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Short Definitions

We welcome corrections, modifications, and suggestions of further terms to be included. Please remember when recommending corrections and modifications that these entries are intended to be short, preferably one or at most two sentences. Suggestions should be sent to the project at [email protected].


abatement: The cessation of something, for example, a nuisance.
abduction: Leading a person away by force or deception; especially with reference to a woman. Cf. rape
abeyance: A gap in succession or ownership, during which no one is vested with title; temporary disuse. 
abjuration: To leave a specified area, for example the realm, under oath never to return. 
absolutio legibus: See potestas absoluta.
absolution: The remission of an ecclesiastical sanction, most often excommunication, following the submission of the sentenced party to the authority of the Church. 
accessory: A person who aids, or contributes to, another committing or concealing an offence. 
accomplice: A person involved with another in the committing of an offence.
accusatio, law of: A procedure requiring a private accuser to initiate and prosecute the case (similar to a criminal appeal in English Common law) and requiring the accuser to submit to the poena talionis, by which he or she would suffer the same punishment as the accused would have, should the case fail. 
acquisition: Lands or other rights acquired by the current holder, as opposed to those which he or she inherited.
acta: Written records in various forms. 
actio furti: An action concerning theft; the form differs between periods and regions.
actio in personam: An action brought against a person bound to the plaintiff by a contract or a delict; according to Roman law, contrasted with an actio in rem.
actio in rem: An action to obtain a thing or office, as opposed to an action based on a personal relationship between the parties; according to Roman law, contrasted with an actio in personam.
actio spolii: An action in Civil and Canon law allowed to recover any kind of right, goods or offices unlawfully subtracted to the plaintiff.
actio utilis: A Civil law category of legal actions available in cases that are not covered directly by existing law. 
actions: Legal formulae used by plaintiffs to initiate lawsuits against another party. Legis actiones were the oldest form of civil procedure in ancient Rome and became the cornerstone of the Civil and Canon law ordinary procedure from the twelfth century onwards.
action of right: An action, begun by writ, to investigate which of the two parties had the ‘greater right’ to the tenement in dispute.
additiones: Additions that were made to the Accursian gloss, once it had become the textual apparatus ordinarily adopted by the medieval compilation of the Corpus iuris civilis.
adjectival law: The body of law governing procedure and practice; contrasted with substantive law.
adjournment: The postponing of a proceeding; to adjourn ‘without day’ (sine die) is to end the proceeding. 
adultery: A crime defined under Canon law, but punishable in either ecclesiastical or secular courts, consisting of voluntary sexual intercourse between a married or betrothed individual and someone who is not their spouse. 
advocate: A legal expert who assists litigants and advises them before and during the trial. Level 2 – Longer Definition
advowson: The right of nominating a cleric to an ecclesiastical benefice, for example a parish.
aequitas: Justice understood as fairness in human relations, often in contrast to the strict application of legal norms. Level 2 – Longer Definition
affidavit: A formal written statement which is sworn to be true, which can be used for purposes of proof in a law court.
affines: Relatives by marriage.
affinity: see prohibited degrees of kinship.
afforcement of jury: In Common law, he addition of further members to a jury which cannot reach a verdict until there are twelve of their number who agree. Also, the keeping of jurors without food or drink until they reach a verdict.
afforestation: The conversion of the status of land to that of royal Forest.
affray: The Common law offence of two or more people fighting in a public place (now modified by statute). 
age, lawful: The age at which an individual may perform certain acts and be subject to certain responsibilities. Level 2 – Longer Definition
agnates: Descendants from the same male ancestor, especially through the male line.
aid: Payment from a vassal to his lord, particularly payments owed on certain occasions such as the knighting of the lord’s son.
aiel, besaiel, and cosinage, actions of: English Common law actions to enable the nearest heir of a grandfather (aiel), great-grandfather (besaiel) or other relative (cosinage) to obtain possession of their inheritance.
alienate: To grant away land or other rights. Level 2 – Longer Definition
aliens: People who reside within a country, but are not subjects or citizens of that country.
allod: Land not held on lease or from a grantor, and thus not subject to the payment of any rent or the rendering of any service.
alms tenure: The holding of land by an ecclesiastical body, often in perpetuity, for the provision of certain spiritual services.
alterum non laedere: One  of the three fundamental precepts of Roman law (iuris precepta) prescribing not to injure another; the other two being honeste vivere and suum cuique tribuere (D. 1. 1. 10.). 
amercement: A monetary penalty, exacted from an individual or collectivity who had fallen into the king’s mercy because of an offence Cf. fine
anathema: A sanction of the Church excluding an individual from participation in the community of the faithful, often equated with major excommunication
ancient demesne: In England, land recorded by Domesday Book as being in the hands of the Crown at the time of the Norman Conquest. 
animus possidendi: The intention to possess a thing. Possession in many legal systems generally comprises physical control over an object and the intention to possess it.
annual pension: A portion of income from a benefice taken within a limited time period (often as a stipend), similar to an annuity in Common law
annuity: A fixed sum of money paid to someone every year.
annulment: The dissolution of a marriage on the grounds that it could not have been legally contracted due to some impediment (e.g. was within prohibited degrees, or there was a pre-existing contract); differs from the modern definition of divorce (the dissolution of a valid marriage) but this distinction is sometimes lacking in the middle ages. 
apostoli, letters of: Letters certifying an appeal in the ecclesiastical courts. Letters could be apostoli dimissori certifying that the appeal had been made and dismissing the appellant, apostoli reverentiales certifying the appeal but deferring it out of respect for the authority of the appellate court, apostoli conventionales certifying that the appellee admitted the appeal, apostoli refutatorii refusing the appeal because it was deemed frivolous, and apostoli testimoniales, drawn up by a witness to the appeal, such as a notary.
apparitor: Summoner in the ecclesiastical courts who served the citations compelling individuals to appear in court. 
appeal (in Canon law, direct and tuitorial): The transfer of a case from an inferior court to a superior court, in hope of modifying the decision in the inferior court. Direct appeals had to proceed through the ecclesiastical court hierarchy, unless the appeal was made to the apostolic see, and tuitorial appeals were in effect two appeals, one a direct appeal to Rome and the other to the metropolitan court for protection (see tuitio). Level 2 – Longer Definition
appeal: A charge brought by one individual against another, normally relating to theft or violence.
appellant, appellor: One who initiates an appeal.
approbatio, approbatio superioris: Doctrine calling the ecclesiastic authority to ascertain the conformity of customs to the principles of justice and divine law. Where positive, the review led the ecclesiastical authority to declare the customs licitae, bonae, rationales. Where negative, the ecclesiastical authority would declare them instead malae, pravae, illicitae and would consequently strike them down. 
approver: A criminal who turns king’s evidence; he must accuse and fight his former criminal colleagues.
appurtenance: Something appended to a primary thing, which is transferred along with the primary object when the latter is conveyed, for example, rights of common attached to certain plots of land.
arbitration: Decision by a third person – the arbitrator – chosen by two disputing parties.
arbitrium: May either refer to the faculty of judging or to the judgment delivered (per arbitrium) in the absence of a written norm. In such instances, the judge should solve the controversy by analogy.
arraignment: In Common law, the part of formal criminal procedure at which the charge against the defendant is read out in open court.
arrest: The stopping and holding of an individual, most often one who is suspected of committing a criminal offence.
arson: The offence of burning down a dwelling house and/or outbuildings within its common enclosure (for example a barn).
articles of the eyre: Written instructions of matters to be investigated by itinerant justices on their eyre (countrywide visitation) in England.
articuli: Articles or statements that the plaintiff in an ecclesiastical case intended to prove, listed in the libel.
ascender, ascendant: A kinsperson of an earlier generation, i.e. a relative in the ascending line.
assarts: Land which has been cleared for the purpose of agriculture.
assault: An offence of inflicting unconsented physical force upon another, or conduct creating the reasonable fear that such force would be inflicted.
assessors: Legal counsellors paid to assist an official. See Scabini.
assize, assizes: (i) Legislation; (ii) procedures arising from such legislation; (iii) the body carrying out such procedures; (iv) the trial itself; (v) courts holding such litigation. Level 2 – Longer Definition
assumpsit: In England, a promise, not under seal, to carry out an act or make a payment to someone; an action to recover damages for breach of such a promise.
attachment: To compel a defendant to provide gages and sureties that he would appear in court on a specified day. 
attaint: A process in English law for reviewing court decisions, through a jury generally of twenty-four men who might convict recognitors of having made a false oath.
attornment: The transfer of a tenant from one lord to another.
attorney: A person who represents another in litigation or other legal matters.
auctoritas prudentium: Literally meaning the authority of the jurisconsults or of the magistrates, the expression refers to the creative power of jurisprudence. In this sense, Papinianus counted it amongst the sources of Roman Civil law (D. 1. 1. 7.). In the Western legal tradition, the most important collection of authoritative jurisprudential utterances (typically delivered as responsa, i.e. answers to specific legal controversies) is the Digest.
auctoritas Romanae Ecclesiae: The authority of the Roman Church. The expression was frequently employed to argue that Roman law enjoyed universal validity because the Church approved of it and had incorporated many of its principles and dispositions into its several compilations of Canon law
audience, court of: A court within the jurisdiction of a bishop, retaining the right of the bishop to decide cases personally instead of delegating to a professional judge; often committed to the auditor of causes.
Authenticum: A collection of 134 Novels promulgated by Justinian between A.D. 535 and 556, after the publication of the second edition of the Codex.
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bailee: The party who takes possession of an item of personal property which has been temporarily and informally transferred to them (See bailment).
bailiff, bailli: A legal officer whose function is to perform assorted, delegated official functions. In England bailiffs might serve a lord or a sheriff. Baillis in France had a higher status and acted as principal agents of the king.
bailliageThe district of a bailli.
bailment: Handing over of moveables to another for a specific purpose, to be carried out faithfully by the latter on the former’s behalf.
banlieu, banleuca: A privileged area.
banns of marriage: Public notice given in a church of an intended marriage, in order that any impediments can be raised prior to the contract. 
bannum, ban: Originally the power to command. It comes in the Carolingian period to be particularly associated with the right to defend the weak (including churches), jurisdiction over serious crimes, and the right to exact military service from free men. Thereafter it became associated with lordship and a  lord’s exercise of authority over his district, including rights previously exercised by the king/emperor or his representative. Level 2 – Longer Definition
bar: The temporary or permanent removal of the ability to initiate litigation or to participate in certain legal procedures.
baron:  One of the leading followers of a lord; therefore a leading member of the nobility under a king or prince. Level 2 – Longer Definition
barony: An aggregate of knights’ fees / The land, and appurtenant rights, held directly of the King by one of his leading supporters (see baron) by tenure by barony.
barony, tenure: A mode of tenure in English land law (abolished by the Feudal Tenures Act 1660) by which a barony was held of the king. Very similar in substance to tenure by knight service.
bastardy: see illegitimacy.
battery: Force used against another, with harmful contact.
battle, trial by: A form of trial by ordeal in which two parties to a dispute would engage in judicial combat, either in person or through their champions. In theory, God would grant victory to the party in the right.
Bench, Common: In England, the central Common-law court for ordinary litigation between individuals from the early thirteenth-century onwards. The Common Bench evolved from the Bench at Westminster during the reign of Henry III. 
Bench, court of: In England, a tribunal of justices, most notably in our period the court of the royal justices – the Common Bench – which sat at Westminster.
