished in 1603.

Crenelated. - "Furnished with loopholes, through which missiles might be shot." (Connected with the word Cranny.)

Crown Colonies. - Colonies under the sole administration of the government at home are called Crown Colonies. They have no representative institutions. They are generally countries that have been annexed by force of arms - not colonised at first by British settlers. Ceylon is a Crown Colony.

Crown Lands are lands belonging not to private owners, but to the King as Sovereign of the country. The Folkland became, in William I.'s time, the Terra Regis. They are now administered by public departments, and cannot be sold or alienated in any way.

Curia Regis was in a measure a committee of the Royal Council. It was presided over on important occasions by the king; and in his absence by the chief justiciar. The court was composed of the great officers of the household. The same body also had control of the assessment and collection of the revenue. Functions: (1) A Supreme Court of Appeal for persons not satisfied with the decisions of lower courts; (2) "A tribunal of primary resort" (Stubbs) for powerful barons who would not submit to lower jurisdiction; (3) It also exercised control over the whole jurisdiction of the country, by sending out Judges to sit in the different local courts.

Customs are taxes or "duties" levied on merchandise entering or leaving the country; though they are most usually laid on imports. They are intended to produce public revenue. When foreign goods are re-exported, the import duty paid on them is returned, by the "system of drawbacks." The goods on which import duty is due are stored in "bonded warehouses"; and the merchant can pay it when most convenient to himself.

Custos Rotulorum (=keeper of the Rotuli, or Little Rolls or Lists): an official who takes charge of the rolls or records for the sessions of a county. The office is generally combined with that of Lord Lieutenant.

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