>> | Home | Books | Visit | Explore & More | Events | FAQs | Contacts

Hemyock Castle
Ancient Heart of the Blackdowns

Glossary of Political, Property & Government Terms (A to D)

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


For many hundreds of years, and until quite recently, people were considered to have an allotted or even "god-given" station in life. People were deterred from rising above their station or from usurping the rights & privileges of their betters. So until quite recently, it was though normal for certain people "to rule" & for the vast majority of people "to be ruled." During that time, people's station was determined largely by heredity but also by how much property they owned or controlled. At times, that "property" even included other humans. So people's individual influence over their lives and their rulers, was determined largely by their own station in life.

These days, most people in Western societies support & believe in democratic forms of government, with universal suffrage which does not exclude significant groups of adult voters.

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.


Abdicate, Abdication:

When a monarch renounces their throne.

Above their Station:

See: Rise Above their Station.

Absolute Monarch, Absolutism:

King or Ruler who has absolute power. See also Constitutional Monarch, & Types of Government

Administrative Penalty, Administrative Monetary Penalty:

Civil penalty imposed by a designated official or regulator for a contravention of an Act, regulation or by-law. Normally there is no involvement of, nor opportunity for appeal to, the courts: The scheme which sets up the penalty should provide an appeal mechanism. Sometimes it is possible to appeal to the courts, but only at high cost or risk of much more severe penalties.

Justified by "the need to streamline justice" and "to unblock the courts," the use of civil penalties has recently increased in the UK; possibly at the expense of real justice; possibly leading down a slippery slope towards arbitrary "justice"; quite possibly destroying centuries of progress in UK.

Agent of Influence:

Person (or "front" organisation) of some stature which uses their position to influence public opinion or decision-making to produce results beneficial to a foreign power. They can be among the most effective means of promoting foreign interests because they hold considerable credibility among the target audience. But they are often very difficult to detect and stop because there is seldom material evidence that connects them with a foreign power. Usually, they serve the interests of a foreign power in one of three ways:

  • As a controlled agent directly recruited and controlled by a foreign power
  • As a "trusted contact" that consciously collaborates to advance foreign interests but is not directly recruited or controlled by a foreign power
  • As a "useful idiot" who is completely unaware of how their actions further the interests of a foreign power.
Aristocrat, Aristocracy:

Noble. Person in the highest class of a structured society. See Types of Government


Meeting of feudal vassals with the King. It also referred to decrees issued by the King after such a meetings.


Lucky. Something believed to make good fortune or success, more likely. Originally from the divination practice of watching the flight of birds, as omens, to forecast future events.


See Types of Government


See Types of Government


See Types of Government


Back Bench, Back Bench Member of Parliament:

UK Parliament: Ordinary Member of Parliament; one who does not hold a post in government or opposition.


Lord's overseer or steward.


Bailiff's area of authority.


Organized collection & counting of people's votes.

Ballot Box:

Receptacle for receiving voter's completed ballot papers. Normally, ballot boxes are locked & have only a small slot for receiving folded ballot papers. Ballot boxes must be guarded carefully to prevent "stuffing" or "tampering."

Ballot Paper, Ballot Form:

Paper form for recording the voter's vote(s). In UK elections, voters should mark their choice(s) using a clear "X" and not eg. a tick mark. The voter should write nothing else on the ballot paper.


King's power to command and prohibit under pain of punishment or death, mainly used because of a break in the King's Peace. Also a royal proclamation, either of a call to arms, or a decree of outlawry. In clerical terms, an excommunication on condemnation by the church.


Vassal who held land directly from the crown and served as a member of the King's great council. It was not, of itself, a title, but rather a description of the Tenants in Chief class of nobility.

Benefit of Clergy:

Privilege enjoyed by members of the clergy, including tonsured clerks, placing them beyond the jurisdiction of secular courts. However, the penalties imposed by church courts were often harsh.

Betters, One's Betters:

Formerly, people who have a higher station, status, rank, position in society than you.

Below Stairs:

Formerly, where servants worked... and were supposed to remain: Out of sight & out of mind (or their betters). Also used for matters that (should) affect or interest only the servant class.

Below the Salt:

Formerly, someone of lower status, rank, position in society; someone normally seated further away from the "top table."