Bench, King’s: In England, a thirteenth-century evolution of the earlier court coram rege, the King’s Bench had general supervision over criminal justice in the realm and also heard civil pleas in which the defendant was alleged to have breached the king’s peace.
benefice: An ecclesiastical living with an income, usually granted by presentation by a patron.
beneficium: An exceptional legal benefit, privilege, or remedy, granted to specific persons; also a benefice; or land held of a lord. Level 2 – Longer Definition
benefit of clergy: The right of clergy to be tried in an ecclesiastical rather than a secular court for crimes which would usually pertain to the latter’s jurisdiction. 
bequest: Goods or chattels which are left as a legacy to an individual named in a testament by the deceased.
betrothal: A contract to marry in the future made by words of future consent. See also verba de futuri.
bigamy: A crime defined under Canon law, consisting of being married to two people at once. 
blasphemy: Under Canon law, a crime consisting of profane speaking of God or of sacred things. 
blodwite: Old English term for a fine for the shedding of blood.
bona notabilia: Goods belonging to a deceased person in a diocese or province other than that in which he or she died, amounting to a certain minimum value, the probate of which pertains to the bishop of that diocese. 
bond: Surety; an obligation or promise; in English law a document recording this. 
bookland: An Anglo-Saxon form of land-holding, at least initially meaning privileged land granted by charter (boc). By the late Anglo-Saxon period, land characterized by various privileges, and – in the case of holding by laymen – by heritability and alienability.
borchbreche: Old English term for breach of protection.
bordars: In England, class of peasant, frequently appearing in the Domesday Book. Bordars were lower down the economic scale than villeins and held small amounts of land in exchange for labour services on their lord’s demesne. The difference between bordars and cottars is almost indistinguishable, although some records suggests that cottars held even smaller plots of land, or no land at all.
Borough English: Descent whereby the youngest son inherits all his father’s lands.
borough: A town with a charter of customs and/or privileges.
bot: Old English term for compensation.
botleas: Old English term for uncompensatable, with reference to an offence.
breach of faith: A crime defined under Canon law, consisting of violation of a sacred oath and by proxy, concerning the enforcement of debts and other obligations.
brocarda: Romano-canonical texts containing arguments for specific cases, starting with a general legal concept and listing allegations that either supported or contradicted it.
bull, papal: A type of public document issued by the pope, characterised by a lead seal appended for authentication. 
burden of proof: See proof; presumption.
Burgage tenure (burgagium): A mode of tenure in English land law, later considered a form of socage tenure, by which a property in a town was held in exchange for a monetary rent. Contrary to the ordinary Common law rule that land could not be disposed of by will, burgage tenements – at least those acquired rather than inherited – seem to have been bequeathable.
burgess: A free inhabitant of a town, holding particular rights and privileges.
burghmoot: Old English term for the court of a borough.
burglary: In Common law the offence of breaking and entering into another’s dwelling, at night, with the intention of committing a felony
buzones: In England, leading members of county court.
by-law, bye-laws: A law, regulation, or ordinance dealing with local or internal matters,  made by a local authority or a corporation
calumnia, oath de: An oath sworn after joining issue, stating that the party did not act with the intent of calumny (slander), that he or she believed the case was just, would not bring false proofs, seek to delay proceedings, or promise anything to the judge in return for a favourable conclusion. Level 2 – Longer Definition
Canon law: The law applied by the Church in Western Europe, based on a body of written law.
canonist: One trained in Canon law, a canon lawyer.
capitaneus: In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, a member of the higher military aristocracy of the kingdom of Italy, analogous to barons in other regions. See also baron, vavassour.
capitularies: In Latin capitula or capitularia. Denomination of Frankish legislation. 
caput honoris, caput baroniae: The ‘head’ or administrative centre of an honour or barony. This provided a main place of residence for the lord, whose honour or barony may have comprised many fiefs scattered throughout the kingdom.
case law: A body of law derived from the decisions of courts rather than from statute.
case, action on the: Also known as trespass on the case, or simply ‘case’. An action formulated early in the development of English tort law, which allowed the plaintiff to sue for indirect injuries which were outside those envisaged by a writ of trespass.
castleguard: A type of service in which the tenant was obliged to help garrison their lord’s castle in return for holding certain tenements.
casus regis (royal succession problem): The question of whether the claimant, a younger son, should inherit ahead of his nephew, if this nephew was the son of the claimant’s deceased older brother. The issue came to prominence upon the death of Richard I of England, when Richard’s youngest brother John asserted his claim to the throne against Arthur of Brittany, the son of a deceased middle brother. See also representation. Level 2 – Longer Definition
casus: A practical example provided by a jurist to clarify the interpretation of a legal text.
causa: A very broad term in Civil and Canon law, indicating: a legal situation; the reason for which a judicial measure was introduced; the purpose for which an action is brought; the trial or case itself.
cautio: An obligation assumed as a guarantee for the execution of something; surety, a pledge or security (usually monetary) given on a person’s behalf to ensure good behaviour or the fulfilment of a duty.
ceorl: In Anglo-Saxon England, a free man of a status lower than a thegn.
certioriari, certification: A process in English law for reviewing a court decision, by re-assembling the assize justices, the parties, and generally the recognitors before another court, normally the king’s.
cessavit: In England, a writ which could be brought against a tenant who had failed for two years or more to perform the services owed for a particular tenement.
champerty: An agreement whereby a party not involved in a lawsuit provides support for a litigant in return for a share of the proceeds of the dispute.
champion, in trial by battle: An individual who would fight on the behalf of a party in judicial combat.
chancellor: Chief official of a writing-office or chancery; such offices over time might develop wider, including judicial, functions.
chancery, court of: The court presided by the Lord Chancellor and entrusted with the equity jurisdiction in England and Wales. 
chancery: An office responsible for the writing of documents.
charter: a formal document recording a grant of land or rights.
charters of liberties: Charters recording a grant of liberties or privileges by a ruler. 
chattels, real: Real property interests less than freehold of fee, e.g. an estate in land for a term of years.
chattels: Moveable property.
chevage: Payment by an unfree person showing continuing subjection to lord.
chief, tenure in: Land held directly of the Crown and not through an intermediate lord or lords.
chirograph, cirograph: An agreement written out twice (or three times) on a single piece of parchment, with the word CIROGRAPHUM written between the texts. The parchment was then cut, intersecting this word, and each party received a copy of the agreement.
citation: Lawful summons for a person to appear in court. 
Civil law: (i) The municipal body of law belonging to an individual polity; (ii) when no further qualification is given, the body of municipal law belonging to ancient Rome; (iii) by extension, the entire legal tradition relaying on the authority and use of the Roman law compilation enacted in the sixth-century by the Emperor Justinian, later known as the Corpus iuris civilis; (iv) the body of law in a Common law system which is not concerned with crime.
civilis sapientia: Jurisprudence or legal science. 
civitas sibi princeps: A city which is its own emperor.  Expression used by Bartolus of Sassoferrato to claim that free cities held within themselves the same powers of jurisdiction enjoyed by the Emperor within the Empire as a whole.
claimant: The party that seeks a remedy, or claims a right or title in a law case. 
clandestine marriage: A marriage contract made in secret or without witnesses, which, if made using words of present consent, is legally binding. 
clerks, criminous: Clergy who commit criminal offences.
close: Land enclosed by either a real or fictitious boundary and afforded certain legal protections.
Close Rolls: Enrolled transcriptions of ‘letters close’, that is, sealed letters directed to a specific individual, issued by the English Crown. The first surviving close roll dates from 1204.
codicil: A written addition to a will.
cognizance: The right and power of a court to try and determine a case. 
coliberti: See liberti 
collusive litigation: A case brought to court by one party against another with the latter’s agreement, notably in order to secure a conveyance.
colonus: Tenant farmers tied to the land and paying the landlord with a portion of their crops. Level 2 – Longer Definition
commendation: Personal lordship, or the ceremony creating such a lordship relationship.
Commentators (or post Glossators): Legal school that arose in Europe (and particularly in Italy and France) during the 14th century. This school, not unlike the one of the Glossators, derives its name from the main literary genre it employed to interpret the law, the commentary, which provided an organic review of the law as a whole and of its individual institutes.  
commissary: A representative appointed by the official of an ecclesiastical court to act in his
Common law: Legal system conventionally juxtaposed to Civil law. Within the English legal tradition, body of general customary law evidenced by court findings, which eventually turned into a body of judge made law. 
Common pleas: Pleas relating to the English king’s general or common jurisdiction over all his people.
common recovery: In English law, a process for transferring an entailed estate, involving collusive default by a third party.
communis opinio (or communis opinio doctorum): The legal interpretation of a controversial matter settled over time by the concurring opinions of a significant number of jurists. Judges called to solve matters on which a communis opinio had established itself were widely expected to adopt it as their own in the judgments they delivered throughout both the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period. 
commutation: Substitution, for example money being paid for some charitable purpose in place of public penance, or money rent being paid in place of dues in produce . 
comparatio litterarum: The practice of comparing the hands of written documents in order to determine authenticity.
complainant: The party that brings a complaint in a law court. See also claimant, plaintiff.
compurgation: An oath taken with the formal support of a specific number of others, in order to prove or disprove a point in court; see also oath-helpers. Level 2 – Longer Definition
condictio de redintegranda: An exception found in the ninth-century Decretals of Pseudo-Isidore. According to this exception, a bishop whom secular authorities had deprived of his property or his bishopric was protected from any criminal prosecution until these had been returned to him. It appears as Causa 3, q. 1, c. 1-6 in Gratian’s Decretum.
conditional fee: An estate in land, in which either the grant or descent of the fee becomes valid on the fulfilment of a particular condition (a ‘condition precedent’), or the existence of the fee ends on the fulfilment of a later condition (a ‘condition subsequent’).
conditional gift: A gift which becomes valid only upon the fulfilment of a particular condition.
coniuratio: The collective oath by which the members of a municipality swore to abide by the laws regulating their association
consanguinity: See prohibited degrees of kinship.
conscience: Very broadly, the guiding principle behind the operation of discretion in judicial decisions. 
consent: Voluntary agreement, required for any legally-binding contract to be valid. 
consideration: Something given or done as recompense for what a person undertakes or does for another person’s benefit; especially in contract law what is given or done to the person to whom the promise is made, in return for the promise.
consilia: Authoritative legal opinions delivered by law professors, often at the request of the parties or of the judges (consilium sapientis iudiciale) referring to cases pending in court. These opinions were frequently published in volumes that collected the consilia delivered by a particular jurist.
consistory courts: The diocesan court of a bishop, both a court of first instance and of appeal, usually presided over by the commissary general of the court. 
conspiracy: An agreement to commit an unlawful act, and action to further that agreement.
constitutio Si quis in tantam: A constitution enacted in 389AD by Emperors Valentinian, Theodosius, and Arcadius, which forbade owners to dispossess violently any possessor of a disputed property before due process, under penalty of the loss of ownership in favour of the possessor and payment of a composition (Codex 8.4.7). It appears in the Theodosian Code (C.Th. 4.22.3) and in the Breviary of Alaric (=Lex Rom. Visig.) 4.20.3. In medieval Romano-canonical procedure, this constitution provided the grounds for an action for recovery of possession and chattels, with the option of claiming further compensation.
consuetudo: The Latin word for “custom”. In Civil law, a consuetudo requires two elements to acquire legal validity: diuturnitas and opinio juris ac necessitatis. a. bona consuetudo: Good custom. b. mala consuetudo: Bad custom. 
consulIn the ancient Republic of Rome, one of the two chief office-holders who ruled the state, elected annually. In medieval Italy, especially from the early twelfth century onwards, a member of a panel of officials who jointly ruled a city commune. Consules were elected annually or every six months, depending on the local municipal custom.
contadoIn Italy, a city’s surrounding district.
contempt: Disregard or disobedience of the authority or dignity of a court, legislature, or, for example, a royal order.
contract: An agreement between two or more parties that something be done, or not done, by one or both parties, for breach of which there is legal remedy. Level 3 – Comparative Discussion
contumacy: Wilful disobedience to the summons or order of a court, usually by non-appearance.
