Terms Employed in English History (D - M)

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

[D to M]

Danegeld. - Extraordinary taxation imposed by the Saxon kings, originally for making war against the Danes or to buy off their hostility. William the Conqueror made it a permanent source of revenue, though the necessity for exacting it was no longer present. In 1163 this tax disappears, but presents itself under Richard I. as carucage. See Carucage.

Dane Law. - Under the Anglo-Saxon kings the kingdom was divided into three districts, the West Saxon, Mercian, and Danish Law. In the Dane Law or Danelaga the Danes possessed a recognised right to enjoy their own laws and customs. This threefold division appears after the reign of Stephen.

Defender of the Faith. - When Henry VIII. was still on good terms with the Pope he published a book (The Defence of the Seven Sacraments) against the doctrines of Luther. The Pope was so pleased with it that he conferred on Henry the title of "Defender of the Faith." The title has been used ever since by the sovereigns of England.

Demesne. - Demesne land was the direct property of the king, either farmed out by the Sheriffs of the Counties as stewards, or managed immediately by the Crown.

Diocese. - The district under control of a bishop, as its spiritual head. The diocese was subdivided into archdeaconries, deaneries, and parishes.

Dispensing Power. - This was a power formerly claimed by the king, of exempting people from the operation of a penal law. It was used by James II. to admit Catholics to offices from which they were legally excluded. After the Revolution the Dispensing Power was abolished. (Not to be confused with the "Suspending Power," which was a right claimed to suspend the operation of a statute. The Bill of Rights abolished both powers.)

Divine Right was a theory that the king derived his authority, not from the people, but directly from God, to whom alone he was responsible. To resist the king was therefore declared an act of impiety. The complement of the theory was Passive Obedience. This theory was taught by many members of the Church of England, under the Stuarts.

Duke. - The highest rank of nobility after the Prince. It was a dignity borrowed from the usage of foreign countries. The first Dukedom, that of Cornwall, was founded by Edward III. in 1337, to be the perpetual rank of the king's eldest son and heir-apparent.

Ealdorman. - The highest rank a vassal could hold under the Anglo-Saxon kings. The Ealdorman had civil jurisdiction over a shire or a cluster of shires, amounting to a small kingdom, and therein was the viceroy of the king. He was nominally elected by the King and Witenagemot, but actually the office was hereditary. Ealdorman means the elder man, or man in authority, and corresponds in meaning to the Roman Senator. The Ealdorman was entitled to hold forty hides of land.

Earl. - The Earldom (Danish jarl) "had begun to supplant the title of Ealdorman in the reign of Ethelred," but retained many of the features of the older office. Military duty was imposed on the Earls by the Norman kings in addition to their judicial functions. The Earl of Chester, e.g. under William the Conqueror, had to keep the Welsh Marches. Generally the Earl had complete superiority, both as to the administration of justice, appointment of Sheriffs, and the system of feudal-tenure, in the county or counties over which he was set.

Election of Bishops:
(1) In the earlier times - under the Confessor - the king either directly appointed a bishop or else nominated him in the Witenagemot, and then consulted the clergy and leading men of the diocese, as to their wishes or opinion of the nominee.

(2) The Pope appointed directly, without consulting the chapter.

(3) The king sent his licence to the chapter to elect, and nominated a candidate, subject to the approval of the Pope.

(4) The king nominated, and the chapter elected. The chapter, if displeased with the king's nominee, could appeal to the Pope. This was the untimate stage, and in the time the Pope's authority was dispensed with altogether.

Election of Knights of the Shire. - By the Magna Charta it was enacted that twelve sworn Knights in each county should be chosen to carry out the provisions of the Charter. These were elected either by the County Court or by such persons, being freemen of the County, as the Sheriff should summon for election purposes; the candidates having been previously nominated by the Sheriff. See Freeholder.

Election of Sheriffs. - Sheriffs (1) were either elected by the officers of Exchequer, or (2) could be elected by the County.

Englishry, Presentment of. - The English often requited their Norman conquerors by secret murder. Against this, William the Conqueror enacted that every man found dead should be presumed a Norman; and that the hundred, within which the dead man was found, should be heavily fined, unless proofs of "Englishry" (i.e. of English birth) were advanced by the four nearest relations of the deceased.