Bien Pensant:

Right thinking. Person who accepts & espouses fashionable, orthodox, conformist ideas without critical thought.

Bismarck's Observation:

Wry observation by German statesman Otto von Bismarck: The weak are strong because they are reckless; The strong are weak because they have scruples.


Someone who protects their boss & family; possibly even with their life. Also enforcer. See heavy.


Middle ranking peasant, farming more land than a cottager but less than a villein. A typical small holder would have 10-20 acres of land, often as separate strips in different fields. He was also required to work on his lord's land or to provide a service to his lord. Also known as a Small Holder.

Borders (The):

Name given to the border lands between Scotland and England. See also the Marches. Also the border lands between the mythical Avalonian Empire and elsewhere.

Borough (also burg, burgh and burh):

Town with the right of self government granted by royal charter.


Term which designates the custom of ultimogeniture (All lands inherited by the youngest son).

Brehon Laws (also called Feinechus):

An ancient Gaelic legal system.

British Voting Systems:

Most English elections use single member constituencies & the first past the post method of determining the winning candidate, for national and local elections. European elections use the party list form of proportional representation (PR) to elect sixty Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).

Northern Ireland elections use the single transferable vote form of PR: Electing five representatives for each of the 18 constituencies. Their European elections use the single transferable vote system to elect three MEPs.

Scottish Parliament elections use the mixed member proportional hybrid form of PR, where each voter gets a second vote for the seven representatives from each of eight electoral regions. Local elections use the single transferable vote form of PR. European elections use the party list form of PR to elect six MEPs.

Welsh Assembly elections use the mixed member proportional hybrid form of PR, where each voter gets a second vote for the four representatives from each of five electoral regions. Local elections use the first past the post method. European elections use the party list form of PR to elect four MEPs.

No one system works perfectly: As usual with politics, pure logic & theory do not necessarily guarantee a good or fair result.


The holder of land or house within a borough.


See Types of Government


UK Parliament: An election for an individual seat in the UK House of Commons; normally held after a Member of Parliament resigns or dies.


Cabinet, Cabinet Government, UK Cabinet:

UK Government: Collective decision-making body of the UK government, comprising the Prime Minister & senior ministers. Legally, a sub-committee of the Privy Council.

Cabinet Committees:

UK Government: Committees of cabinet ministers which conduct the day-to-day business of government in their specific area of interest.

Cabinet Minister:

UK Government: Senior government ministers, normally a head of a government department. Required also to be a member of the Privy Council.

Cabinet Office:

UK Government: Powerful department of UK government which assists & supports the Prime Minister & the Cabinet. Possibly only in fiction, is said to wield extraordinary & secretive power.


See Types of Government

Caste System:

Traditional hierarchical hereditary structure, particularly in some Asia cultures & societies; where people are supposed to live, marry and work only within their caste. Debatable whether or not, this system is still dominant or significant.

Cato Street Conspiracy 1820:

Failed plot to murder all the British cabinet ministers & the Prime Minister Lord Liverpool.

These were tense times: See also, Six Acts.


(Spanish) Military or political leader.

Central Lobby, Lobby:

UK Parliament: Octagonal meeting space at the centre of the Westminster Houses of Parliament.


UK Parliament: Debating chambers where members of parliament meet. The chamber of the House of Commons has green benches; the chamber of the House of Lords has Red Benches. These colours are echoed in the colours of the awnings above the members' terraces overlooking the River Thames.

Medieval Government: The monarch's closest advisers: Formerly, the trusted advisers who slept in the monarch's bedchamber. Later also administration of the monarch's household, until these roles largely passed to the Wardrobe.

See also: Chancery, Exchequer, & Wardrobe.

Chancellor of the Exchequer:

UK Government: Finance minister of the UK government.

Chancery, Chancellery (Medieval Office):

Medieval Government: Medieval writing office responsible for producing official documents, such as government charters and writs which were sealed with the Great Seal. Headed by the Chancellor.

See also: Court of Chancery.

Chatham House Rule, Chatham House Rules:

When a meeting is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants can reveal the information but cannot reveal who supplied that information or who else was present.

