Glossary of Medieval Terms

I will add to this glossary over time.

If there are any words that you would like to have defined, please put them in the comment box below and I’ll do my best to find a definition.

Abbess– The head of a convent.

Abbey Church – The church at the heart of a monastic complex.

Abbot– The head of a monastery.

Abbot’s Lodgings – Area of a monastery in which the abbot had his quarters.

Advent – The period from the fourth Sunday before Christmas to Christmas Eve. A time of fasting in the Middle Ages.

Aketon – A padded jacket worn over or under armour.

Almoner– The obedientiary in a monastery who gave alms to the poor and sick.

Anchorite – A person who lives a solitary life for religious reasons.

Avantail – Chainmail protection for the neck. It hangs from the helmet.


Bagpipe – Wind instrument.

Bailey – The enclosure within an outer castle wall.

Barbican – Additional fortification for a gate of a castle or a town.

Bascinet – Pointed helmet, usually with a visor.

Benedictine– A monk in a monastery that followed the Rule of St Benedict.

Benefice – An office of a priest, vicar or rector, usually associated with a parish.

Bouche á court – Meals in the lord’s household offered as part of the payment in a contract for military services.

Brassart – Plate metal covering for the arm.

Calefactory – A warming-room in a monastery.

Chapter – The daily gathering of a monastic community.

Chapter-house – The dedicated space in a monastery where the daily chapter was held.

Cheat – Bread made from whole wheat from which the bran had been removed.

Chevauchée – A mounted campaign of raids in enemy territory, the aim of which is to do as much damage as possible.

Christmas – 25th December. One of four quarter days.

Citole – Stringed musical instrument.

Cloister – A covered area in a monastery used for study.

Cloister garth – The open quadrangle surrounded by the cloister.

Coat of plates – Piece of leather or thick cloth to which iron plates had been riveted.

Cuir-bouilli – Leather hardened by boiling and used as protective armour.

Couter – A piece of armour protecting the elbow.

Cuisse – Armour protecting the thigh.

Demesne – The land used by the lord of the manor for his own provisions. It was exploited by the lord and farmed by his own serfs. It was separate from the land leased to tenants.

Dormitory – The room in which monks slept in a monastery.

Fletcher – Maker of bows or arrows.

Franciscan – A member of a specific mendicant order.

Friar – A member of a mendicant order.

Gambeson – Jacket similar to the aketon.

Garderobe – Lavatory.

Gauntlet – An armoured glove.

Greave – Piece of armour protecting the shin.

Hall – The main room in a house or castle.

Haubergeon – Short coat of mail

Hauberk – Long coat, usually of mail

Hovel – A small building, usually of a very simple construction.

Hurdy-gurdy – Stringed and keyed musical instrument.

Indulgence – A reduction in penance after confession by a penitent authorised by the pope or a bishop. It allowed the person who had confessed his sin to replace his penance with a work of charity or a specified act such as a pilgrimage or a contribution to the building of a church.

Indenture – Contract between a soldier and his commander detailing the terms of his service. It was a contract in two parts, both written on the same piece of parchment which was separated by a jagged cut. Each party to the contract kept one part.

Infirmary – Part of a monastery which housed the monks who were sick or who were too old and infirm to take part in the normal monastic life.

Lady Day – Feast of the Annunciation – 25th March. One of four quarter days. This was the beginning of the year.

Lavatorium – The covered area where monks washed their hands before meals.

Lectio Divina – Sacred reading – the reading of the Scriptures and the Fathers prescribed by St. Benedict for monks. It was one of the three main divisions of the monastic day.

Library – Place in a monastery in which books were kept.

Living – Colloquial term for benefice.

Love day – A private meeting for settling a dispute out of court.

Lute – Stringed musical instrument.

Mail – Flexible ‘fabric’ made by joining iron or steel rings together with rivets.

Manorial Court – Court held to manage legal issues arising on a manor.

Maslin – Bread eaten by most people. It was made from wheat and rye flour mixed together.

Michaelmas – The feast of St Michael and all Angels-  29th September. One of four quarter days. It was the beginning of the agricultural year.

Midsummer – 24th June. One of four quarter days.

Monastic Gatehouse – Entry to and exit from a monastery.

Monastic Kitchen – Place where food was prepared for the monks.

Motte – Raised mound on which a defensive tower was built, forming a basic castle.


Opus Dei – The work of God – the attendance at divine offices in church prescribed by St. Benedict for monks

Opus Manuum – Manual labour – the physical work prescribed by St. Benedict for monks.