Escheat. - An estate was said to be escheated to the Crown, when the Crown took possession, either on the death of the owner without heirs, or in its forfeiture for some offence committed by the owner. If retained by the Crown and not granted to another owner, it was farmed out and known as an Honour.

Estates of the Realm were the bodies of men in the State who possessed political power. There were three Estates: the Nobles, the Clergy, and the Commons. The modern Parliamentary form is that of Lords Spiritual, Lords Temporal, and Commons. The Commons is generally called "The Third Estate"; and, by a humorous convention, the Newspaper Press has the name of "The Fourth Estate."

Etheling. - The Ethelings or Athelings were the sons and brothers of the king. They ranked above the rest of the nobility, and their wergild was half of what was payable for the king. The word is cognate with the German Adel, noble.

Exchequer. - The Court of Exchequer was established after the Norman Conquest, to manage the finances of the country. It was at first the financial committee of the Great Council. The members sat around a table covered with a chequered cloth ("chequers" are little squares - like those on a chess board) used in counting money. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is now a member of the Cabinet.

Feudal Tenure. - "The king was the original lord, and every title [to land] issued mediately or immediately from him." - (Stubbs.) The vassal held land from his lord; and in return had to render military service and all other obedience. Through the medium of land tenure the whole fabric of feudal society was "bound together by obligation of service and defence." - (Stubbs.)

Fifteenth was a tax of a fifteenth on the value of all moveables.

First Fruits. - See Annates.

Folkland. - The land of the folk, or the common land belonging to the people and owned by no particular individual. It might be leased out in private estates, which paid rent to the State; and on the death of the lessee it reverted to the State. In earlier times even the king could not appropriate any part of it without consent from the Witenagemot; subsequently it became royal demesne. See Demesne.

Folkmoot. - The moot or meeting of the folk of the shire. It was the local parliament of the shire, in which the people met to discuss the administration and business of the shire.

Forfeiture. - When any one was convicted of treason his lands were "forfeited," or taken from him into the possession of the king. Forfeiture lasted from the time of Alfred until it was abolished in 1870.

Foss. - The ditch or moat that usually ran round the Norman castles for defensive purposes. (Lat. fossa, a ditch.)

Frank pledge. - See Court Leet.

Freeholder. - A man who held his land absolutely as his own, and did not pay rent for it to another. These were the men who served on juries, elected the Knights of the Shire, and assembled with the proper equipment of arms in the shire's muster of forces.

Frith-borh. - See Court Leet.

Frith-gild was in part what is known as a benevolent society in our time. Its chief functions were:
(a) To bestow alms.
(b) By a subscription of fourpence as a kind of insurance fund, to make good the losses of its members.
(c) To pursue and procure the conviction of other men who might have defrauded the members of the guild.
See Guilds.

Fyrd. - Military service. "Every owner of land was obliged to the fyrd." - (Stubbs.) So much land had to provide so many warriors - possibly one warrior for each hide, or each five hides. For neglecting the fyrd, a fine called Fyrd-wite, was extracted. It will be noticed that the fyrd bears great resemblence to the main condition of feudal tenure. (Wite in Scotland still means blame.)

Fyrd-wite. - See Fyrd.

General Warrants were issued for the arrest of persons connected with a certain offence, but without mentioning the name of any one. Wilkes was arrested in 1763 under a general warrant against the publishers of the North Briton. He raised an action against the Under Secretary of State, receiving £1000 damages; and, in 1765, general warrants were declared illegal. "General warrants are no warrants at all because they name no one."

Gerefa. - Possibly connected with German Graf, Count, and derived from grau, grey=senior. (We find it in Scotland in a shorter form as grieve, which, in England and in Chaucer's time, was reeve, both words meaning farm-bailiff.)
"In the free townships he and the four best men were the legal representatives of the community in the court of the hundred and the shire." - (Stubbs.) The hundred court was a court that tried criminals, acted as arbitrator in disputes, and witnessed transfers of land.

Guilds. - The development of Guilds may be traced back from very early times. They were, simply stated, friendly societies - confraternities united together for the performance of mutual good offices; the members contributed money or goods to their support, and celebrated their meetings by festivals. The Exeter Guild, e.g., was what we should now call a burial society; it buried its dead members and provided money for the singing of masses for the comfort of their souls. It also insured members against the risk of fire. (Some of the Guilds, notably those of Chester, Coventry, and Wakefield, were famous for the presentation of Mystery Plays.)

