med-law-art - 1/16/96
"Medieval Legal Terms and Concepts for the SCA" by Ioseph of Locksley.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called StefanŐs Florilegium.
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Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be
reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first
or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
MEDIEVAL LEGAL TERMS AND CONCEPTS FOR THE SCA
-Ioseph of Locksley
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
mmediate application in the SCA, for better understanding of "why we do it
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:
1) the defense of the LORD's castle
2) the ransom of the LORD, if he was taken captive
3) the costs of the knighthood of his eldest son
4) the costs of the marriage of his eldest daughter
5) participation with the LORD in a Crusade
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
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
CURIA: L.; "Court" in the sense of an assembly of advisors to make LAW and
render decisions to a feudal superior; the Royal Court
CURIA Regis: the advisors of the King
(also called "Plenary CURIA," "High CURIA," or
CURIA Princeps: the advisors of a Prince
CURIA Baronis: the advisors of a Baron
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:
3) Peasants (in actuality BURGHERS, as the peasants were
more passive participants.)
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
Liege FEALTY: the FEALTY sworn by a Knight; the VASSAL swears
absolute obedience to the LORD. This is sworn by
all SCA Knights, Barons and Princes. See FIEF MILITUM.
Simple FEALTY: a pledge of loyalty to the LORD.
Service FEALTY: a pledge of service to the LORD.
All of the above fall under HOMAGE, being two-way contracts, but
"Simple" FEALTY and "Service" FEALTY do not require absolute
obedience, but place limits on the obligations required of the
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:
1) failure to protect the VASSAL
2) refusal of justice by denial of access to the LORD's court
3) dishonourable conduct towards the vassal
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):
Feh or Feo: O. Ger., "cattle." (root word)
Vassi casati: L., Carolingian "vassal with a fief"
Feodum: Med.L., fief; Med. Latin variants were "feo, feos, fedum,
feum, feus, feuz, fevum, feudum"
Fief de bursa: a fee paid by Kings for military service to their
Fief de camera: the revenues of the Royal chamber.
Fief de dignite: a BENEFICE given to public officials
Fief francum: a free fief; exempted from some or all service to the
King. A Master of Arms in the SCA can be under this
Fief ligium: land held from the "primary LORD," from the LORD who came
first in any obligations; land held of the King. A Baron
or Prince in the SCA is under this form.
Fief militum: land held by a knight. Knights in the SCA fall here.
Fief loricae: see FIEF MILITUM.
Feodum solis: absolute ownership of land not under a feudal LORD. A
Master of Arms in the SCA, or any Peer that does not
swear "Liege" FEALTY, is under this form.
Feodum vavassoris: implys "vested in the land, but does not control it"
Fio: (It.) payment for honourable service; a "fee."
FIRMA BURGI: L.; the right to collect taxes within a city by it's municipal
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
2) Natural LAW, which could be understood by all creatures,
lacked the perfection of faith, and could be improved by
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
LIBERTAS: L.; used in two senses:
1) The freedom of the Church from secular interference,
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
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:
1) Ownership of land, as a VASSAL to another LORD.
2) A military obligation to the King
3) An administrative obligation to the King
4) Possession of heraldry
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
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,
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.
PRIVLEGE: 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
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
2) they had no legal rights in the courts, and
3) they could not testify in courts of LAW.
SEGEANTS: 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:
JURY TRIAL developed in England as a fourth alternative.
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
YEOMAN: in England, a free-man, who owned his land.
* BIBLIOGRAPHY *
THE ILLUSTRATED ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MEDIEVAL CIVILIZATION
Aryeh Grabois; Mayflower/Octopus, 1980
copyright 1989 W.J.Bethancourt III
Permission is given to reprint this article in publications of the SCA Inc
and related groups. Send a copy of the publication to Joe Bethancourt, PO
Box 35190, Phoenix, AZ 85069.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
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reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.