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MEDIEVAL LEGAL TERMS AND CONCEPTS FOR THE SCA
Ioseph of Locksley, OL OPel, Baron &c.
© copyright 1989 W.J.Bethancourt III



The following is a list of generalized definitions of some medieval legal terms. Note that not all are exact legal definitions, but rather have been somewhat simplified and paraphrased.

For the most part, they relate to England and France. Where they have another origin, it is so marked.

I have also annotated and commented where a period concept has an immediate application in the SCA, for better understanding of "why we do it that way."

ALLODIUM: L.; land held from no LORD; free ownership. See FEODUM SOLIS.

APANAGE: O. Fr.; French usage of giving lands to non-Heirs Royal of the Crown of France. These lands could not be sold, mortgaged, or used as a dowry, and passed back to the King in the extinction of the line.

ASSIZES: O. Fr.; the LAWS imposed by the King with the consent of His NOBLES; the codification of LAWS, or a type of LAW court that ruled on customary LAW.

AUXILIUM: L., the military service owed by a VASSAL to his LORD.
Five types were recognized:

BENEFICE: Land given by the LORD to a vassal, for the vassal's use. It remains the property of the LORD, and is not inheritable, in the old sense of the word's use. This changed after 875 CE, when BENEFICES became inheritable, "real" property of the vassal.

BOROUGH: a "free" city. (Burg, Burgus, Burh, Bourg)

BREHON LAW: the COMMON LAW of Ireland and Scotland.

BURGHER: a citizen of a BOROUGH, usually owning a house within the city limits, and prosperous enough to hire others to work for them.

CHARTER OF FRANCHISE: A document freeing a SERF; a document freeing a town.

CHARTER OF LIBERTIES: the formal statement by the Crown of the privleges of the NOBILITY.

CITY: a town wherein a Bishop has his formal "seat."

COMITATUS: L,; an armed group of men attached to a leader.

COMMONER: a non-noble.

COMMON LAW: traditional LAW of an area or region.

COMMUNIO JURATA: L.; a community of people who have pledged their FEALTY to themselves and their community.

COMMUNITAS REGNI: L.; the community of the Realm; the general representation of the nation in Parliament, CURIA Regis, etc.

COMPURGATION: a person of good birth and reputation could bring two witnesses of good standing, to swear he was telling the truth. Should the accuser bring co-accusers, the defendant had to bring an equal number of compurgators.

CONSILIUM: L.; to advise the LORD at his Court. The decisions made were binding on the VASSALS.

CONSUETUDINES: L; customary taxes.
COURT OF THE KING'S BENCH: an appellate court, headed by the King or His personal representative.

CURIA: L.; "Court" in the sense of an assembly of advisors to make LAW and render decisions to a feudal superior; the Royal Court

CUSTOMS: Taxes paid by merchants and peasants for the use of roads, bridges, or the gates of BOROUGHS; the COMMON LAW.

ECHEVINAGE: O. Fr.; a tax in France to maintain the offices of local officers.

ESTATES: the social classes, derived from the early medieval concept of:

EXPEDITIO: Med. L; A military campaign, a duty owed by a VASSAL to his LORD, limited to 40 days at the VASSAL's expense, after which the LORD had to pay expenses.

FEALTY (TYPES OF): see HOMAGE

FELONY: A breach of HOMAGE, a violation of the contract between LORD and VASSAL, a violation of feudal CUSTOMS.
The legitimate breaches of the contract included:

FEUDALISIM: The relations and interdependence between LORD and VASSAL, based on the FIEF, or ownership of land.

FIDELITAS: L; faithfulness to Christianity; a VASSAL's loyalty to his LORD.

FIEF (TYPES OF):

FIRMA BURGI: L.; the right to collect taxes within a city by it's municipal government.

FISCUS: L; the King's personal land and properties.

FORFEITURE: A VASSAL surrendering his land, or other property, to his LORD, after conviction in the LORD's court.

FUERO: Sp.; charters of liberties and PRIVLEGES.

FYRD: Ang. Sax.; the military service of free-men, the popular militia.

