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Glossary of Political, Property, & Government Terms (E to J)

Definitions of political, legal, & property terms, as well as terms related to government; from medieval times until the present day.


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Note. For brevity, some definitions on this webpage refer to eg. "King" or "Emperor" rather than eg. "King or Queen" or "Emperor or Empress" etc. Throughout history, there have been examples where women held power in their own right; rather than as consorts.



E.

Emperor:

Ruler of many separate countries or nations.

Enfeoff:

To take someone into vassalage where they will render a certain service in return for a fee or fief.

Equity (Law):

System of jurisprudence based on principles of fair conduct and natural justice. This can provide a remedy where none exists in law. It supplements common law and mitigates its inflexibility. See also common law, customary law and statute law.

Erskine May, May:

UK Parliament: Manual of Parliamentary practice, first published in 1844 by Clerk to the House of Commons, Thomas Erskine May: "A treatise on the law, privileges, proceedings and usage of Parliament." Updated regularly. Still regarded as authoritative.

Escheat:

Right of a feudal lord to the return of lands held by his vassal, or the holding of a serf, should either die without lawful heirs or suffer outlawry.

Estovers:

The right to gather wood.

Exchequer:

UK Government: Financial department of the royal government. The chief officers of the Exchequer were the Treasurer, the Chancellor and the Justiciar. Sheriffs, in their role as regional chief accountants, presented reports to the exchequer at Easter and Michaelmas.

Originally, accounts were verified by placing wooden tallies in the boxes marked on a check table cloth, hence the Exchequer. Chequers, the official country residence of the Prime Minister of the UK probably takes its name from the Exchequer checker-board pattern on the coat of arm of a previous owner, Elias Ostiarius.

Although Treasury officials had been instructed in 1726 to use paper records rather than tallies, wooden tallies were still used until the dissolution of the Court of Exchequer, in 1826. On 16th October 1834, two officials burning obsolete tally sticks in the cellars caused a fire which burned down most of the British Houses of Parliament. The Houses of Parliament were finally rebuilt between 1852 and 1870. They were bombed in 1941 and rebuilt after WWII.

Excommunication:

Exclusion from the membership of the church or from communion with faithful Christians. Those judged "tolerati" could still mingle with the faithful, but those "vitandi" could not and were exiled. See also Anathema.

Eyre:

Right of the King (or justices acting in his name) to visit and inspect the holdings of any vassal. This was done periodically, usually at irregular intervals of a few years.


F.

Farm:

Fixed sum, usually paid annually, for the right to collect all revenues from land; in effect, rent. Lords could farm land to vassals, receiving a fixed annual rent in place of the normal feudal obligation. Many sheriffs farmed out their shires, contracting in advance to pay a fixed annual sum to the crown, thus obtaining the right to collect any additional royal revenues for their own profit. The resulting extortion became widely unpopular.

Fealty (Oath of):

Oath by which a vassal swore loyalty to his lord, usually on a Relic of Saints or on The Bible.

Fee:

See Fief.

Felony:

In feudal law, any grave violation of the feudal contract between lord and vassal. Later it was expanded in common law to include any crime against the King's peace, and has come to mean any serious crime. Example: Murder is now a Felony, taking the burden of prosecution from the victim's family and giving it to the crown.

Feoff:

See Fief.

Feudalism:

System of governing whereby semi-autonomous landed nobility had certain well defined responsibilities to the King, in return for the use of grants of land (fiefs) exploited with the labour of a semi-free peasantry (serfs).

Feudum:

Land. Term used in continental Europe. A holding of land or land held through a special grant; normally by an Earl or a tenant-in-chief. Similar to an Honor.

Fief (also called fee or feoff):

Normally, land held by a vassal of a lord in return for stipulated services, chiefly military. Can also apply to an official position. Often called a Holding. Sometimes, unusual requirements were stipulated for transferring a fief. For example: Henry de la Wade held 42 acres of land in Oxford by the service of carrying a gyrfalcon (a falconry bird) whenever Kind Edward I wished to go hawking.

Fief de Haubert:

11th century French term equivalent to the term Knight's Fee because of the coat of mail (hauberk) which it entitled and required every tenant to own and wear when his services were needed. This provided a definite estate in France, because only persons who held this estate or greater were allowed to wear hauberks.

Fief-rente:

Money paid annually by a lord to a vassal in return for homage, fealty, and military service (usually knight service). It could include various things other than money, such as wine, cheese, providing chickens, or wood.

Fifth Column:

20th century term. Infiltrators. Subversive or hostile people in one's midst. Originally during the Spanish Civil War, the group of Franco's Falangist sympathisers inside Madrid who were prepared to help the four columns of troops attacking Madrid.