conventio: (1) An agreement. (2) A settlement between disputing parties. (3) The written deed attesting to the settlement.
conversion: The unlawful use or disposition of another’s property, as if it were one’s own.
conveyance: The transfer of land or other rights.
copyhold: In English law, a tenure that requires the tenant to perform the customary services recorded in the manor court rolls.
coram rege (in king’s presence), court: In England originally the court meeting in the personal presence of the king; see also King’s Bench
cornage: A tenure in the north of England, the render being based on number of cattle.
corody: An allowance, for example of money or food, given by a religious house to a person who transferred in exchange their property, or to a royal servant at the king’s request.
coronation decrees and charters: Written grants / promises made by rulers at the time of their coronation concerning good government.
coronation oaths and promises: Oaths sworn / promises made by rulers at the time of their coronation concerning good government.
coroners: In England, officials originally responsible for maintaining pleas of the crown, their best known function being to hold inquests concerning possible violent or accidental death.
corporations: Collective entities acting as a single person under the law. 
cottars: A class of peasant, frequently appearing in the Domesday Book. Like bordars, cottars were lower down the economic scale than villeins. The difference between bordars and cottars is almost invisible, although some records suggests that compared to bordars, cottars held smaller plots of land, or no land at all.
counsel: Advice; a lawyer who represents a client; in England, a barrister.
count: The plaintiff’s statement of the nature of his/her claim or accusation; also in an indictment. Level 2 – Longer Definition
counterfeiting: Unlawful forgery or copying, especially of money or a document
countergifts: Gifts made in exchange for and to strengthen a donation. 
countors: Legal pleaders.
county court: In England, a court dealing with regional litigation with origins in the shire courts of Anglo-Saxon England. Originally presided over by the county’s sheriff and with jurisdiction over a variety of civil and criminal matters, modern county courts deal with civil cases and are presided over by circuit and district judges.
court baron: The lord’s court for the freeholders of a manor, presided over by the lord or his steward.
court Christian: An ecclesiastical court.
court of record: A court the record of which is incontrovertible as evidence of fact.
court, claiming: Claiming jurisdiction over a case.
coutumes: The customary laws found in northern and central France, in the area traditionally known as the pays de coutume, recorded in various works known as coutumes or coutumiers. Superseded by the French Civil Code in 1804.
coutumiersFrench law books, purporting to be statements of custom.
covenant: A formal promise or agreement.
coverture: The legal state and condition of a married woman who is under the power of her husband.
crime: An offence, usually a serious one, that the law makes punishable. Level 3 – Comparative Discussion
criminal responsibility: The ability to be held responsible for a crime, contingent on a variety of conditions, including the age, mental state and legal status of the person committing the alleged offence. 
Crown: A metonym for all royal rights, a singular undying abstraction distinct from the physical person of any monarch.
cura and tutela: see guardianship.
curia regis: The court which attended to the king, providing advice and assistance. Towards the end of the twelfth century in England, the functions of the curia regis became more specialised and from it institutions such as the Bench emerged. 
curtesy: In Common law, a life tenancy allowed to a widower in the heritable land held by his deceased wife if issue were born alive from their marriage.
curtis: A Latin term which may refer to (i) a judicial court, (ii) a territorial unit subject to a lord [see manor], or (iii) a courtyard.
custom: An established usage which acquires validity as a source of law and legal decision making. Level 2 – Longer Definition
customary law: Law based on established usage.
customs and services, writ of: In England, a writ to enforce performance of services
damage feasant: ‘Doing damage’, usually with reference to damage done by animals that have crossed onto another person’s land.  
damages: Money paid as compensation for injury or loss.
Danelaw: The area of midland and northern England that came under Danish control in the ninth century; law associated with that area. 
darrein presentment, assize of: A procedure in England using a recognition to determine who is the lawful possessor of an advowson
de cursu (of course), writs: Writs issued routinely and for a small set payment.
de dote admensura, writ: In England, a writ ordering measurement of land allocated to a woman as dower.
de fine facto, action: In England, an action which could be brought by one party to enforce their opponent’s observance of a final concord (a formal settlement of litigation) which had been made between them.
de homagio capiendo: In England, a writ and action to compel a lord to take a man’s homage.
de recto (of right), writ or brieve: A writ or brieve initiating a proprietary action in England and Scotland. It was directed at the lord of land in dispute, directing them to ‘do full right’ to the parties. Cf. precipe. 
death, civil: The loss of legal rights by someone who has entered a monastery, or who has been convicted of a serious crime or outlawed.
debt: Something, especially a fixed sum of money, that one party is obliged  pay to another. 
declinatio fori: An exception consisting of a denial of the jurisdiction of a court over a certain matter.
decretal: A papal decree concerning an issue of Canon law, usually issued in response to a query; collections of decretals, such as the Liber extra, formed a large part of the Corpus iuris canonici.
defamation: A crime defined under Canon law, consisting of damaging a person’s good reputation.
default: Failure to attend court when required, often resulting in loss of case.
default judgment: A court judgment awarded in favour of a litigant upon the failure of their opponent to act or comply with certain procedural rules.
default of justice: Failure to do justice.
defendant: The party against whom a charge, action, or claim is brought in a law case.
defiance: Renunciation of the tie created by an oath of fealty.
deforce: To dispossess.
deforciant: Someone who wrongfully dispossesses another or wrongfully keeps them out of possession.
degrees, prohibited: see prohibited degrees of kinship
delict: In Civil law, an offence infringing an existing law. Level 2 – Longer Definition
delivery: The formal act of transferring possession of something, especially property or a deed.
demandant: The plaintiff in a real action or more generally any civil action.
demesne: Land a lord kept for himself in his own direct power (although with peasant tenants), as opposed to land granted away to others; often contrasted with fiefs. Manorial demesne was land within a manor which was kept in the hands of the lord of the manor, rather than held by tenants. See also manorLevel 2 – Longer Definition
demise: Conveyance of an estate by lease, usually for a term of years; passing of property by bequest.
demurrer: An objection raised by a party to litigation that the substance of a case, or the substance of a certain line of pleading, is insufficient to allow it to proceed.
denunciatio: A formal public admonition, meant to bring a misdeed to the attention of the authorities, usually leading to prosecution by inquisitio or accusatio. 
deodand: A chattel which caused the death of a person and forfeited to God. In practice this meant it was seized by the Crown and the object, or the money from its sale, was put to some form of pious use. The law of deodands was formally abolished in 1846.
deposition of witnesses: The written production of the sworn testimony of witnesses, often made in response to interrogatories.
deraign: To vindicate one’s right, sometimes involving trial by battle.
detinue: Illegal detention of another’s personal chattel; the Common law action to recover such a chattel.
detractio: The unlawful act of detracting from a person’s good reputation, closely related to defamation.
devise: The act of giving property by will.
dialectic: Method of argumentation based on ancient Greek philosophy which became the primary element of the teaching of logic in the high middle ages.
dicta: Short explanatory comments meant to harmonize the apparently contradictory sources gathered by Gratian in his Decretum, the Concordia discordantium canonum.
diffidation: see defiance.
diplomatic: Formal aspects of charters and other documents.
disafforestation: The removal of lands from royal Forest.
disciplinary jurisdiction: A term used  to describe the jurisdiction exercised by lords over their tenants’ performance of services or other ‘feudal’ obligations.
discretion, judicial: The power of a judge to decide on the application of the law, subject to expressed limitations, such as procedural restrictions. 
disparagement: Marriage to a person of inappropriate status or origin, resulting in loss of honour. 
dispensation: Exemption from obligation to the law, the right to grant which is usually reserved for the pope in Canon law.
disseisin: Dispossession; the taking away of seisinLevel 3 – Comparative Discussion
distinctiones: Differing definitions of a single word used to reconcile apparently contrary texts; the form of jurisprudential writing based on this process. 
distraint, distress: (i) Temporary seizure of moveable goods and/or land in order to enforce obedience to a decision or order; (ii) the thing distrained. Level 3 – Comparative Discussion
districtus: (1) The coercive power of a lord or an institution or (2) the territory in which such power is exerted. Level 2 – Longer Definition
diuturna (consuetudo): Long-standing usage. Diuturnitas: in Civil law, one of the two elements necessary to establish a custom, the other being the opinio juris ac necessitatis:  the conviction that a given behaviour be legitimate and necessary.
divorce: Bringing an end to a valid marriage, although in the middle ages it could also mean an annulment (a declaration that a marriage was invalid from the start); divorce a vinculo annulled a marriage on the grounds of some impediment, divorce a mensa et thoro was a judicial separation on the grounds of adultery, cruelty, or heresy; no remarriage was permitted following the latter. 
dom: Old English word for a judgment or a law.
domboc: Old English term for law-book, commonly used with reference to the laws of King Alfred. 
dominium: Right to land, ownership.
dominium directum/dominium utile (duplex dominium): Double ownership, a legal device distinguishing between the eminent rights (dominium directum) maintained by a landlord over property and the rights acquired by the lord’s tenants and fief-holders (dominium utile). Level 2 – Longer Definition
dominusA Latin term which may refer to (1) the owner of eminent rights over a thing [see ownership], (2) a lord, or (3) an honorific title for both laymen and clerics. The word’s feminine form was domina, which had the same range of meanings. 
dominus mundi: Title belonging to the Emperor, who was considered to hold a universal jurisdiction, in contraposition to the specific jurisdiction enjoyed by all other princes over their kingdoms. 
doomsmen: Old English term for the men making judgment in a court. 
dower: Land apportioned for a widow to hold after her husband’s death. 
dowry: The money or property a wife brings to her husband in marriage. See also maritagium.
dreng: A free tenant in the north of England, holding by a tenure – known as drengage – with strong elements of personal service. 
dual process: The losing party in a case concerning possession thereafter bringing an action concerning property.
due process: The following of correct legal procedures.
earnest: Money paid as initial instalment, especially to secure a contract or bargain. 
easement: An interest in land owned by another, giving the right to use or control it for a specific limited purpose. 
ejectment: The ejection of a person from his holding, normally at first a leaseholder; the legal action  available to the person thus ejected.
enfeoff: To grant land as a fief to be held of the grantor. Level 2 – Longer Definition
Englishry: The status of being English. Englishry had to be proved if person was killed in post-Conquest England, to show that the deceased individual was not a Norman and the murdrum fine therefore not to be owed. Level 2 – Longer Definition
engrossment: The official writing of a legal document.
enquêtes: Inquests.
entail: A restriction imposed on an estate in land which mandated the descent of the land to a specified heir, as determined by the form of the grant which created the entail. Level 2 – Longer Definition
entry, writ of: In England, a writ setting in motion a recognition, and focusing upon one alleged flaw in the tenant’s title.
equity: (i) The principles of justice needed to correct or integrate the law applied to particular circumstances; (ii) the system of justice developed and administered in England by the Court of Chancery.  
error, writ of:  In England, a writ from an appellate court to the court which first heard a case demanding the record of the case for review. 
escheat: (i) The reversion of land to its lord; (ii) land which has thus reverted. 
esplees: The profits of land or the services deriving from it. 
essoin: An excuse for non-appearance at court. Level 2 – Longer Definition
estate in land: An interest in land, characterised by a ‘bundle of rights’ determining the nature of the estate-holder’s relationship with the property. See also fee simple, entail, conditional fee.
estoppel: A bar preventing assertion of a right or claim that would contradict what the party has previously done or said or what has previously been legally established to be true.
estovers: Necessaries allowed by law, especially wood that a tenant may take for fuel etc. from his lord’s woodland. 
ex certa scientia: Legislative clause by which the medieval and early modern prince indicate his full knowledge of a matter, thereby justifying his power to change it. Level 2 – Longer Definition 
ex officio proceedings: Inquest proceedings initiated by the judge or another official (not the plaintiff), often in response to notorious crimes or publica fama. See also presentment. 