GABELLE: O. Fr.; any form of indirect tax; the tax on salt, in France, from which the NOBILITY, the clergy, and other PRIVLEGED persons were exempted.

GOMBETTE: Fr.; Customary LAW of Burgundy.

HOMAGE: (L. "Hominum") The oath taken by a VASSAL to signify his relationship with the LORD. It is a "contract," and binds both parties to certain acts. If a LORD violates the contract, the VASSAL can defy ( de-FIEF ) the LORD with no FELONY.

HUNDRED: Eng.; a sub-division of a Shire, in England.

HYDE: Ang. Sax.; a unit of land corresponding to a peasant's family estate.

IMMUNITY: an area or group of men exempted from a feudal obligation, or tax.

INQUEST: an investigation by Royal officials, usually into tax matters.

IQTA'A: Ar.; Islamic form of Feudalisim, based on landed income to military commanders in return for military service.

ITINERANT JUSTICES: Royal officials sent around to the Shires to administer justice, check up on affairs, etc.

JURY TRIAL: free-men met in a body, in England, to decide guilt or innocence. Their decisions made up the COMMON LAW.

JUNKER: Ger.; see KNIGHTS OF THE SHIRE.

KNIGHTS OF THE SHIRE: a separate class of knights which was employed in the administration of countys and shires, in England. The German equivalent was known as "JUNKER."

LAW: In the Middle Ages, LAW was considered to have been dictated by Divine Will, and revealed to wise men. The most ancient legal precedents and CUSTOMS were considered to be the best LAW, and much of Continental Europe wound up modeling secular LAW after the old Roman LAW. In Byzantium, secular and sacred LAW were somewhat intermingled, with secular LAW taking precedence.

In Western Europe, however, religious and secular LAW were separate bodies. Church LAW was known as Canon Law, and applied to the clergy, and to the secular world in matters of the administration of the Sacraments, such as marriage, and to the immunity of the clergy from secular LAW. This is the root of the conflict between Church and State.
St. Augustine arranged LAW thru three levels:

  1. Divine LAW, a perfect system comprehended thru faith and reason,
  2. Natural LAW, which could be understood by all creatures, lacked the perfection of faith, and could be improved by philosophy,
  3. Temporal (secular) LAW, obedience to which was enjoined on all Christians, save where it conflicted with Divine or Canon LAW.

LIEGE: O. Fr.; the LORD to whom a VASSAL swears "Liege" FEALTY, usually the King.

LIBERTAS: L.; used in two senses:

  1. The freedom of the Church from secular interference, "Libertas ecclesiae."
  2. "freedom under Divine LAW," only found within the Church and according to its' precepts.

LORD: (L,: "Dominus" or "Senior," Ang. Sax.: "Hlaord," Sp.: "Senor," O. Fr.: "Siegneur," etc.) A LORD was anyone who held VASSALS, and land cultivated by dependent peasants.

MAINMORTE: O. Fr.; land, or other property, that passed to the LORD on the death of the VASSAL or SERF holding it. SCA honours fall under this category, as they are NOT inheritable.

MANSUS: L.; see HYDE. The inhabitants of MANSII were divided generally into three categories:

  1. Mansus servilus: SERFs
  2. Mansus liberis: free-men
  3. Mansus lidilus: freed SERFs

MORTEMAIN: see MAINMORTE.

NOBILITY: the upper social class in feudal Europe. They were characterized by the following:


The NOBILITY was divided, roughly, into two classes:
  1. Noblesse de epee: "of the Sword," Knights
  2. Noblesse de robe: " of the Robe," administrators

NOBLE: see NOBILITY.

NOTARY: A legal officer whose duty was to write, witness, care for, and otherwise take care of documents. He was a legal officer, and thus, everything he wrote/witnessed was considered legal evidence. They were certified by the King or the Pope.

ORDEAL: a COMMON LAW practice, discouraged by the Church, which submitted the accused, or the accuser, or both, to the Judgement of God, usually with fire or water. Whoever died, or whose wounds festered, was considered guilty.

PRIVLEGIUM FORI: L.; the exemption of clergy from secular LAW; "clerical immunity."

PROVISIONS OF OXFORD: a confirmation of Magna Carta by Henry III of England, which formed the basis of Parliament.