Fine:

Historically, a sum of money paid to the Crown to obtain some grant, concession, or privilege. Unlike an amercement, a fine was not a penalty, although failure to offer and pay a customary fine for some right, would undoubtedly lead to an amercement. These days, a financial penalty.

First Past The Post:

Electoral system, particularly in single member constituencies, where (only) the candidate who gets the most votes, is elected. All other candidates lose. Simple to administer, rapidly produces a clear winner, usually leads to a stable government formed from a single political party. But excludes minority parties. See also: Proportional Representation.

First Reading:

UK Parliament: The first stage where a proposed Parliamentary bill (new law) is introduced to Members of Parliament or The Lords. If approved, the bill is printed and returns for its Second Reading.

Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011:

UK Parliament: The 2011 law which gives each parliament a fixed five-year term, except when a government loses a confidence vote by a two-thirds majority vote.

Foreign Secretary:

UK Government: UK government minister responsible for foreign affairs.

Forfeiture:

Right of a feudal lord to recover a fief when a vassal failed to honour his obligations under the feudal contract.

Formariage (also called merchet):

The sum commonly paid by a serf to his lord when the serf's daughter married a man from another manor.

Franchise:

Definition of exactly which groups of people are entitled to register to vote in an election.

Frankpledge:

Legal condition under which every male member of a tithing (district) over the age of twelve was responsible for the good conduct of all other members of the tithing. Failure to control tithing members could lead to amercement of the entire tithing.

Front Bench, Front Bench Member of Parliament:

UK Parliament: Senior Member of Parliament; one who holds a post in government or opposition, & so sits on the Front Benches in the Parliamentary Chamber.

Frontier Justice:

See Summary Justice.


G.

General Election:

UK Parliament: Periodic election for all seats in the UK House of Commons; normally every four or five years. (The recent Fixed Term Parliament Act has changed this to exactly five years.)

Government, types of; –ocracies & –archies:

Note. The definitions of these terms vary with time, and different people use these terms to mean different things.

  • Aristocracy: Rule by the principal people of the state, or people in a privileged order; an oligarchy.
  • Autocracy: Rule by a single person having unlimited power; despotism (domination through threat of punishment and violence).
  • Authoritarian: Rule by a strong centralised power, which severely limits political & other freedoms. Often uses repression.
  • Bureaucracy: Administration of government chiefly through bureaus or departments staffed with non-elected officials.
  • Caliphate: Type of theocracy. State or empire ruled under the leadership of an Islamic steward; the caliph.
  • Democracy: Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives.
  • Dynasty: Rule by a series of closely related people who inherit power & pass it to their relatives.
  • Fascism: Rule, normally totalitarian, based on extreme theories of racial purity, superiority of a particular "master race," & that country's or race's supposed glorious history. That history is usually exaggerated & inaccurate; often faked.

  • Hierarchy: Rule through a layered structure, where the fewer people in higher layers control the actions of people in the lower layers.
  • Junta: Rule by a small powerful group; eg. a Military Junta of senior military officers.
  • Kleptocracy: Rule by thieves; eg. corrupt leaders (kleptocrats) who use their power to exploit that state's people & natural resources in order to extend their own personal wealth & political power.
  • Meritocracy: Where leaders or officeholders are selected on the basis of individual ability or achievement.
  • Monarchy: Rule by a king, queen, emperor or empress who can pass power on to their heirs. Types include "Absolute" & "Constitutional" Monarchy.
  • Oligarchy: Rule by a few people such as a dominant clan or clique. Term is often used instead of Plutocracy.
  • Plutocracy: Rule by the wealthy people.
  • Regency: Rule by an appointed Regent, because the Monarch is considered to be to ill or too young to rule.

  • Syncretic: Rule which tries to combine the best ideas or people, taken from a variety of backgrounds & sources.
  • Technocracy: Rule by "experts," rather than by politicians; particularly by people with a technical or scientific background or skill in "problem solving." Can apply to a whole government, or more usually only to particular departments. Normally, such people are appointed rather than elected; often to resolve some perceived crisis.
  • Theocracy: Rule by religious authorities.
  • Totalitarian: Rule where the government controls all aspects of life, without limits. Extreme form of authoritarianism. Often dominated by a powerful charismatic figurehead. Usually enforced by ruthless repression of anything or anyone that is contrary to government policies: "Everything within the state; nothing outside the state; nothing against the state."
  • Viceroy: An official who rules a country, colony, province or city as the representative of the Monarch.
Government of National Unity:

Type of coalition government, usually formed during severe national crises, where people from several political parties agree to cooperate temporarily "in the national interest."

Great Offices of State:

UK Government: The four principal ministers of UK Government: Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary.