ex plenitudine potestatis: Legislative clause by which the medieval and early modern prince invoked his absolute power to alter, derogate, or abrogate existing law. Level 2 – Longer Definition
exception: A plea by a defendant that his opponent’s complaint or claim is inapplicable to the case, for reasons of fact or law; the defendant should not, therefore, be required to make a formal defence to the complaint or claim. A successful ‘peremptory exception’ should lead to dismissal of the case, a ‘dilatory exception’ to a halt in its progress.
exchequer: A branch of government concerned with the collection and management of royal (or in Normandy before 1204, ducal) revenue, which could also act as a court. Named after the chequered cloth which covered the table on which calculations were made.
excommunication: The formal exclusion of a person from the communion of the Church.
exculpation: Proof whereby the accused clears himself of blame. 
execution (of deeds): The formal signing of a deed to make it valid.
executor: An individual appointed in a testament or last will to supervise all the business and bequests outlined in the will on behalf of the deceased.
exemplification: An official, certified copy of a legal document; the process of making such a document.
exigent, exaction: Process to summon a defendant to appear at the county court and answer an accusation, or be declared an outlaw.
expenses of litigation: Fees incurred during the course of a case in the ecclesiastical courts (travel expenses etc.), and particularly on account of delays, to be paid by the losing party upon a sentence (either final or interlocutory). 
eyre: A visitation by the king or his justices. General eyre: in England, a visitation by groups of royal justices throughout the realm with the power to deal with all pleas; each group covered a circuit of several counties. Level 2 – Longer Definition
faith, pledge of: An act marking a solemn promise, but not necessarily involving swearing on a relic or book and using no specific words of imprecation. 
false imprisonment: Imprisonment without justification or consent.
farm: (i) A fixed rent; (ii) land held at such a rent.
fealty: Loyalty; the oath of loyalty.
fee, land held in: Land held of a lord which, by the end of the twelfth century, was capable of descending heritably. See fee simple and conditional fee
fee farm: (i) A fixed rent, generally from land held heritably; (ii) land held at such a rent.
fee simple: An estate of land, in which the land is held heritably and absolutely, without a specified end to the tenure, and largely without restrictions.
fee tail: See entail.
felony; felon: (i) Infidelity, treason. One guilty of infidelity to his lord; (ii) in the law of some areas, the most serious type of offence; one guilty of such an offence.
feudal courts: the courts held by lords over their men. Level 3 – Comparative Discussion
feudal incidents: Legal rights held by a lord concerning land his tenants held of him. These were: escheat; wardship and marriage; aid; fines on the alienation of the land; relief; and primer seisin.
Feudal law: The law regulating fief-giving and fief-holding which from the late twelfth century became a branch of the Civil law.
feudum apertum: A fief that becomes available to the lord for a wrong committed by the holder or the holder’s lack of heirs. See also abeyance and escheat.
fiction, legal: Something treated as true by a court in order to apply a certain procedural or substantive rule in a case.
fictitious person: An entity created by law, with certain legal rights and duties of a human person, for example a corporation.
fief: Property, generally heritable land, held in return for service, usually military service. 
final concord: (i) An agreement, generally one made in the king’s court; (ii) the record of such an agreement. Cf. foot of fine Level 2 – Longer Definition
final process: Procedures concerned with putting a court judgment into effect.
fine: (i) Payment for an agreement, or the ending of a lawsuit; (ii) a final concord.
flymanfyrmð: In Anglo-Saxon England, a fine for harbouring a fugitive.
folcegemote: In Anglo-Saxon England, public courts or meetings.
folcriht: Old English term with the sense of ‘good custom’, ‘justice’, etc.
foldsoke: right to manure.
folk law: Typically refers to the bodies of medieval customary laws developed by Germanic tribes, such as the lex Visigothorum, the lex Burgundionum, the lex Salica
folkland: A form of land-holding in Anglo-Saxon England, lacking the privileges of bookland. 
foot of fine: The third and bottom part of a three-part chirograph recording an agreement in the English king’s court. Cf. final concord
force and arms: Phrase used in English Common law pleading in declarations of trespass and indictments to indicate the use of violence; the phrase came to be used as a way of getting trespass cases into the king’s court, even when there had not been actual violence.
fore-oath: An oath that a party had to swear at the start of a lawsuit.
Forest law: A body of law applicable to land designated as royal Forest, intended to preserve the environment as a royal hunting ground. Level 2 – Longer Definition
forestall: (i) To intercept or assault a person especially on a royal highway; (ii) to buy goods with the aim of reselling at a higher price.
forfeiture: Loss, particularly of property, as a result of conviction for an offence; also, a monetary penalty.
forgery: The false making or material alteration of a written legal document with the intent to defraud.
forinsec services: Services owed to a person other than the immediate grantor of the tenement from which the obligation arises.
forisfamiliate: To put outside the family; a father giving a son part of his land and thereby normally excluding him from future inheritance. In Roman law the emancipation of a son from his father’s authority.
formedon: In England, a category of writs designed to address various disputes concerning the descent or reversion of conditional fees.
forms of action: The different types of legal action around which the early Common law was built. Each action addressed a particular type of claim and was limited to a specific set of circumstances.
formulary: A collection of models for the execution of legal documents.
fornication: A crime defined under Canon law, consisting of voluntary sexual intercourse between individuals not married to each other (cf. adultery). 
forsteal: see forestall (i).
franchise: (i) A privilege; (ii) a privileged area.  
frankalmoign: See alms tenure.
frankmarriage: Tenure whereby a marriage portion was held by a man and wife, without service or homage but only fealty until the woman’s third heir had entered. 
frankpledge: In England, a body of men, generally ten or twelve, but sometimes an entire village, acting as mutual sureties that they would not commit offences, and bound to produce the guilty party when an offence was committed. Level 2 – Longer Definition
frankpledge, view of: Franchise granted to some lords to execute law relating to frankpledge and in particular to hold a biennial court equivalent to the sheriff’s tourn
free men: Individuals who were not bound to a servile relationship with a lord. Cf. villeins.
free tenement, freehold: In general terms, a tenement held freely, for example in contrast to villeinage
frið: The general Old English word for peace.
fungibility: The quality of being exchangeable for other identical goods, e.g. coin or corn are fungible, land is not.
fyhtwite: Old English term for the fine payable for fighting.
fyrdwite: Old English term for the fine payable for failing to perform military service
gafol: Old English term for rent. 
gage: (i) A thing given as security; (ii) gage of land: land given temporarily as security in return for a sum of money which is to be repaid.
gaol delivery: The process of trying prisoners currently in gaol to establish their guilt or innocence. 
gavelkind: A form of tenure in Kent, England, characterized in particular by the division of inheritance between heirs.
geld: Tax.
gentilshommes: Nobles; elites.
gewere: A notion often traced to ancient Germanic law, whilst probably linked to the ecclesiastical vestitura, meaning the lawful exercise of public or private rights over land or persons. It corresponds to English seisin.
gloss (glossa, ae): Marginal or interlinear notes explaining or elaborating on the meaning of words or phrases in a text; in Civil and Canon law, these created standards of reference. Level 2 – Longer Definition
Glossa Ordinaria: The standard gloss; in particular that on the Bible but also those on Civil and Canon law (the latter commonly referred to as the magna glossa)
Glossators: Scholars of the twelfth- and early thirteenth-century Italian law schools who made of marginal annotations (glossae) a method of interpretation and teaching of the Roman law texts.
godparenthood: A spiritual bond, formed by lifting the child from the baptismal font; a relationship which is an impediment to marriage by spiritual affinity. 
good faith [bona fide]: The state of mind of a person who is required to act or is acting honestly and consistently with existing obligations. 
grand assize: In England, a panel of twelve knights convened to deliver a sworn verdict in an action of right; the legislation creating this process
Grand chambre: The primary judicial arm of the Parlement in Paris; refers both to the people who make up the court and a physical location (especially from the fourteenth century); cases often began and ended before the Grand chambre.
grand jury: A jury to receive, inquire into, and bring or report accusations or suspicions; as opposed to a trial (‘petty’) jury. 
grant: A transfer of real property or, for example, office or privilege; an act relating to such a transfer, including consent and confirmation.
grið: Old English term for peace or protection, especially that associated with specific persons, places, or times. 
griðbryce: In Anglo-Saxon England, offence of, or fine for, breach of peace or protection. 
guardianship: The tutelage or protection and representation of a minor. In Civil and Canon law, tutores were assigned to children who had not reached puberty and curatores to those who had reached puberty but not reached the age of 25, but most often guardians were referred to as both tutor and curator
habeas corpus: In England, a writ demanding that the custodian of a prisoner produce the detained person before a court to explain the lawfulness of the detention.
half-blood: Siblings with only one parent in common.
hallmoot: The lord’s local court for lesser men.
hambling of dogs: Mutilating dogs’ feet to render them unusable for hunting.
hamfare, heinfara: see hamsocn. 
hamsocn: Old English term for assault on a person in a house, or possibly on the house. 
hand-having thieves: Thieves caught in possession of the stolen goods, or caught in the act.
hand, take into: To take into possession, sometimes with restrictions as to use and disposal.
healsfang: In Anglo-Saxon England, compensatory payment to the close kin of a slain man. 
heir: An individual who inherits  on the death of an ancestor according to the rules of descent.
heresy: A theological opinion contrary to that of the orthodox doctrine of the Church. 
heriot: A payment to allow succession. In the Anglo-Saxon period most references are to payments by people of higher status; later the payment is associated with the peasantry. 
hide: (i) A measure of land, generally 120 acres; (ii) a fiscal assessment unit.
highway: A road or other way, usually a main route, which could be under public or private authority.
homage: (Related to Latin homo – man.) The ceremony of becoming a lord’s man.
homicide: Killing of a person. Cf. manslaughter, murder
hommes coutumiers: Commoners; literally those who render customary payments to a lord.
homo de corpore (Latin), homme de corps (French): Someone of less than free personal status, obliged to provide service to a lord.
honeste vivere: ‘To live honestly,’ i.e. to conduct oneself morally and thus abide by the principles of the law. Amongst the three Justinianic precepts: honeste vivere, alterum non laedere, suum cuique tribuere (D. 1. 1. 10.):  this is the one which has been historically interpreted as establishing the connection between law and morality. 
honorial court: The court of a lord for the men, especially the tenants, of his lordship.
honour: A lordship, generally one held directly from the king by a tenant in chief.
hue and cry: The raising of the alarm and pursuit following the committing of an offence.
humanism, legal: Early modern movement of thought intent on developing an historical and comparative method of jurisprudential analysis, which sought to articulate a general science of law, largely informed by philological and textual investigations into legal sources.
hundred and wapentake: In England, sub-unit of county/shire. The word wapentake is generally used in areas which had previously been in the Danelaw.
hundredman: Official in charge of the administrative unit known as a hundred.
husband and wife: Two people legally married who, in the eyes of the Common law, were regarded as one entity; the area of law relating thereto.
husbryce: Old English term for house–breaking.
