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med-law-art - 1/16/96


"Medieval Legal Terms and Concepts for the SCA" by Ioseph of Locksley.


NOTE: See also the files: p-police-msg, punishments-msg, p-lawyers-msg, commerce-msg, prostitution-msg.





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.


                               Thank you,

                                    Mark S. Harris

                                    AKA:  Stefan li Rous

                                         stefan at florilegium.org




                                      -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  

hat 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:


               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

                     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


               CURIA Regis: the advisors of the King

                            (also called "Plenary CURIA," "High CURIA," or

                             "Haute CURIA."

               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:


               1) Clergy

               2) NOBILITY

               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.


        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.


        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.


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,

                   "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


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


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


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,

       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.

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.


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.


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:


        2) Trial-by-Combat

        3) ORDEAL

        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.


               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  *


             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

the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also

appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being

reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org