Great Reform Bill:

See Reform Bill.

Guilds:

Term applied to trade associations whose chief aims were:

  • To protect members from the competition of foreign merchants.
  • To maintain commercial standards.

The first guilds were merchant guilds. Later, as industry became more specialized, craft guilds were formed. Guilds maintained a system of education whereby apprentices served a master for five to seven years before becoming a journeyman at about age nineteen. Journeymen worked in the shop of a master until they could demonstrate to the leaders of the guild that they were ready for master status.

Guild members were forbidden from competing with each other, and merchants were required to sell at a "just price".

In many English towns and cities, the principal public building is still called the "Guildhall."


H.

Hansard:

UK Parliament: Official transcript of Parliamentary debates. Named after the first official printer to Parliament, Thomas Curson Hansard (1776–1833). Before that, Parliament had been very secretive: Any publication of remarks made during debates was considered to be a breach of Parliamentary privilege, and was punished.

Hanseatic League:

Association of merchants and towns of northern Germany.

Hauberk:

Coat of mail (armour). See also Fief de Haubert.

Head of State:

King, Emperor, President, etc. Can wield real power; or be mostly ceremonial.

Hear In Camera, In Camera:

To hear & decide a (legal) case in secret. Proceedings may or may not be recorded. In Camera actually refers to use of a room or chamber; not to a picture recording device.

Hearing:

Legal proceeding where the merits of a case are heard & judged.

Heavy:

Enforcer. See henchman.

Henchman:

Formerly, a squire or page to a person of high rank. Trusted follower or assistant; particularly one who is prepared to do almost anything to support their boss. Enforcer.

Heptarchy (Seven Kingdoms of the):

Names given to the seven pre-Viking Kingdoms of England. Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria, Kent, East Anglia, Essex and Sussex.

Hereditary Peerage:

UK Honour awarded to a person, and their spouse, which can later be inherited by their children or close relatives. In modern times, people are awarded only life peerages.

Heredity:

Person's family; who they are descended from.

Heriot:

A payment which a feudal lord could claim from the possessions of a dead serf or other tenant, essentially a death tax. There were various forms of heriot. Generally if a tenant died in battle, the heriot was forgiven.

Her Majesty's Official Opposition:

UK Parliament: Normally, the political party with the second largest number of MPs.

Homage:

Ceremony by which a vassal pledged his fealty to his liege and acknowledged all other feudal obligations, in return for a grant of land.

Home Secretary:

UK Government: UK government minister responsible for home affairs.

Honor:

Land. Holding or group of holdings forming a large estate, such as the land held by an Earl or a tenant-in-chief. Similar to a European feudum. At times, Hemyock was within the Honor of Plympton.

Hook or Crook (By Hook or By Crook):

Dispensation permitting villagers to gather firewood from woodlands, but using only their hook and crook. Effectively permitted the collection of dead branches from the trees.

House of Commons, Lower House:

UK Parliament: The Members of the lower house in the UK Parliament (MPs) who are elected to office.

House of Lords, Upper House:

UK Parliament: The Members of the upper house in the UK Parliament (Lords or Peers) who are appointed to office or hold office because of their heredity or role, such as some Bishops of the Church.

Hue and Cry:

Requirement for all members of a village to pursue a criminal with horn and voice. It was the duty of any person discovering a felony to raise the hue and cry. His neighbours were bound to assist him in pursuit and capture of the offender.

Hundred:

Anglo Saxon institution. Subdivision of a Shire. Theoretically, but hardly ever, equalled one hundred hides. Generally has its own court which met monthly to handle civil and criminal law. Equivalent to the ancient Norse Wapentake. There was a Hemyock Hundred.

Hung Parliament:

UK Parliament: When no single political party has an overall majority of Members of Parliament, so cannot govern without help from other parties. Normally happens following an inconclusive General Election. Can also happen if the governing party loses a by-election, or if a Member of Parliament moves to a different party.


I.

Indulgence:

Remission from punishment for a sin after it has been forgiven. In medieval times the selling of indulgences, sometimes even in advance of a sin being committed, brought parts of the Church into serious disrepute.

Interdict:

The ecclesiastical banning of all sacraments, except for baptism and extreme unction, throughout a geographical area. High feast days were usually not banned. A sanction used to force persons, institutions, communities or secular lords to accept an unpopular view dictated by the church or pope.


J.

Jus Primae Noctis:

The (rather exaggerated) right by which a lord could (reputedly) sleep the first night with the bride of a newly married serf, although the custom could be avoided by the payment of a fine.

Justiciar:

Head of the royal judicial system and the King's viceroy during his absence from the country.



Other Hemyock Glossaries:


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