Husting court: The main court of medieval London. 
hypothec: (1) In Civil law, a mortgage of lands or goods which remain in possession of the mortgagor. (2) In Scotland, a landlord’s right over his tenants’ crops.
illegitimacy: The legal condition of someone born out of lawful wedlock.
immoveables: Property that cannot be moved, e.g. land, buildings.
immunities: Privileges, privileged areas. 
impediment to marriage: A legal obstacle that prevents a valid marriage, such as age, impotence, sacred orders, kinship (see prohibited degrees and spiritual kinship), or coercion. 
imperium: In ancient Rome, the supreme power, including both military and judicial authority. Merum et mixtum imperium: High and low justice, the faculty to impose punishment in the sphere of criminal law (merum imperium) and to administer civil lawsuits (mixtum imperium).
imprisonment: Placing in prison or confinement, notably either to await trial or as punishment; see also false imprisonment.
in blasmo: In twelfth- and thirteenth-century Milan, a lesser degree of outlawry devised for parties failing to appear in court, which could be redeemed upon payment of a fine within a fixed period.
incest: A crime defined under Canon law, consisting of sexual intercourse or cohabitation within prohibited degrees of kinship or spiritual affinity
indictment: Presentment of felonies.
induction: The action of appointing someone to an ecclesiastical office.
infamia: Bad reputation, which often produced legal disabilities, such as the loss of the right to appear in court.
infangentheof: Old English term for the right of executing, after summary trial, thieves caught in the act or soon after.
infanticide: The crime of killing an infant after birth, punishable in secular and ecclesiastical courts, as well as being considered a spiritual crime in the latter. 
inheritance: The passing of property on the death of an individual to an heir.
inhibitions, judicial: An act of restraint or prohibition from a superior to an inferior court suspending proceedings in the inferior court pending an appeal; may also refer to the suspension of a clergyman from the performance of services. 
iniuria: A wrongful act or unlawfulness, including bodily injury, damage to goods, and offences against good reputation.
Inns of Court: Originally lodgings in London for lawyers and those training to be lawyers, the Inns became the places where barristers train.
inquest, inquisitio, inquisitorial procedure: The core of ex officio proceedings, consisting of the investigation by a judge and his officials of a matter brought by publica fama: the person would be summoned and asked either to admit or to deny the crime, and in the case of the latter, to submit to canonical purgation (see compurgation).
inquisition post mortem: In England, an enquiry into the death, lands and rights, and the heir of one thought to be a tenant-in-chief.
insanity: A disability at law; in Canon law preventing one from making a legal testament, and in Common law having no mental capacity for criminal intent.
inspection days: Days where the parties and judges go to the disputed property to establish the facts.
intentiones: A list of main issues and minor points identified by the judge or court official, which parties need to prove.
interrogatories: In Canon law procedure, questions asked of witnesses.
inter vivos: The attribute of any deed or transaction performed between the living; e.g. a donation inter vivos as opposed to a testamentary gift made in contemplation of death (mortis causa).
interdict: In ancient Roman law, a special decree by a magistrate ending a dispute before the judicial phase. In medieval Civil law, (1) a special decree by a magistrate ending a dispute before the judicial phase or (2) a form of action aimed at the recovery of possession. In Canon law, a sentence barring a particular place from ecclesiastical functions.
interest: Right or title to property, or to some of the benefits or uses pertaining to property.
intestacy: Dying without having made a will.
inventory (of estate): A detailed list of chattels found in the possession of a deceased person, often with a monetary value and organised by house or messuage, commonly appended to a testament
investiture: The formal installation of the incumbent of an ecclesiastical benefice. Investitura is also used in Feudal law as the act of giving possession of something; note the English term ‘vesting’. See also gewere.
iron, trial by: A form of trial by ordeal. A suspect would usually either carry a red-hot iron bar a certain distance or walk over red-hot iron ploughshares. Whether or not their burnt flesh had healed after a certain period would reflect God’s judgment on their guilt or innocence.
irrationabilis consuetudo: See approbatio.
issue: The subject being adjudicated upon in a law case. General issue: the entirety of a claim, as opposed to special points for decision. Special issue: a particular point to be adjudicated upon, deciding the action as a whole.
ius (right, law): In Civil law, the term used to describe (1) the law as a whole, (2) an aggregate or a coherent body of laws, or (3) a particular right.
ius civile: The law of a specific polity, typically the law of Rome.
ius commune: (i) General law, literally ‘common law’, with the Latin being frequently used to distinguish it from Anglo-American Common law; (ii) by extension, the compound body of universal law – both spiritual and secular – deposited in the two main compilations used throughout the high middle ages and beyond: the Corpus iuris civilis and the Corpus iuris canonici.
ius divinum: The law ordained by God.
ius gentium: The law common to all rational creatures, i.e. all men.
ius naturale: The law common to all living creatures. 
ius patronatus: The right of a patron to nominate an individual to an ecclesiastical benefice
ius proprium: The law proper to a specific jurisdiction, related to and contrasted with ius commune.
ius scriptum/non scriptum: Distinction between written and unwritten law, typically referring to the distinction between statutory and customary law
iusta causa: The objective and sufficient reason, or the legal ground, to a claim or possession.
iustitia: Justice. Ulpian describes iustitia as the source of ius (the law), which is the art of discerning what is good and just. In the Christian tradition, iustitia also assumes the meaning of God’s will or intellect which governs the material world.
itinerant justices: Justices who travelled on a circuit to hear pleas.
joinder of issue: Parties’ agreement to proceed with the case.
jointure: Property held to the joint use of a married couple, to be held  by the widow on the death of the husband. 
jury: A panel, usually of twelve free men, convened to deliver sworn verdicts as to certain disputed facts underpinning a case. Level 3 – Comparative Discussion
jurisdiction: The power of a court or individual to declare and/or administer law or justice; the range of matters or the territory over which such power extends. Level 2 – Longer Definition
justices of the peace: In England from the fourteenth century, knights commissioned in a county to keep the king’s peace and exercise judicial functions linked to this.
justices: Judges or judicial officials. 
justiciar, chief: In England, the king’s chief administrator in legal and political matters from the reign of William I to Henry III.
keepers of the peace: In England from the late twelfth century, knights commissioned in a county to keep the king’s peace.
keepers of the pleas of the crown: see coroners.
king’s peace: In England, public order upheld by the king (or queen), breach of which is associated with serious crimes.
knight service: Service in exchange for the holding of land in which the tenant was obliged to provide their lord a certain number of knights when required for military service. This evolved into a monetary payment known as scutage.
knight’s fee: A tenement owing the service of one knight; thus also e.g. half a knight’s fee, twenty knights’ fees, etc.
knighthood: A status associated with honourable, mounted military service
Laga Edwardi (‘Law of [King] Edward’): The ‘good old law’ of pre-Conquest England, confirmed by Norman kings in an attempt to legitimise their control of the country.
landgable, landgafol: Old English term for ‘land rent’.
larceny: Theft; the Common law crime of unlawfully taking the property of another, now abolished in England by the 1968 Theft Act.
lauda (or laudamenta curiae): Rulings determining the existence and the content of a custom, delivered by judges acting within the experience of the ius commune.
laudabilis (consuetudo): see approbatio.
law and fact: The distinction between the generalities of legal rules and the specificities of particular circumstance and fact.
Law French: A language spoken in medieval English courts based on medieval French with English and Latin borrowings.
Law Merchant, Lex mercatoria: A body of mostly customary law that developed in Europe from the Middle Ages and regulated commercial transactions. 
lawful man: A man possessed of all the rights of a freeman.
law-worthy: Possessed of full legal rights; having standing in courts and other legal matters, for example by swearing oaths or witnessing charters.
lease: An agreement regulating the use of property, by which a lessor conveys property to a lessee for a given time or at will in exchange for some remuneration, such as the payment of rent or the provision of a service.
lecturae: Lecture notes from a professor’s “reading” (lectura) of an authoritative source. Notes were collected in texts edited by either the professor himself or a student. 
leets, leet courts: Units in East Anglia below the level of the hundred.
legacy: Property left by will.
legislation: The act of making laws or the body of enacted laws. 
legitim, legitime: In Civil and Scots law, the portion of the deceased’s property to which the deceased’s children are legally entitled, regardless of the terms of the will.
legitimacy: The quality of being in accordance with the principles of law and justice; the condition of someone born within lawful wedlock.
legitimation: The rendering legitimate of an illegitimate child.
lèse majesté: A crime against the ruler or state; treason.
letters close: Letters sealed in such a way that the seal is irreparably broken when opening them.
letters patent: Letters sealed in such a way that the seal may preserved when opening them, and therefore particularly used when the letter is to be authoritatively preserved.
libel: writing damaging to a person’s reputation.
libellus, libel: Particularly in Civil and Canon law, the written document of the plaintiff containing his or her allegations and initiating the lawsuit. In principle, the libellus had to specify the actions to be brought against the opponent.
liberti, coliberti: Freed men
liberty: (i) A privilege; (ii) a privileged area.  
liege lordship: The lordship that takes precedence over other lordship relations; also e.g. liege homage.
limitation: The period of time in which a party must make a claim before the right to initiate an action is extinguished. 
litis contestatio: Joining of issue in court, signifying the close of the initial proceedings and indicating that the parties have agreed on the substance of the case. 
livery of seisin: The ceremony of transferring possession land or other rights.
loanland: Old English term for leased land.
Lombard law: Legal system based on the laws enacted by the Lombard kings of Italy, from the 7th century onwards.
lord: One exerting lordship.
lord-and-heir rule: A Common law rule preventing a lord from inheriting land when a tenant died, even if the lord might otherwise have been the person’s closest heir.
lords’ courts: Courts held by lords, be it because of their control of an area or a group of persons, or because of a privilege. Level 2 – Longer Definition
lordship: (1) Routinised power derived from social status exerted over subordinates; or (2) the territory over which this power is exerted. Level 2 – Longer Definition
lunacy: see insanity.
magna glossa: see Glossa Ordinaria.
mainpast: Those for whom a head of a household stands as surety.
mainprise: Procuring the release of an imprisoned person through someone undertaking to stand surety (‘mainpernor’) for the former prisoner’s appearance in court at a set date.
maintenance: Unlawful support for a party in a lawsuit.
majestas: The quality distinguishing supreme power and its holder.
majority, age of: The age at which a person attains full legal rights.
maleficium: In Civil law, a crime committed against an individual – i.e. theft, assault, damage to property, or robbery – as opposed to a crime committed against the community (Lat. crimen). In Common law, such were amongst the crimes treated as felonies. The term was later associated with witchcraft.
manbot: Old English term for compensation to a slain man’s lord.
manor: A territorial unit of lordship, which could contain both demesne lands and peasant holdings, with the lord enjoying a variety of economic and jurisdictional rights.
manorial court: The court of a manor, often attended by unfree tenants.
manorial law: Law relating to a lord’s lesser, often unfree, tenants within a manor. 
manorial rolls: Records of manorial courts, kept in the form of rolls.
manslaughter: Homicide considered less serious than murder.
manumission: Formal release from slavery or other types of unfreedom.
marriage-portion, maritagium: Property that a woman brings to her husband in marriage. See also dowry.
marriage: A legal and sacramental union between a man and woman. Precise definition develops over the middle ages
master and servant, law of: Law relating to the relations between one person who has authority over another, and has the power to direct the latter’s services, for example in relation to place and time. 
mayhem: A felony in Common law whereby the perpetrator unlawfully and through force injures the victim to such an extent that they lose the use of a body part, e.g. an arm or a leg.
mediation: A process aimed at obtaining through a neutral intermediary a negotiated settlement to a dispute.
memory, legal: Period from which documentary or other evidence may be drawn to prove a right or custom; cf. ‘time out of mind’, which precedes the time of legal memory.
mens rea: A state of mind making an action criminal; criminal intent.
merchet: Payment to a lord for the right to give a daughter in marriage.
mercy, law of: The idea in Canon law that it is better to err in the mercy of remission than in the severity of punishment (C. 26 q. 7 c. 12). 
mesne judgment: A court’s intermediate (i.e. ‘mesne’) judgment as to which party in a dispute should provide proof.
mesne lord/tenant: One who holds from a lord other than the king.
mesne process: process between beginning of lawsuit and final judgment; process to ensure initial appearance of defendant.
military tenure: The holding of land in return for military service, especially knight service.
minor: One who is not yet of age.
misdemeanour: A crime less serious than a felony.
miserabiles personae: Phrase used to designate persons recommended to judicial benevolence, including widows, orphans, and the poor.
miskenning: Old English term for mis-speaking in court, which might endanger one’s case; the fine for such mis-speaking.
mitigation: A relaxation of the severity of a sentence on account of particular circumstances. 
morning-gift (morgengifu morgengabe)A ritual gift given by a husband to his wife the morning after the wedding night.
mort d’ancestor, assize of: An assize in England whereby an heir may claim his inheritance through a recognition; in Scotland known as ‘mortancestry’.
mortgage: Conveyance of property as security for a debt; the property thus mortgaged will be returned on payment of the debt according to stipulated terms.
mortmain: The status of land held by an ecclesiastical institution or other corporation. As a tenant of this kind could never die, commit a felony or marry, the lord was deprived of feudal incidents from the land.
mortuary: A customary offering made to a parish on the death of an individual, to be taken from moveable goods;in England known as a ‘soul-scot’ in the Anglo-Saxon period and later referred to by Blackstone (Commentaries, ii. 425) as an ‘ecclesiastical heriot.’ 