Chiltern Hundreds, Take the Chiltern Hundreds:

UK Parliament: Quaint mechanism used to allow a Member of Parliament to resign their seat: Legally, no MP is allowed to allowed to resign or to hold "an office of profit under the Crown." So when an MP decides to resign their seat, they are appointed "Crown Steward and Bailiff of the three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham" or "Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead." This automatically disqualifies them from being a Member of Parliament.

Christendom, Christian Europe:

The Christian World: Normally meaning Western, European & other countries where most people identify with (or used to identify with) Christianity.


Modern "Western" definition by Sir Winston Churchill at University of Bristol on 2nd July 1938, on the eve of World War Two:

"…It means a society based upon the opinion of civilians. It means that violence, the rule of warriors and despotic chiefs, the conditions of camps and warfare, of riot and tyranny, give place to parliaments where laws are made, and independent courts of justice in which over long periods those laws are maintained…"

But he went on to warn:

"…Civilisation will not last, freedom will not survive, peace will not be kept, unless a very large majority of mankind unite together to defend them and show themselves possessed of a constabulary power before which barbaric and atavistic forces will stand in awe…"

Civil Service:

UK Government: The officials employed to administer the UK. They are required to behave in a non-political manner, and to carry-through the policies of the UK's elected government; specifically of the government Minister who is responsible for their department. Sometimes, fail to meet these high ideals. See also: Whitehall.

Class System:

Traditional hierarchical hereditary structure, particularly in some British & Anglo-Saxon cultures & society; where people are supposed to live, marry and work only within their class. Debatable whether or not, this system is still dominant or significant.

Close, Close of Land, Cathedral Close:

Piece of land enclosed by a boundary. Also a dead end, cul-de-sac road with only one entrance.

Cathedral close: The land and buildings immediately surrounding & controlled by a cathedral, often enclosed by a wall.

Coalition Government:

Form of government where different political parties agree to cooperate to form an alliance government. Coalition governments are often less stable & less able to introduce difficult policies... although that also means that they are less likely to do daft things! See also: Government of National Unity.

Common Law:

The body of law based on custom and judicial decisions rather than on statutes. See also customary law, equity and statute law.

Commune Concilium:

Norman equivalent of Anglo Saxon Witan. Decisions taken at such meetings, either judicial or military, were binding on the vassals.

Committee Stage:

UK Parliament: The opportunity for Members of Parliament or The Lords, to examine a proposed Parliamentary bill (new law) in detail. After the bill's second reading; before its report stage.

Conquest's Three Laws:

Wryly proposed by historian & sovietologist Robert Conquest in his 1979 "The Abomination of Moab":

  1. Everyone is conservative about what he knows best
  2. Any organization not explicitly right-wing, sooner or later becomes left-wing
  3. The simplest way to explain the behaviour of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies

Also: Adding the adjective "social" to almost any noun automatically both demeans it and politicises it in a Left-wing way. (eg. social enterprise, social housing, social justice, etc.)

Note. The second law is also attributed to a 1989 article by John O'Sullivan.

See also, Michels's Iron Law of Oligarchy.


Partner (spouse) married to a ruler. May also be awarded a courtesy title such as queen. In some cases may be a ruler in their own right; sometimes of a different state.


Set of fundamental principles & established precedents by which a state or other organization is governed. May be written, or may have unwritten parts.

Constitutional Monarch:

King or Ruler who has mostly only a ceremonial role as Head of State; normally where the real power lies with an elected parliament. See also Absolute Monarch.

Copyhold, Copyholder:

A customary tenure of land, in return for a designated service to the lord or landowner, such as four days work per year. Later, such service was often commuted to an equivalent rent. Details of the tenure were described in the book or roll, such as the manorial court roll, kept by the steward. The tenant, the copyholder, was given a copy of the entry showing these details.


See Types of Government

Court of Chancery, Chancery Division:

Court of equity in England & Wales; originally dealing with all matters of equity, including trusts, land law, the estates of lunatics and the guardianship of infants; as an extension of the Lord Chancellor's role as Keeper of the King's Conscience. Was more flexible and had a far greater remit than the (sometimes harsh) common law courts, which it could overrule. Under reforms in the 1873 & 1875 Supreme Court of Judicature Acts, was replaced by the Chancery Division of the new unified High Court of Justice.

See also: Chancery.

Cottager, Cottar:

Peasant of lower rank, with a cottage, but with little or no land. He was required to work on his lord's land or to provide a service to his lord.


