Definitions of political, legal, & property terms, as well as terms related to government; from medieval times until the present day.
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.
The UK, France and Germany.
Alternative definitions, by ownership:
Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia.
Registered voters elect representatives – Electors – who later meet to select the winning candidate.
This indirect form of election is used to choose the USA President: Each USA State sends its quota of electors; chosen from the results of the USA Presidential Election. The electoral college – ie. not the popular vote – decides which nominated candidate will be appointed as USA President.
Independent body set up by the UK Parliament, responsible for ensuring that UK elections are free and fair.
UK political pressure group which campaigns to replace the current "First Past the Post" system with "Proportional Representation." Its Electoral Reform Services Limited company provides a service, running elections for many other organizations.
Someone who exercises power or influence in a certain sphere without holding an official position.
Ruler of many separate countries or nations.
To take someone into vassalage where they will render a certain service in return for a fee or fief.
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.
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.
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.
Social structure which subdivides people into into different social classes or castes, often into three main classes or roles; particularly in pre-revolutionary France, but also in other countries including India. The names of these classes changed. At different times, rulers emerged from each of the different classes; mostly from the first or second.
18th century England, recognized Three Estates of Parliament:
Note. These subdivisions often ignored a large section of the population, which had no rights or influence.
See also: Fourth Estate.
The right to gather wood.
Since 1999, England, Scotland and Wales have used the d'Hondt System of proportional representation – regional closed list. See: Party List Electoral System.
At present, Northern Ireland uses the Single Transferable Vote system.
UK Government: Financial department of the royal government. Formerly, also tried legal cases concerning government revenue. 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.
During some medieval periods, powerful barons seized control of the Exchequer in an attempt to control the monarch. Some monarchs greatly expanded the role of the Wardrobe, to bypass the Exchequer.
See also: Chancery & Wardrobe.
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.
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.
Medieval English Law: 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. Eyre (or Iter) means circuit, referring to movement of the courts between Royal Forests. Justices in Eyre were the highest justices under medieval Forest Law.
Information which conflicts with the current consensus or official viewpoint; often (but not always) wrong; sometimes spread maliciously.
Banned in a 1688 Proclamation of England's Privy Council:
Whereas We have seen a Proclamation issued out in Name of His most Sacred Majesty, Declaring, That the Prince of Orange and his Adherents, have designed to Invade His Majesties Kingdoms; and that now His Majesty hath signified by His Royal Letter, of the date at Whitehall the fifth day of November Instant, That they are Landing in England, and in Order thereto, have Contrived and Framed several Treasonable Papers, and Declarations, Hoping thereby to Seduce and Corrupt His Majesties Subjects, and that several persons are imployed to disperse the same; And since such Methods may be taken to Corrupt His Majesties Subjects, in this His Antient Kingdom; Therefore We, the Lords of His Majesties Privy Council, in His Royal Name, and by His Authority, have thought it necessary to Admonish all His Majesties Subjects within this Kingdom, of what degree or quality soever, that they do not Publish, Disperse, Repeat, or Hand about the saids Treasonable Papers, or Declarations, or any of them, or any other Paper, or Papers of such like Nature, and particularly a Declaration in the Prince of Orange's Name, and another in the Name of the States General, nor presume to Read, Receive, Conceal, or Keep the said Treasonable Papers, or Declarations, or any of them, or any other Payer, or Papers to that purport; or to disperse any false News, tending to the Amusing His Majesties Subjects, or to the Disturbance of the Peace of the Kingdom, without Discovering, and Revealing the same as speedily as may be, to some of the Privy Council, or to some other judges, justices of the Peace, or Magistrats, upon peril of being prosecuted according to the outmost severity of Law.
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.
Oath by which a vassal swore loyalty to his lord, usually on a Relic of Saints or on The Bible.
The constituent entities of Russia, its top-level political divisions according to the Constitution of Russia. Each has its own head, a parliament, constitution, legislation, and a constitutional court. They have equal representation, two delegates each, in the Federation Council, the upper house of the Federal Assembly
Someone who is intellectually sympathetic to the ideology of a political organization, and who co-operates in the organization's politics, without being a formal member of that organization.
Originally the Russian intelligentsia (writers, academics, and artists) who were philosophically sympathetic to the political, social, and economic goals of the 1917 Russian Revolution – who travelled the same path – but who did not join the Communist Party of the Soviet Union so were not "card carrying members."
Sputnik, the name for USSR's early spacecraft means fellow traveller.
In 1958, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, defined five types of politically subversives & fellow travelers who he believed helped to promote Communism:
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A type of Property Conveyance (transfer of ownership of land) used in England and later in Wales, from about the 12th Century until its abolition by the Fines and Recoveries Act in 1833:
Using a fictitious lawsuit, the claimant alleged that the original owner had broken their agreement to transfer the property; the two parties then compromised and agreed that the property now belonged to the claimant; A fine was said to be levied; The court recorded the agreement as two identical copies on the same membrane of parchment, tore this in half and gave half to each party. The purchaser's part of the document became their "deed of title" to the property.
See also: Foot of Fine.
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.
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.
Members: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK, USA.
Multilateral agreements between Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, UK. (All are members of the Commonwealth.)
UK Parliament: The 2011 law which gives each parliament a fixed five-year term, except when a government loses a confidence vote, or by a two-thirds majority vote.