Mosaic law: The law delivered by God to Moses. 
moveables: Property capable of being moved or displaced. 
multure: A duty owed to the owner of a mill, often paid in grain, for the use of the mill.
mund: Old English term for protection.
mundbryce: Old English term for breach of protection.
murder: Unlawful homicide with malice aforethought; originally particularly associated with secret or concealed slaying (in Old English, morð). 
murdrum: (i) Secret homicide; (ii) In post-1066 England, a communal penalty paid for the killing of a Frenchman (or perhaps any foreigner) when the slayer could not be found; later a similar penalty for the killing of any freeman.
naifty, action of: Action in Common law to establish whether a person was free or unfree. 
nativi: Persons born into unfree status
ne vexes, writ: A writ in Common law prohibiting a lord from demanding more services than were due from the land held by the tenant. 
negligence: Lack of proper or reasonable care.
nisi prius: In England, a system, formalised by Statute in 1285, whereby cases begun at Westminster could be tried in the counties by justices who had been granted authority to hear the case. The verdict of the jurors would then be reported to the justices at Westminster for judgment to be pronounced.
non obstante: Legislative clause by which a medieval or early modern prince invoked his absolute power to alter, derogate, or abrogate existing law. Level 2 – Longer Definition
nonfeasance: The failure to perform an action required by law.
notary: A trained individual who produced legal documents on behalf of courts and litigants.
novel disseisin, novel dissaisine (Scotland): A swift action, making use of a recognition, to reverse recent, unjust disseisins.
nuisance: The disturbance of another’s enjoyment of their rights, particularly real property.
oath-helpers: Those swearing to the truthfulness of a person taking an oath; see also compurgation. 
oath: A solemn vow, invoking God or saints, that one’s statement is true or that one will be bound to a promise; cf. faith, pledge of.
oblation: An offering; in particular, for example, the presentation of money or goods to a church, usually for the maintenance of clergy or the relief of the poor; also refers to annualia, which were specific testamentary oblations to be made on behalf of the deceased to pay for an annual mass on the day of their death. 
obligation: Something a person is bound to do. In Civil law, a legal bond by which a creditor is entitled to demand a particular performance to a debtor.
odio et atia (hatred and spite): A defence in Common law based on the argument that the charge was brought by hatred and spite. 
official, bishop’s: An officer of the court (usually with legal training) to whom a bishop delegated his metropolitan authority. 
ordeal: Invocation of the judgment of God as to the guilt or innocence of a suspect through the latter’s performance of a hazardous activity. See also trial by battle, trial by iron, and trial by water.
ordo iuris: The proper sequence of procedural steps to be followed in court. 
ordo, ordines: Romano-canonical procedural treatises, concerning either procedure as a whole or a single element of procedure such as exceptions
ordinance (or proclamation): A legislative enactment issued by the prince. 
ostensurus quare: A family of Common law writs from which actions of trespass developed, demanding that the defendant come to court and show why (‘ostensurus quare’) they had acted in a way which was injurious to the plaintiff.
outlawry: The condition of being put outside the protection of the law after failing to appear in court when accused of a crime, or when ignoring a summons in certain non-criminal actions.
ownership: A legal relationship between an individual or corporation and a thing, either physical or incorporeal, which gives the owner rights in the thing to the exclusion of others.
oyer et terminer: In England, a commission for a justice on circuit to hold (‘to hear and determine’) criminal trials. 
paleae: Interpolations within the text of Gratian’s Decretum.
pannage: The right to pasture pigs in woodland; payment for this, or the right to receive such payment.
papal judge delegate: A judge delegated by the pope to hear a particular case or cases.
papal legate: A representative of the pope, empowered to act as a judge in ecclesiastical matters.
papal provision: Papal presentation, institution, and installation a candidate in a ecclesiastical benefice, this right arising from the fullness of his jurisdiction. 
parage: A form of tenure where an inheritance is divided between brothers (or sisters), with younger holding from the eldest and the eldest holding from the lord. 
paraphernalia: Articles of a woman’s personal property (e.g. clothes) that did not automatically transfer to her husband because of marriage.
parceners: Those entitled to hold an inheritance jointly as co-heirs.
pardon: Formal remission of punishment for a crime.
Parlement: French royal court in Paris; operates both as an appellate court and a court of first instance.
partible inheritance: An inheritance which, on descent, is divided amongst heirs, see also parage.
passive interpretation: Interpretation of the ius proprium in light of the ius commune. This interpretative technique was typically used for the interpretation of municipal charters and statutes.
Patent Rolls: Rolls of parchment containing copies of letters patent issued by the king of England.
patria potestas: In Civil law, the power and authority of a father (paterfamilias) over his children and family.
patronage, lay: The right of a layperson to present a new incumbent of a parish to the diocesan bishop for appointment to a benefice (see advowson).
pays de droit coutumier: According to a traditional distinction, the territories of northern France abiding by a legal system based on non-written customary law.
pays de droit écrit: According to a traditional distinction, the territories of southern France abiding by a legal system based on written law, inspired by Civil law.
peace, king’s: see king’s peace.
peace of God: An attempt from the late tenth century to increase peace by prohibiting certain forms of violence, particularly against certain persons or objects. Level 2 – Longer Definition
peers, trial by: judgment carried out by the defendant’s equals (peers).
penal servitude: Loss of freedom, either temporary or permanent, as a punishment.
penance: Penalty or self-mortification undergone as result of commission of a sin.
penitentials: Manuals concerning penances.
pension: see annual pension.
perambulation: A ceremony of walking round an area of land to establish and confirm its boundaries.
peremptory citation or summons: A final or ultimate summons to appear in court, after which no other summons or warning should be expected.
perjury: Lying when under oath.
perpetuities: Dispositions of property preventing any future alienation.
personal law: A system of law that applies to a specific group or category of people and not to a territory (territorial law).
personal property: Moveables or intangible things not classified as real property.
petitioner: A plaintiff petitioning in a suit or an action.
petitory actions: Category of legal actions used to claim something to which the plaintiff is entitled. The burden of proof falls on the plaintiff. In Civil law, these actions were specifically brought to recover ownership over a thing on grounds of a lawful title. cf. possessory actions.
petty assizes: (Also known as possessory assizes.) A category of legal action in England introduced in the later twelfth century designed to resolve disputes concerning possession of land swiftly with reference to recent facts. Cf. right, writ of. Level 2 – Longer Definition
petty jury: A jury that decides a final issue of fact in a trial and gives a verdict; cf. grand jury.
petty larceny: Larceny concerning items of less than a specified value.
petty serjeanty: A form of tenure by which land was held for the service of minor duties to the Crown, see also serjeanty.
Pipe Rolls: Rolls of parchment recording certain types of payment to the Crown, and certain types of Crown expenditure. They also contain accounts of debts owed to the Crown, and for what purpose the debt was incurred.
placitumIn Carolingian times, judicial court held by the king or a royal officer. From the eleventh century onwards, (i) a judicial court held by lords in their lordships, or (ii) a plea or lawsuit.
plaints (oral complaints): An action initiated by complaint to the king or his justices rather than through a writ issued by the chancery or the justices.
plaintiff: The party that brings a suit in a law court. See also complainant.
plea rolls: Rolls of parchment containing records of cases which came before courts.
pleaders: Individuals tasked with presenting and arguing a case before a court.
pleading: The act of presenting and arguing a case before a court.
pleas of the Crown: In England, the most serious pleas, particularly connected with the king’s interests. Level 2 – Longer Definition
pledge of faith: see faith, pledge of.
pledge: A person who acts as a surety for another; sometimes also used of money or property (cf. gage).
plenitudo potestatis: A notion developed within Canon law to express the fulness of power enjoyed by the pope. 
pluralism: Jurisprudential notion typically referring to the multiplicity of autonomous legal orders interrelating within the orbit of a larger jurisdiction.    
pone, writ and procedure: A process in England for transferring cases from the shire to the king’s court.
positiones: An exchange of statements presented by the plaintiff to the defendant which aimed at identifying the elements of dispute on which parties agree and reducing the number of things that had to be proved.
positiones: A procedural step introduced in northern Italian procedure in the late twelfth century according to which, after the joinder of issue, parties exchanged their versions of the facts relevant to a case through statements that could be either confirmed or rejected by the opponent. This stage aimed at identifying facts that were acknowledged by both parties which did not require proof in the following steps of the trial.
possessio civilis/naturalis: The distinction between a possession qualified by Civil law and the pure factual detention of a good or a right. The possessio civilis asks for a belief to own on the base of a iusta causa, and entitles the possessor to possessory actions (interdicta) at Civil law.
possessio, possession, concept of: The control of a thing with the necessary intention to exercise such control. This control can exist alongside rights of ownership, or be used as prima facie evidence of ownership.
possessory actions: A category of legal actions brought to recover possession of a thing. cf. petitory actions.
possessory assize: see petty assizes.
post obit: ‘After death’, usually used with reference to alienations.
potestas, podestà: In Latin, literally, ‘power, legal authority’. In high medieval Italy, especially from the late twelfth-century onwards, the elected ruler of a city commune, usually coming from another city and theoretically less involved in local politics and feuds. Potestates were elected annually or every six months, depending on the local municipal custom.
potestas absoluta: One of the two facets of the medieval understanding of sovereignty. The abstract power of the prince to make and especially unmake human law.
potestas ordinaria: One of the two facets of the Mmdieval understanding of sovereignty. The concrete power of the prince to act under the law. 
potestas statuendi: The power enjoyed by municipal jurisdiction to enact their own charters and statutes. 
poverty: A possible cause for mitigation of a monetary sentence, usually requiring the litigant to pay what he owed when he “came into a more prosperous condition.”
pre-emption: The opportunity to purchase before that opportunity is available to others.
precedent: A case establishing a principle by which later legal questions or cases with similar issues can be solved.
praecipe quod reddat, writ of: In England a writ conveying a command that the recipient give back land to the complainant, disobedience of which will lead to the matter being heard before the king or his justices.
precipe, writ of: In England a writ conveying a command, disobedience of which will lead to the matter being heard before the king or his justices. Level 2 – Longer Definition
praetor urbanus: One of the highest magistrates in the Roman Republic and Empire, who had jurisdiction in Rome and the right to promulgate edicts to supplement or correct existing law. The law thereby created consisted primarily of procedural remedies, and is referred to as ius honorarium.
prerogative wardship: The royal right to take wardship of all the lands of a tenant-in-chief, of whomsoever they are held.
prescription: A right to property acquired by long-lasting, continued, and pacific occupancy (see also usucapio), or (2) a right to resist a legal claim based on lapse of time.
presentation: The right of a lay patron to provide a candidate to a church office.
presentment: An accusation brought by a sworn body of men. See also jury and indictment.