Habeas Corpus is a Latin phrase meaning, "You must produce the person." It is the name of a writ issued by a judge to the jailor who has charge of any prisoner, ordering him to produce him for trial. It is thus a protection against unjust or prolonged imprisonment before trial. By the Habeas Corpus Act, passed in 1679, no judge can refuse this writ when it is demanded. It rests on the 29th section of Magna Charta: "No freeman to be imprisoned, etc."

Hauberk was a coat of plate or chain mail without sleeves.

Hide. - About thirty acres of land. The whole land belonging to a community was portioned off into hides; and each freeman, according to his rank, possessed so many hides.

Hlaford. - A free but landless man had to place himself in a condition of dependence on some person called a hlaford, who should be responsible for his appearance in Court, if required. This was because the landless man had no "tangible stake in the community through which the law can enforce its obligations" - (Stubbs.) Modern form, lord.

Homage "is the form that binds the vassal to the lord (that is in most cases the king), whose man he becomes, and of whom he holds the land, for which he performs the ceremony on his knees and with his hands in his lord's hands. All land was held from the king, and so all landholders had to do him homage." (French, homme.)

Homage of the Bishops. - The Bishops in virtue of their baronial tenure owed homage to the king, but only as to matters temporal. Thomas à Becket, before his murder, said that he had the spirituals from God and the Pope, the temporals from his lord the king. Thus the homage of the bishops was limited in respect of spiritual things. See Homage.

Hundred. - "The hundred was a union of townships for the purpose of judicial administration, peace and defence." - (Stubbs.) The head or convener of this body was called the hundred-man or hundreds-ealdor; he was the elected representative of the freemen. The king's representative - the Hundred's Gerefa - sat with the hundred-man; he was afterwards called the bailiff of the hundred. The division into hundreds was utilised in taxation as forming a rateable division of the country.

Hundred-Gemoot. - Court of the hundred. If was presided over by the hundred-man or the hundreds-ealdor, and composed of the whole body of freeholders in the hundred. Usually, however, its powers were delegated to a representative committee of twelve. The Court had criminal and civil jurisdiction, and all litigants were bound to apply to it before appealing to a higher Court. On the institution of Frank pledge, one of its main duties was seeing that each man in the hundred was enrolled in a tithing. See Court Leet and Tithing; also Gerefa.

Hus Carls. - Bodyguard of the Saxon kings.

Impeachment is a form of trial used in cases of high treason and other public offences. The tribunal is the House of Lords; and the House of Commons is the accuser, and carries on the prosecution. After the evidence on both sides has been heard, a majority of the House of Lords finds the accused "Guilty" or "Not Guilty." Strafford, Laud, Warren Hastings, and others were proceeded against by impeachment. See Attainder, Bills of.

Strafford's Impeachment was afterwards converted by Pym into an Attainder.

Impressment is the practice of carrying off men against their will to serve as sailors in the navy. The practice, which existed from the fourteenth century, was in use until the time of William IV. Sailors returning from a voyage, and even peaceable citizens on their daily avocations, might be, and were, seized on the streets by a press-gang, knocked down, wounded sometimes, bound, and carried on board a man-of-war, to serve for a number of years.

Jarl was a Danish title. The Jarl had very nearly the same powers and duties as the Earl and Ealdorman.

Justiciar. - The Justiciar was the Regent or Lieutenant of the king, for the administration of judicial and financial duties in his absence. It was often found to be convenient to have an officer to dispense justice in place of such a king as William the Conqueror, who was often out of England, and did not understand the language of his subjects. Generally he was the confidential adviser of the king.

Knight Service was the tenure by which the king granted estates to his followers. Tenure by Knight Service was subject to the following conditions:
(a) Military Service.
(b) Payment of Aids. See Aids.
(c) Payment of Reliefs. See Reliefs.
(d) King's right of Escheat. See Escheat.

Laenland. - Bookland or Folkland leased out by its holders to free cultivators. See Bookland and Folkland.

Lathe was the name given to subdivisions of the hundred in Kent. These subdivisions were made for the sake of juducial organisation.