The third, identical copy of a Fine of Lands Property Conveyance, kept by the Treasury. The court recorded all three identical copies on the face of the same parchment membrane; The copies for the seller & buyer were written on opposite sides, the official copy was written across the bottom (the foot) of the membrane. The parchment membrane was then torn into its three pieces.
UK Government: UK government minister responsible for foreign affairs.
Right of a feudal lord to recover a fief when a vassal failed to honour his obligations under the feudal contract.
The sum commonly paid by a serf to his lord when the serf's daughter married a man from another manor.
Originally, people in the segment of society which wielded significant influence, without being formally recognised in the political system, ie. people not in one of the three Estates of the Realm. Sometimes refers to the lawyers; now usually means the news media, the (free) press.
Note. At times, some countries have subdivided the third estate, keeping eg. burghers / bourgeoisie, but allocating eg. peasants / rural commoners to be the fourth estate. The urban 'mob' & striking workers have also been labelled as the fourth estate.
See also: Third Sector.
Definition of exactly which groups of people are entitled to register to vote in an election.
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.
There are very different ideas about freedom: Although seemingly attractive, complete freedom can be a frightening prospect, as shown by reactions to changes in Covid regulations: People can be daunted by the need to take personal responsibility, rather than simply following orders. Philosopher Isaiah Berlin, in his 1958 Oxford University lecture on liberty (& subsequently), defined two types. In practice, most successful societies set limits, provide support & work by a blend of these two types:
It is said that institutions such as the armed forces & British Empire whose officials needed to operate autonomously far beyond the reach of reliable, speedy communications with HQ, were carefully educated, selected & trained so that they would take correct decisions. This also made such people valuable in other roles in industry & public life. Later after communications with HQ improved, they lost autonomy & such education was less highly prized.
The correct balance between liberty and control is still hotly debated, particularly with regard to modern Social Media. Discussed & justified by John Stuart Mill, in his 1859 essay "On Liberty":
"…the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth produced by its collision with error."
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.
See Summary Justice.
Inter-governmental political forum of US, Japan, Germany, the UK, France, Italy and Canada. Founded in 1975 when these were considered the major economies.
G7 plus Russia. Inter-governmental political forum of US, Japan, Germany, the UK, France, Italy and Canada, plus Russia. Currently inactive due to disputes with Russia.
G7 plus Australia, India and South Korea. Inter-governmental political forum.
G10 plus Argentina, Brazil, China, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey and the EU. Inter-governmental political forum which accounts for about 80pc of world GDP.
In a bureaucratic system, increase in expenditure will be matched by fall in production. Wry observation by Dr. Max Gammon.
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, with a few exceptions which permit other durations.)
People of high social position, below the level of "nobility."
Gain political advantage in an election, by distorting the district boundaries. eg. By building or including a large housing estate for people thought likely to support your political party.
Nickname for the USA's Republican Party.
Note. The definitions of these terms vary with time, and different people use these terms to mean different things. Most actual governments combine elements from the different forms; successful regimes avoid extremes.
Type of coalition government, usually formed during severe national crises, where people from several political parties agree to cooperate temporarily "in the national interest."
UK Government: The four principal ministers of UK Government: Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary.
See Reform Bill.
Term applied to trade associations whose chief aims were:
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."
Desperate policy, a "last throw of the dice" after everything else has failed.
Originally, a Roman Catholic prayer to the Virgin Mary that consists of salutations and a plea for her intercession. Later, a "Hail Mary pass": a long forward pass in American football thrown into or near the end zone in a last-ditch attempt to score as time runs out.
See also, Hospital Pass.
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.
Association of merchants and towns of northern Germany.
Coat of mail (armour). See also Fief de Haubert.
King, Emperor, President, etc. Can wield real power; or be mostly ceremonial.
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.
Legal proceeding where the merits of a case are heard & judged.
Enforcer. See 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.
Names given to the seven pre-Viking Kingdoms of England. Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria, Kent, East Anglia, Essex and Sussex.
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.
Person's family; who they are descended from.
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.
UK Parliament: Normally, the political party with the second largest number of MPs.
Ceremony by which a vassal pledged his fealty to his liege and acknowledged all other feudal obligations, in return for a grant of land.
UK Government: UK government minister responsible for home affairs.
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.
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.
Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men, and weak men create hard times. Former US Marine G Michael Hopf's observation of cyclical history.
Deliberately assigning a troublesome task, often at the last moment, to someone who is unlikely to perform it successfully, & who is likely to be heavily criticised or suffer from the attempt.
Sport: Pass the ball to a team-mate who likely to be tackled heavily & possibly injured.
See also, Hail Mary Pass.
UK Parliament: The Members of the lower house in the UK Parliament (MPs) who are elected to office.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Economics: "Improvement means deterioration." Wry 1970's observation by British economist & journalist Patrick Hutber.
Series of Acts of Parliament between 1604 & 1914 which established legal title (ie. ownership) of land which under the Feudal System previously had been shared common land, shared open fields, or waste land. Despite bitter legal disputes, land around Hemyock was inclosed in 1814. Mrs. Simcoe successfully obtained title to lands in Hemyock & nearby Madford.
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.
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.
Someone advocating the restoration to their country of any territory which formerly belonged to it.
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.
Head of the royal judicial system and the King's viceroy during his absence from the country.
Hemyock Castle, Hemyock, CULLOMPTON, Devon, EX15 3RJ, UK.
© 2001–2022. Prepared and published by Curlew Communications Ltd