presumption: In Civil and Canon law, reasonable conjecture concerning something doubtful, based on arguments and appearances; not a form of proof, but a substitute for proof when proof was wanting. Level 2 – Longer Definition
prévôt (praepositus): A local official, usually of a lord.
primer seisin: The right of a lord to have seisin of his deceased tenant’s land and receive its profits until the heir had paid relief and performed homage. The 1267 Statute of Marlborough abolished the right to primer seisin for all but the Crown.
primogeniture: The legal preference for a first-born child (usually male) to inherit their parents’ estate ahead of siblings or other relatives.
principal: The person perpetrating or directly responsible for a crime, as opposed to an accessory.
private hundreds: see franchises.
private war: Warfare generally between aristocrats, permitted in some areas of medieval Europe but prohibited by rulers in others.
privilegium fori: The legal privilege to be tried in a court of a certain type, usually referring to the right of a clerk to be tried in an ecclesiastical court (benefit of clergy).
probate: The official proving of a will, including the delivery of a verified copy of the will to the executors certifying that it has been proved and granting them administrative authority. 
procedural law: The elements of law concerned with the mechanics of court action. Generally distinguished from substantive law, determining rights, claims, obligations; e.g., law as to whom an inheritance should pass on the death of a tenant.
processus: A written summary of the procedural steps taken in a case in the ecclesiastical courts, often including relevant documents.
proclamation: The denunciation of someone or something by public notice, such as declaring someone to be outlawed or excommunicate.
proctor: A representative who appears in court on behalf of the plaintiff or defendant.
profits of justice: Revenue created in the process of doing justice, for example financial penalties and forfeitures.
prohibited degrees of kinship: An impediment to marriage, based on the closeness of the relationship between two people (calculated by counting back generations to a common ancestor); in Canon law, marriage was prohibited within four degrees of consanguinity (kinship by blood) and affinity (kinship by marriage or intercourse) until the ninth century, at which point it was expanded to seven degrees until the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), which reverted the prohibited degrees to four.
prohibition, writs of: A writ issued either to the opposing party or to the ecclesiastical court itself, restricting the court from proceeding with the case on the grounds that the case did not fall under ecclesiastical jurisdiction. 
proof: The establishment of a fact, including the veracity or absence of veracity of a party’s complaint or claim. Forms of proof could include confession, presumptions, written evidence, oaths of parties, compurgationinquests of sworn individuals, and witness testimony. The overall burden of proving the case rested with the plaintiff
property, concept of: See ownership
proprietas: The Roman law concept of ownership, synonymous in Roman law with dominium.
publica fama; public voice and fame: Public knowledge of persons and deeds, central to inquisitorial procedure; fama was required to initiate an ex officio criminal trial and had to meet a number of preliminary tests (sufficient number of credible, non-biased witnesses); similar to a grand jury presentment in Common law. Level 2 – Longer Definition
purpresture: Illegal encroachment on land or other property.
quaestiones: The written form of the disputations held at the law schools, based on the opposition of arguments pro and contra cases of problematic interpretation.
quare impedit: A Common law writ to summon the defendant to explain why he impeded a presentation to a benefice.
quare intrusit: (i) An early Common law writ which demanded that the defendant come to court to explain why he intruded (quare intrusit se) into the fee of another; (ii) a later Common law writ (quare intrusit matrimonio non satisfacto) available to a lord whose ward had rejected the marriage arranged by his lord, and entered their land having married another.
quitclaim: (i) The surrender of lands or other rights and all claim to them; (ii) a document recording such a surrender.
quo warranto: Enquiry as to by what warrant a privilege or land is held. 
quod omnes tangit (ab omnibus comprobetur): A general principle of the Civil law (C. 5.59.5 § 2) by which “what touches all, ought to be approved by all.” 
rape: Coerced sexual intercourse. Cf. abduction Level 2 – Longer Definition
ratio scripta/written reason: Expression typically referred to Justinianic compilation of Roman law, understood to be the depositary of written reason. 
rationalis consuetudo: see approbatio.
real and personal actions: Civil law divided actions into two broad categories: personal (in personam) and real (in rem). The former concerned relationships between legal persons, the latter concerned the relationship between a person and property. From the time of Bracton this classification has been used to describe Common law actions, although the English use of these categories does not exactly match the Roman as English law generally limits real actions to immoveable property.
real property: Immoveable property, particularly land, and anything attached to or erected on it. Cf. personal property.
receiver of stolen goods: Someone knowingly dealing in stolen goods. 
recognition: A process whereby a body of neighbours (recognitors) gave a true answer to a question put to them by the public official who had summoned them.
record: A formal statement of the proceedings of an earlier hearing of a case.
recovery: A legal process through which an entailed estate.
rector: The incumbent of a parish church.
recusant: One who brings a recusation
recusation: A challenge to the cognisance of a judge on the grounds of prejudice or interest, similar to an exception
reeves: Officials, of various status.
regalia: (1) Prerogatives belonging the sovereign alone or (2) the royal insignia.
regard of Forest: In England, an inquiry into wrongs committed within the royal Forest.
registers of writs: works containing exemplars of royal writs Level 2 – Longer Definition
rei vindicatio: A Roman law action to claim ownership.
relief: A payment made to a lord by an heir for his inheritance. Level 2 – Longer Definition
remainder: A future interest in property which will see the property transfer to the holder of this interest the ‘remainderman’ at a specified time or on a specified event.
remedies, canonical: Means of legal redress in Canon law, such as excommunication or penance
replevin: An action used to recover personal property which had been wrongfully seized by another.
replication: A reply to an exception brought by the opposing party.
representation (principle of): The principle that the heir of someone who would have inherited had they not pre-deceased the person from whom the inheritance was to descend can inherit as the ‘representative’ of the deceased first heir. For example, a grandchild can inherit from a grandparent if the child’s father, the grandparent’s heir, pre-deceased the grandparent. See also casus regis.
reprisals: A means of dealing with personal grievances that allowed the subjects of one jurisdiction to seize property owned by citizens or subjects of a foreign jurisdiction residing on the territory of the latter in retaliation for the injure suffered by some other citizen or subject of the same foreign jurisdiction. 
res iudicata: A legal doctrine meant to bar or preclude continued litigation of a case on the same issues between the same parties following a final judgment. 
res sacra: Sacred things, i.e. items consecrated to God or gifts dedicated to the service of the Church.
resistance: The right to refuse obedience or actively react against an unlawful or unjust use of power. 
respondent: The party that answers an accusation or claim in a law case. 
retrait féodal: The right of a lord to recover a fief held of him, when it was sold by the fief-holder, after reimbursement to the purchaser.
retrait lignager: Old French. The right of kin to the pre-emptive purchase of heritable property in case of sale outside the family.
returnable writ: A writ setting specified judicial proceedings in motion, and returned by the addressee to the royal justices hearing the case with added information written upon it.
reversion: A future interest in property which remains to the grantor of an estate, which ensures that on certain conditions, the estate will revert to the grantor or their heirs.
rex superiorem non recognoscens in regno suo est imperator: A widely successful formula developed across Europe during the Middle Ages, claiming that free princes enjoyed within their kingdoms the same powers enjoyed by the emperor over the whole world. 
rhetoric: One of the seven liberal arts taught in the schools and universities; ‘forensic’ rhetoric was that to be used in courts. 
right of presentation: See presentation.
right, writ of (de recto): See writ of right.
right: An entitlement or claim to something. Often the meaning of the Latin ‘ius’ in Anglo-Norman sources. That which is ordained by the correct operation of law.
robbery: Unlawful taking of another’s property by violence or intimidation.
royal laws: Bodies of law prompted or enacted by each distinct kingdom.   
rule of law: The supremacy of law over the exercise of power and the organization of society.
sacrament: A solemn rite pertaining to the Church and its jurisdiction (for example, marriage). 
sacrilege: A crime defined under Canon law as the theft of a sacred thing from a sacred place, a non-sacred thing from a sacred place, or a sacred thing from a non-sacred place. 
sake and soke: Financial or jurisdictional rights enjoyed by in England lords relating to various offences. Level 2 – Longer Definition
sanctions, canonical: A penalty enacted to enforce obedience, such as excommunication, suspension, interdict, or penance.
sanctuary: A church or other place where a fugitive was entitled to temporary or permanent immunity from seizure.
scabini (échevins): In high medieval northern Europe, public officers exerting judicial and administrative functions in a town or rural district.
scandal: Discredit to the Church occasioned by the conduct of a member, a moral lapse, or anti-social behaviour, such as scolding, drunkenness, or other disturbances; the result of unresolved misdemeanours.
scientia iuris: Formally acquired legal learning.
scutage: Payment in lieu of knight service. 
secular/spiritual law: The dialectical relationship between “the inner and outer aspects of social life” (Berman), i.e. between the obligations owed to external authorities and the ones rooted in conscience instead. 
secular arm: The involvement of the secular courts in an ecclesiastical case upon the request of the ecclesiastical courts, usually initiated by a writ; frequently seen regarding excommunication, when a writ de excommunicato capiendo was issued for the imprisonment of a excommunicate who would not submit to the authority of the Church and had been in contempt for 40 days. 
security of possession/tenure: The right to continue to occupy and enjoy, especially land or other property.
security: Something pledged or given to guarantee fulfilment of an obligation.
sede vacante: The jurisdiction held (usually by the prior and chapter of a cathedral) while the episcopal seat was unfilled (i.e., there was no bishop).
seigneurial courts: see lords’ courts.
seignory: Lordship.
seise: To put in possession of lands or other rights. 
seisin: (i) Possession based on some justifiable claim; (ii) the act of seising. 
self-defence: Defence of oneself against an assailant by physical force.
seneschal: A lord’s steward who, in some parts of France, often had judicial duties.
sentence (interlocutory and definitive): A judgment or decision made regarding a case in an ecclesiastical court; interlocutory sentences were temporary, such as a judge’s decision whether or not to allow an exception, and definitive sentences finished the proceedings. 
sequestration: The appropriation of ecclesiastical incomes during a case to restrain further dissipation or interference; usually these incomes were used to satisfy claims against the incumbent or were diverted to the bishop and often used to carry out repairs.
serfdom: Unfree status.
serjeant-at-arms: In Normandy, a legal officer charged with various duties such as overseeing views of land and ensuring that the judgments of assizes are carried out.
serjeant-at-law: A class of professional lawyer which had its origins in the thirteenth century. Serjeants-at-law had the authority to plead on behalf of their clients, and were the only individuals entitled to plead in the Court of Common Pleas at Westminster.
serjeanty: (i) Tenure based on rendering some personal service to the lord, normally distinguished from knight service; (ii) land held thus. See also petty serjeanty.
service: A duty to be rendered by one person to another; in particular in the middle ages the duty, in money, kind, act or labour, that a tenant must render periodically to a lord.
servitude: A right to limited use of a piece of land without possession of the land; cf. easement. 
settlement of litigation: The resolution of a lawsuit by the parties in an out-of-court agreement; encouraged in the ecclesiastical courts in an effort to facilitate peaceful conclusions for the benefit of the individual and the community. 
sheriff’s tourn: The sheriff’s biennial tour of hundred courts, notably to inspect the workings of frankpledge
sheriff: A royal official with responsibility for the administration of a county (shire) on the Crown’s behalf.
signification, letter of: A letter sent from the ecclesiastical courts to the chancery notifying them that an individual had been excommunicate for 40 days or longer and requesting a writ de excommunicato capiendo. See also secular arm.
simony: A crime defined under Canon law, consisting of the buying and selling of ecclesiastical benefices.
slave: A person who is the property of another.
socage: (i) Tenure in England based on rendering fixed services, usually rent; (ii) land held thus. 
soke: In England, a lord’s jurisdictional and other rights over an area of land.
sokeland: Land held by men paying renders to the lord who had soke over them. 