Legates (Papal) were ambassadors sent by or empowered to represent the Pope in any country. From the time of Langton, the Archbishops of Canterbury were recognised by the Popes as ordinary Legates. Wolsey was not only Archbishop of York, but also Papal Legate. Cardinal Pole was the last Legate sent by the Pope to England.

Levellers were a faction that arose in the time of the Commonwealth. John Lilburne was their chief leader. They were the Socialists of the time, demanding the abolition of titles and rank, and an equal division of possessions. They rebelled against Cromwell, who easily suppressed them.

Livery. - The distinguishing dress worn by the retainers of great nobles. Thus the livery of the Earl of Leicester, Queen Elizabeth's favourite, was a cloak bearing the device of a bear with a ragged staff. The wearing of livery was forbidden by the Statute of Provisors (1390), because it encouraged powerful nobles to maintain a large liveried retinue, ready for any opportunity of disturbance. Strolling players in and after Shakespeare's time had to assume the livery of some nobleman, in order to evade the law against vagabondage. (French livrer, to give or deliver.)

Lollards. - The Lollards were a sect called into existence by the preaching of John Wycliffe, the chief aim if whose teaching was to unmask the shams that passed as religion. To his tenets his followers added many wild revolutionary theories; and it was against these in particular that the Statute De Heretico comburendo (statute for the burning of heretics and revolutionists) was enacted. In 1412 the Lollards raised a rebellion against Henry V. under Sir John Oldcastle; and their enemies declared that they aimed to destroy the King and all the Estates of the realm, subvert the Christian faith, and appoint Sir John Oldcastle president of a Commonwealth.

Maintenance. - If a poor man wanted to go to law, and was afraid to fight his own case, he sometimes secured the advocacy of a powerful baron, on the understanding that the larger portion of the profits of the victory, if won, should be handed over to the maintainer of the cause. This practice was a constant one, and as constantly forbidden by law, especially by the Statute of Provisors (1390).

Maletote was a toll of forty shillings on every sack of wool. In 1297, Edward I. agreed not to exact it without consent of Parliament.

Manor was the whole extent of land under a Norman baron, over the inhabitants of which he had jurisdiction, both in criminal and civil suits. From the lord of the manor the tenants held their land, and were thus bound to do him service. "Every manor had a court baron in which by-laws were made, and other local business transacted." - (Stubbs.)

Mark. - A coin, worth 13s. 4d., so called from the mark impressed on it.

Mark. - "The general name of the mark is given to the territory which is held by the community." - (Stubbs.) Of this the arable land was annually divided between the free cultivators; and the pastoral land was held in common. Each freeman had a right to the use only of the land; the absolute possession was merged in the community as a whole. The Mark is one of the oldest civil institutions common to Ayran race. It is best preserved at the present day among the Slavonic peasants of Russia.

Marshal. - This office correspond to the horsethegn of the Anglo-Saxons (see Thegn). The marshal, whose office was hereditary, was quarter-master general of the army. He saw that proper military service was rendered by those from whom it was due; organised and arranged forces that were going to take the field, and during the war held courts for the trial of offences against military laws.

Merchant Guilds were associations containing all the traders and shopkeepers of the different towns; and without their licence no person was allowed to trade in any town, where was a merchant guild. The freedom of a city then means licence from the guild to trade therein. As the merchant guild embraced all the principal traders in the town, it became identical in fact with the governing body or town corporation.

Monopolies. - The practice of granting monopolies was used by several sovereigns as a means of making money. The man who bought a monopoly of a certain trade had the sole right to carry it on, and any one else entering on that trade could be punished. They were put down by Elizabeth in 1601, revived by James I., and finally declared illegal in 1624.

Mortmain. - Lands acquired by a religious institution or other corporate body as a perpetual possession, are said to be held in mortmain. The term, which means "dead hand," was used because the property became inalienable - could never be transferred again, and so was said to be in a dead hand's clutch. Such land was free from the duty of military service, and was therefore practically useless to the State. The famous "Statute of Mortmain" was issued by Edward I. in 1279.

Mund. - Special security granted to a man by king, eorl, or ceorl, the violation of which was punished by a fine, mundbyrd. In the time of Ethelbert wrong done to a member of the royal household was punished by a mundbyrd of fifty shillings. A man who granted this mund or security to another requiring protection was called mundborh.

Mundbyrd and Mundborh. - See Mund.

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