The English Shire.

Coup d'état:

Overthrow of the previous ruler or government, usually by force. See also: Putsch.

Court of Common Pleas:

A common law court to hear pleas involving disputes between individuals. Almost all civil litigation was within its term of reference, as was supervision of manorial and local courts.

Court Martial, Courts Martial:

Military court. Usually used to enforce military laws. During emergencies or wars, may also be used to judge & punish civilians.


The British Crown. Also, matters relating to the British state or its head of state.

Cross Bencher, Cross Benches:

UK Parliament: Member of the House of Lords who does not fully support either the government or the opposition, so sits on the cross benches.

Crossing the Rubicon:

Going beyond the point of no return, particularly on a risky venture.

See also, Rubicon.
Customary Law, Medieval Custumals:

A form of common law, not necessarily backed by actual statutes or case law, where there was general agreement to abide by certain standards & practices. Medieval Custumals were written collections of the customary laws which applied in particular manors or boroughs. These became the legal definitions of rights, entitlements and obligations in those manors & boroughs.


Demagogue, Rabble-Rouser:

Someone who misuses their charisma & oratory to gain power; normally by exploiting prejudices & ignorance of ordinary people; meaning that people's passions overcome their normal reasoning. Right from the beginning, demagogues have been a serious threat to democracies.

Democracy, Democratic:

Form of government where most adults have the right to vote & so to influence their government's policies.

Types of Democracy:

  • Direct Democracy: Registered Voters vote directly on all, or some, proposals; as in a referendum.
  • Representative Democracy: Registered voters elect representatives, who then represent their interests in Parliament. But, these representatives are not usually required just to reflect directly their voters' wishes: They are usually expected to use their own judgement; and to act for all voters, even those who did not support them. At the next election, Voters can choose whether to retain their representatives. This system is used for the UK House of Commons.
  • Electoral College: Form of indirect democracy, where registered Voters elect representatives – electors – who later meet for a particular purpose. eg. to select a President.

See also Types of Government

Despatch Box, Dispatch Box, Red Boxes:

UK Parliament: The lecterns from which front-bench members of the government & opposition, deliver their speeches to Parliament. Back-bench members stand by their seat when addressing Parliament. The Red Boxes (Red Despatch Boxes) are used to transport ministerial papers; notably the government's annual budget proposals.


Often derogatory. Ruler who has absolute power; especially one who abuses that power by domination through threat of punishment and violence.

See also Types of Government


Often derogatory. Ruler who has absolute power; especially one who abuses that power. See: Absolute Monarch & Types of Government


A district which is subject to the jurisdiction of a Bishop/Archbishop. The name is derived from the administrative districts created by the Roman Emperor Diocletian.


Permission to neglect a rule which otherwise would have to be observed. Often issued or granted against a particular church rule.


Systematic methods & practices aimed at gaining insight to help resolve a question or situation; through the use of ritual, occultic process, omens, or claimed contact with a supernatural agency. Used through human history, and still popular even today. Wide range of methods including "reading the tea-leaves," "casting bones," etc. etc.

Division Lobby, Lobby:

UK Parliament: Corridors on either side of the debating chambers, through which MPs & peers pass to cast their votes: One lobby for supporters, one for opponents. House of Commons has "Aye" & "No" lobbies; House of Lords has "Content" & "Not Content" lobbies.

Division Bell:

UK Parliament: Electric bell which rings when a vote is being held. Special electric bells are installed in the Houses of Parliament, government offices, and other places around Westminster. When a vote is called, these bells ring for exactly eight minutes (using a different pattern of ringing for Lords & Commons votes). At the end of the eight minutes, entrances to the division lobbies are closed & no further votes can be cast. Although messages are also sent out using pagers etc. these low-tech electric bells are considered crucial. The eight minute time, limits how far members can stray from the chambers of parliament.


Rule by a series of closely related people who inherit power & pass it to their relatives. This seems to happen even in Republics, where a series of rulers seem to come from one or a small number of powerful families. See also Types of Government

Other Hemyock Glossaries:

Home | Books | Visit | Explore & More | Events | FAQs | Contacts

Hemyock Castle, Hemyock, CULLOMPTON, Devon, EX15 3RJ, UK.
© 2001–2023. Prepared and published by Curlew Communications Ltd