PANDECTS: manuals containing interpetations of Roman LAW.

PEERS: the VASSALS of a LORD who are equal among themselves. In the SCA, these are:

  1. The Order of Knighthood
  2. The Masters of Arms
  3. The Order of the Laurel
  4. The Order of the Pelican
  5. in some Kingdoms, the Ladies of the Rose

PRIMUS INTER PARES: L.; "first among equals," the ideal condition of a LORD to his VASSALS.

PRIVILEGE: a private LAW applicable to one person, or a group of persons, or a social body.

PURVEYANCE: the feudal right of the LORD to stay at a VASSAL's home for a stipulated amount of time. This was generally commuted to a regular monetary payment by the VASSAL to the LORD.

REGALIA: L.; the Crown, Sceptre, Robe &c worn by the King as a mark of his Kingship; it also means the enfeoffment of Royal Authority to a VASSAL, usually the rights to make LAW, to tax, to raise armies, and to render justice. In the SCA, this applies to Landed Barons, and Princes.

SACHENSPIEGEL: Ger.; the COMMON LAW of Saxony.

SALIC LAW: the COMMON LAW of France.

SCHWABENSPIEGEL: Ger.; the COMMON LAW of Bavaria. It also included Imperial Law.

SCUTAGE: (Lat.: "scutum," O. Fr. "ecuage") a tax imposed on Knights in lieu of military service. Used by the King of England in the late Middle Ages as a form of revenue to hire mercenaries.

SERF: A SERF was defined by three things:

  1. he/she was bound to the land; they could not travel freely.
  2. they had no legal rights in the courts, and
  3. they could not testify in courts of LAW.

SERGEANTS: the upper strata of the peasantry. Some received lands, and were VASSALS of NOBILITY. They were the "supervisory" class of peasant.

SIETE PARTIDAS: Sp.; the constitutional code of Castile.

SOKE: Ang. Sax.; the free tenure of land by a peasant

STATUTE OF YORK: made a distinction between the King, who was limited in his powers by his coronation Oath, and Kingship, which abstract idea was considered to have unconstrained powers. This, and Magna Carta, were the roots of the concept of the "Constitutional Monarchy." In the SCA, "Corpora," and local Kingdom Law, establish the Constitutional Monarch, i.e. a King with limited powers.

SUCEPTUS: L.; a VASSAL.

TAILLE: tax imposed on the revenues of non-NOBILITY.

TELONIUM: L; an excise tax paid by merchants.

TENANTS-IN-CHIEF: NOBILITY that held land directly of the King.

TENURE: possession of land in FIEF from another LORD, who held of another, and so on directly to the King. Simple ownership of land merely made one free, but not always NOBLE.

THING: the assembly of free-men and/or barons of Sweden.

TRIAL: usually done in one of three ways:

VASSAL: Someone who, by a series of formal acts, usually HOMAGE, commits themselves to serve another, usually receiving a FIEF in return. The obligations of a VASSAL were AUXILIUM and CONSILIUM, which see. VASSATICUM; L;

  1. VASSALAGE
  2. the services of the VASSAL
  3. the VASSALS of a LORD as a body

VICAR: L; one who acts as a proxy in an official capacity.

VILLE FRANCHE: ( L.: "Villa franca") a town chartered by the King, and given certain privleges, but not self-governing.

VILLEIN: Fr.; in France:

  1. a rural or urban non-noble
  2. a rural free-man

in England: a peasant with enough land to support his family.

VISITATION: a formal visit by one in authority for enforcement of LAW.

WARRANTIA: L.; the obligation to produce warrantors and/or COMPURGATORS. Failure or inability to do so could result in outlawry.

WERGILD: Ger; monetary compensation paid by a murderer to the relatives of the victim.

YEOMAN: in England, a free-man, who owned his land.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

THE ILLUSTRATED ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MEDIEVAL CIVILIZATION
Aryeh Grabois; Mayflower/Octopus, 1980


Permission is REFUSED to reprint in any corporate SCA publications. Unofficial publications may reprint at will. Send a copy to the author if you do at: PO Box 35190, Phoenix AZ 85069


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