sokemen: An English classification of men, generally free men. 
special issue: see issues, special.
special verdict: A verdict retuned by a jury on the truth of certain alleged facts, but which leaves the application of the law to these facts to a judge.
spiritual kinship: A spiritual bond, such as godparentage, which is an impediment to marriage within the prohibited degrees of affinity. 
status: A person’s legal condition or position in relation to the law, generally treated as distinct from that arising from property relations. Level 2 – Longer Definition
statute: A written law passed by a legislative authority.
stewards: Officials, often with significant judicial functions.
subinfeudation: The grant of land by someone holding of another, for the grantee to hold from the grantor as a fief.  
substantive law: The elements of law determining rights, claims, obligations; e.g., law as to whom an inheritance should pass on the death of a tenant. Generally distinguished from procedural law, concerned with the mechanics of court action.
substitution: A grant of land whereby the current tenant surrenders it to his lord, who in turn grants it to a new tenant to hold from him. Cf. Surrender and admittance.
suit of court: The obligation to attend court. 
suit of kin: Trocedure whereby family members were produced to provide proof in cases concerning status.
suit, lawsuit: A proceeding by one party (or several parties) against another in a court of law.
suitor: A person attending court; a plaintiff or petitioner in a lawsuit.
summa: Literary genre adopted within the school of the Glossators, which allowed to gather the multiple and dispersed glossae within a single organic discourse, typically meant to illustrate the Codex.   
summary process: A legal procedure shortened by the omission of some of the formal steps found in long-form procedure, found most frequently in ex officio and tuitorial proceedings.
summoners: People responsible for carrying out summons to court.
summons: A formal order to attend court.
surety: A person pledged to ensure another’s appearance in court or fulfilment of some other obligation. Level 2 – Longer Definition
surrender and admittance: The restoration of copyhold land to the lord of the manor (surrender) and the granting of copyhold land to a tenant (admittance). Cf. Substitution.
suspension: One of two legal sanctions: the first prevented a layman from receiving communion and possibly from attending services (though lacking the full ceremony of excommunication), the second suspended a cleric’s tenure of his benefice and his clerical status and ranged from a short temporary suspension to a permanent reduction to lay status. 
suum cuique tribuere: One of the three fundamental precepts of Roman law (iuris precepta) prescribing to give each his own; the other two being honeste vivere and alterum non laedere (D. 1. 1. 10). This precept has been historically interpreted as establishing the relationship between law and justice. 
tallage: A financial exaction levied by king or lords on their tenants, lands, or e.g. towns. 
talu (statement): Old English word for a statement made in court; it came to be reserved for the plaintiff’s statement or count.
team: In England, especially Anglo-Saxon England, the process of establishing title to moveable goods by vouching to warranty the person from whom they had been obtained; the right to revenues arising from such pleas, and sometimes of jurisdiction over them.
tenant in chief: One who holds directly from the king. Level 2 – Longer Definition
tenement: Property which is held from another (from the Latin tenere – to hold).
tenure at will: An informal mode of holding a tenement by permission of another, without security of tenure.
tenure, dependent: The holding of land from another in exchange for service, which may create a chain of tenurial relationships ultimately leading to, in England, the king.
tenure: (i) The holding of land from a lord; (ii) the land itself held from a lord; (iii) the terms on which such land is held; (iv) doctrine of tenure: the doctrine in England, not spelt out in writing during our period, that all land is held directly or indirectly from the king.
term of years: Tenure for a specified period of years, although one which did not create a free tenement for the tenant. 
testament: A legal declaration in writing of a person’s wishes for the disposal of his or her chattels after death and appoints executors; a will. Level 3 – Comparative Discussion
testamentary succession: Succession arising from the designation of an heir in a will. Level 3 – Comparative Discussion
theft: Unlawful (in Common law felonious) taking away of another’s moveables. 
thegnage, tenure: A free tenure in the north of England, with strong elements of personal service.
thegns: Lesser aristocrats in Anglo-Saxon England.
third party: A person or party apart from the two principals, usually somehow implicated in a lawsuit, transaction, etc.
tithes: A form of taxation consisting of one tenth of an individual’s income paid to an ecclesiastical or lay authority.
tithing: A grouping of ten men for mutual security in England; cf. frankpledge
tithingmen: Men presiding over tithings.
toll: The right to payments relating to commerce and for goods passing through a place.
tolt: A process in England for transferring cases from a lord’s court to the county court.
tort: An act which has harmed or damaged someone, giving rise to civil liability.
translatio imperii: A notion developed to indicate the translation of the empire from the East to the West. Writers of the 9th century maintained that the translation took place with the coronation of Charlemagne by Pope Leo III. 
treason, high: A Common law offence concerning the betrayal of one’s sovereign.
treason, petty: A Common law offence concerning the betrayal of a lord or other superior.
treason: Betrayal, breach of faith; in English law a distinction came to be drawn between high treason, against the sovereign, and petty treason, against a subject.
treasure: Treasure of which the owner is unknown, found hidden in the ground or elsewhere. The ruler of the land had the right to such treasure. 
trespass: In Common law (i) A wrong; (ii) a wrong less serious than, for example, a felony.  
Truce of God: An attempt from the early eleventh century to increase peace by prohibiting violence on certain days or times of year. Level 2 – Longer Definition
trust: The separation of the legal and beneficial interest in a property, which is administered by trustee, who is the legal owner, for the good of the beneficiary, who is the equitable owner.
tuitio: A custom of the metropolitan court of Canterbury granting protection to litigants for one year to pursue an appeal in Rome upon the proof of the validity of that appeal.
“two swords” doctrine: Medieval doctrine according to which the world was governed by two distinct jurisdictions, the spiritual and the temporal. 
tyranny: Unjust rulership. Level 2 – Longer Definition
ubi societas, ibi ius: ‘Wherever there is society, there is law’. The expression refers to the inherently social nature of law and the equally inherent legal nature of social relations. 
ultimogeniture: The legal preference for a last-born child to inherit their parents’ estate ahead of siblings or other relatives.
unde nichil habet, writ of: In England, a writ brought by a widow who claiming she has received none of the dower to which she is entitled.
unde vi: A Roman law interdict against violent dispossession.
uses: The right to enjoy property with or without ownership title. In case of restrictions on alienation, uses allowed land conveyance outside the family line.
usucapio: Right to full ownership acquired by continued possession by the lapse of time defined by law (see also prescription).
usufruct: The right to use and enjoy the profit of property owned by another.
usury: The interest that a money lender requires from the borrower.
utfangentheof: The right of executing, after summary trial, thieves caught in the act or soon, wherever they are caught; cf. infangentheof
utrum, assize: An assize using a recognition, originally established by Henry II of England to determine whether land was lay fee or alms.
utrumque ius: ‘The one and the other law’. The expression refers to the dialectical relationship existing both in legal education and in legal thought between the Civil and the Canon law during the Middle Ages. 
vacancy: An interval between ecclesiastical office holders; in the case of bishops’ jurisdiction, a time during which the business of the ecclesiastical courts falls to the prior and chapter of the cathedral. 
vassal: From vassus. A term that in the early Middle Ages took different meanings, from ‘servant’ to ‘military man’ or a man directly subject to the king’s authority. In Feudal law, from the twelfth century onwards, vasallus defines a man holding a fief from a lord. Level 2 – Longer Definition
vavassour: A follower of a baron or capitaneus; hence, a member of  lower tier of the military aristocracy, of a status varying between regions.
vee de naam: In English law, an action brought against someone who had detained distrained goods ‘against gage and pledge’. 
venison: Rights over game animals in Forest.
verba de futuri: Words expressing the freely given consent of the couple that they will be married in the future, potential fulfilled by consummation. See also betrothal.
verba de presenti: Words expressing the freely given consent of the couple that they are henceforth married.
verderers: A lesser royal Forest official in England.
verdict: A decision of a court, jury or recognition on an issue submitted to them. 
vert: Rights over wood in Forest.
vest: To put in possession. Cf. to seise
vestitura: Putting in possession, installing; linked to the idea that someone can own something or exercise some power, including some public power, because he has been “dressed” (vested) by a superior. Closely related to the notion of seisin.
viciniaIn Italy, a neighbourhood, the ensemble of villagers, dwellers of the same village or town; by extension, the public gathering involving all the vicini.
view: A procedure whereby a group of men inspected a disputed tenement, to establish its precise extent and appurtenances.
vifgage: A gage of land that lasts until the debt is paid from its proceeds; cf. mortgage.
villeinage tenure: Tenure by which villeins held land of their lords, which was subject to heavy taxation and, often, labour service.
villeins, villeinage status: Status of serfdom or semi-freedom by which peasant farmers lived under several legal restrictions.
visitation: A visit paid by an official holding ordinary jurisdiction to inspect and correct an institution, similar in procedure to ex officio jurisdiction.
volumen (or volumen parvum): Title given during the time of the ius commune to the last volume of the five volume compilation of the Corpus iuris civilis. The volume gathered the Tres libri (the final three books of the Codex), the Institutes, the Authenticum, a number of Medieval imperial charters and constitutions, and the Libri feudorum.
vouching to warranty: See warranty.
Vulgar Roman law: Roman law as practised in the late antique and early medieval west, and
associated texts.
wager of law: Proof whereby a person states that an opponent’s claim or charge is groundless and employs oath-helpers to swear to the trustworthiness of his own word. See also compurgation.
waiver: Voluntary relinquishing of a claim or right. 
wapentake: See hundred.
warantia carte (warranty of charter), writ of: A writ initiating an action to compel a grantor to fulfil their obligations of warranty as contained in the charter recording the grant.
wardship and marriage: Feudal incidents which allowed the lord to take custody of a minor heir and their fief until they reached the age of majority. If the heir was female, the lord would be able to exercise some control over whom she married.
wardship: (i) Custody of an heir who is not yet of age, and/or the heir’s land; (ii) land held for this reason. 
warranty: Establishing title on the basis of having obtained the property from another who had good title; the statement by the person ‘vouched to warranty’ that they had such title. Level 2 – Longer Definition
warranty: The obligation of a grantor to defend their grantee in the face of claims of third parties.
warren: Rights of hunting in a certain area, particularly for hares or rabbits.
waste: The use of property in such a way as to harm the value of it. 
water, ordeal by: A form of trial by ordeal. In trial by cold water suspect would be immersed in a pool of water. If they floated they were guilty, if they sank, they were innocent. In trial by hot water a suspect would immerse their arm in boiling water. If the wound healed, they would be judged to be innocent.
wergeld: The amount to be paid in compensation for the slaying of a person; also used for calculation of other payments. 
wills: See testaments
wite: Old English term for a fine.
witnesses: Individuals produced by the parties in a dispute to provide sworn testimony, the standard method of proof in the English ecclesiastical courts. Level 3 – Comparative Discussion
wreck: rights relating to goods following shipwreck. 
writ of course (‘de cursu’): Common writs issued ‘as a matter of course’ by the Chancery for only a small fee.
right, writ of (de recto): One of the earliest writs of the English Common law, initiating a proprietary action which investigated which of the two parties had the ‘greater right’ to the tenement in dispute. Level 2 – Longer Definition
writ rule: A rule that emerged in England by the late-twelfth century, which stated that no-one was bound to answer a claim concerning their free tenements in the court of their lord unless the case was begun by a writ from the king or his chief justice.
writ, judicial: A writ issued by a court.
writ, original: A writ issued by the Chancery initiating a legal action.
writ, return of: (i) The handing over of a writ by the recipient to the relevant authority, (ii) a statement returned to a body issuing a writ which addresses the demands contained in the document.
writ: A formal written command issued by a competent authority, such as a court or the royal Chancery.  
Year Books: In England, unofficial records of cases made by lawyers, documenting what was purportedly said in court at various stages of proceedings.