Pandemain – High-quality white bread made from finely ground and sifted wheat flour.

Pardoner – A secular clerk or friar who carried indulgences.

Patis – Extortion money paid to mercenaries to prevent them attacking towns or villages.

Pattens– Raised wooden shoes for wearing over indoor slippers when walking outside.

Pavise – A large shield protecting the whole body.

Paynemain – See Pandemain.

Pipe and Tabor – Wind and percussion instrument.

Poleyn – Piece of armour protecting the knee.

Psaltery – Stringed musical instrument.

Rebec – Stringed musical instrument.

Recorder – Wind instrument.

Reeve – Villein responsible to the lord of the manor for his village.

Refectory – The area in a monastery where monks ate.

Rerebrace – Piece of armour protecting the upper arm.

Reredorter – The  latrine block of a monastery.

Reredos – Screen covering the wall behind an altar in a church.


Sabaton – Armoured boot, protecting the upper part of the foot.

Sacrist  – The obedientiary in a monastery responsible for the altars, sacred vessels and the fabric of the church.

Shawm – Wind instrument.

Simony – The buying and selling of ecclesiastical positions. Named after Simon Magus who offered the apostles money to receive the Holy Spirit – Acts 8:9-24.

Solar -The room occupied by the lord of a house or a castle. The lord slept and conducted his business affairs in the room. It was the room to which the lord, his family and important guests withdrew in order to be away from the more public hall.  Sometimes it had a viewing window into the hall, allowing the lord to see what was happening there. Named from the French ‘seul’ (alone).

Spaulder – Piece of armour protecting the shoulder.

Summoner – An official of the ecclesiastical courts whose job it was to bring people accused of the relevant crimes to be tried there.

Surcote – Loose fabric overgarment worn over armour, often bearing a knight’s arms.

Tithing – The lowest element of law enforcement in England.

Tourte – Bread made from husk and flour. It was probably used for trenchers

Trencher – A slice of coarse bread onto which food was put during a meal.


Vambrace – Piece of armour protecting the lower arm.

Vielle – Stringed musical instrument.

Villein – An unfree peasant (serf) who occupied land belonging to the lord of the manor.

Warming Room – A room where monks could work in the warm in winter.

Wastel – Fine white bread.


24 responses to “Glossary of Medieval Terms

  1. Great glossary!

    What is the difference between pandamain and wastel? According to your glossary, they are both considered white bread.


  2. Then there is cheat which is also white bread with the bran removed. Could all three terms indicate the same type of bread but with cultural and regional differences that could be a result of wheat varieties and what liquid for flavor.


  3. This is great. I have recently become quite interested in this time period. Your blog looks quite interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Cheryl Kramer

    Could you please remind me of the name of the beehive shaped dungeon, with the opening at the top? The name is French & I believe it means “to forget”. It is driving me crazy that I cannot recall this word.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What was the medieval term for a “heart attack”????


    • Thank you for the question. I’ve had a look in various sources and not found anything relating to heart attacks. That probably means that it wasn’t a concept in the Middle Ages. They had very little knowledge of what went on inside the body, as they weren’t permitted to cut open dead bodies. They knew that the heart pushed blood out, because they could hear it beating and could observe blood pulsing out of a wound, but they didn’t understand how it worked.


  6. Urwa

    Can u plz tell the definition of steward


  7. Burgolf and his wife are gifting to the Lorsch Monastery in 769 CE from the village of Helmsheim (now part of Bruchsal).Baden. He locates his vlllages by directions from towns and the phrase 2 1/2 court riding in 1 case . One item is ” a riding court with bonnet and everything that belongs to the bonnet as well as 11 serfs.” Please help with the last item. thank you.


  8. Sarah

    Can you to me what “presented to the living” meant in medieval England? Thank you


  9. Amanda Reinke

    I am writing a book based in medieval times and am wondering how they would ask for information?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not sure I understand your question. What sort of information would they be asking for? Where are they and when are they?


      • Amanda Reinke

        Its a made up place but the character is in a market place and is asking if the merchant, whom she asked to get information for her, has found anything out (she is asking for information about her brother whom she never met and is trying to find.) I wrote “What have ye found out I pray?” but I am not sure if it works for the time period.


      • Amanda Reinke

        she is asking for information about her long lost brother whom she is searching for. it is a made place in the book and she is in a market place. the person she is asking is a merchant of which she had recently asked to look into her brothers whereabouts. my book has dragons in it so probably any time in the middle ages and perhaps in Europe, but again its a made up place so I am not sure yet.


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