If you’ve ever read the sources list at the bottom of my posts, you’ll probably have come across A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases by Christopher Corédon and Ann Williams. I use it a lot. As with all dictionaries, it’s not something you’d read from cover to cover, although I’m sure it would be fascinating. I’ve had it a few years now, so it’s probably time to review it.
As the blurb on the back says, it contains 3,400 terms. They range across the whole of the Middle Ages and there are legal terms, ecclesiastical terms and agricultural terms, as well as words and phrases in daily use. It also contains some Latin terms that were in general use, although I think this is its weak point, as I’ve occasionally looked up Latin terms and not found them. I do not, however, hold this against it, as the Latin terms used in everyday life by people who hadn’t studied Latin would probably fill a book on their own.
If you read a lot about the Middle Ages, fiction as well as non-fiction, you probably find that authors don’t always bother to define the terms they use. This is just the book to help you. Don’t know what a frankpledge is? This dictionary will tell you (or you could look at my post here). Not sure what sable, bend sinister, bar or recursant mean? As this book will explain, they’re all heraldic symbols. Creasing your brow over manchet? Look no further than this dictionary to discover that it’s both a type of bread and an heraldic symbol.
When I wrote about tithes last week, I consulted this dictionary to ensure that what I wrote about glebe lands was correct. It turned out that only half the story was in the book I was consulting and this book gave me the other half.
It has, however, earned my enmity by illustrating the word Wickham (a settlement connected with an old Roman vicus) with a village in Essex rather than the village in Hampshire which gave its name to William of Wykeham, bishop of Winchester and chancellor of England in the fourteenth century and, therefore, much better known.
Flicking through the dictionary to write this post, I came across lots of interesting entries, some of which, I’m sure, will inspire future posts. For example, eremite. I hadn’t even thought about writing about hermits. Forest is another example. It doesn’t mean what you think it does and certainly explains why my local forest, the New Forest, is more heath than wood.
This is a very useful book for anyone with an interest in the Middle Ages.