Glossary of terms used in this site. 

This page is used in conjunction with it's parent site Leicestershire Resources

If you have got here by mistake or are lost click

Advowson The right of nomination or presentation to an ecclesiastical benefice. An advowson is held by a patron, who may he an individual or institution, clerical or secular. The patron presents the candidate to the appropriate Bishop for institution and induction, though the nomination may he refused. An advowson is a form  of property which may he bought, sold or given away and is subject to civil law.  An advowson appendant  is one annexed to a manor or estate, an advowson in gross is in the gift of an individual.

Archdeacon A senior clergyman appointed by the bishop with responsibility for a group of parishes, these could be subdivided into rural deaneries.

Benefice An ecclesiastical office i.e. Rectory, Vicarage, Deanery , Perpetual Curate

Bordar Doomsday book term meaning smallholder - also referred to as petit marchand in later documents. These small holdings were usually at the edge of the village in the waste or areas cleared from woodland and scrub.

Carucate A danish term equivalent to 120 acres of arable land according to quality. - That, that could be ploughed by a team of  eight oxen in a day.

Chancel The area of the church containing the Sanctuary and Presbytery (the location of the high alter) separated from the secular activities of the Nave by a chancel or rood screen. A comparatively recent term arriving from the doctrine of transubstantiation in 1215 which meant the separation of the laity from the mystery of the Eucharist. The upkeep and repair of the chancel was the responsibility of the Rector by law.

Chantry Chapel Persons of wealth would endow chantries for the purpose of easing their souls into the after life by the process of prayer. These chapels could be constructed within a main church or in certain circumstances a separate chapel somewhere within the persons manor. In the later case they could and frequently did serve the local populace on an intermittent basis. The dissolution of the monasteries abolished chantries and hence any associated chapel in 1547 by the chantry act. The form of endowment was usually land and at the dissolution many of these buildings fell into private hands,

Chapel of Ease These were provided for the ease and comfort of those living some distance from the main parish church. Many served the dual purpose of Chantry Chapels and were served by the monasteries. Marriages and christenings as well as other services could be performed but few enjoyed the rights of sepulchra (burial). Many chapels of ease were abolished in 1547 by the chantries act.

Chapelry Anciently a term reserved for the daughter church of a Minster but frequently used post reformation to describe a section of a large parish sometimes with a resident priest subordinate to the incumbent. Note that a chapelry need not have a surviving chapel of ease to function. Upton a chapelry of Sibson and Sheepy Parva a Chapelry of Sheepy Magna, both in Leicestershire, were classified as chapelries with their own Tithes and Poor Rate  but no documentary evidence of either chapel has been found after the 16th century. 

Church Warden An ancient position whose role in parochial life from the late middle ages until the separation of the ecclesiastical and civil components of vestral authority,  was greater than the incumbent. Generally two were two were elected at Easter, a vicar's warden and a people's warden,  although in large churches or parishes with more than one civil division more could be appointed according to local custom. The wardens wielded considerable power and were the peoples representatives in all parochial matters. The church wardens along with the overseers administered local relief and education. They were responsible for the fabric of the nave and setting and collecting the church rate, the Constable, surveyor and verger reported directly to them. All bequests and gifts to the parish were collected by them and at each annual audit they took possession of all those that had gone before. They presided over the distribution annually of income from church gifts and were bound by law to keep detailed accounts.

Other parochial duties were to ensure children were baptised and that the parishioners attended church regularly and keep an eye on the morals of the parish. Transgressions were reported to the Archdeacons courts and the wardens were responsible for ensuring that the penances were carried out.  

Cistercian Religious of the Order of Cīteaux, a Benedictine reform, established at Cīteaux in 1098 by St. Robert, Abbot of Molesme in the Diocese of Langres, for the purpose of restoring as far as possible the literal observance of the Rule of St. Benedict.

Constable An old position originally responsible to the Manor Court Leet. The parish constable, otherwise known as Petty Constable, would enforce various orders from the Church Wardens and Overseers of the Poor. He would be responsible for all sorts of tasks, ale houses, beggars, bastardy payments, church and poor rate collection, maintenance of pillories and stocks and the village lock up. He was unpaid but allowed expenses, my g.g. grandfather's journal shows that his expenses included a horse provided by the parish!.   

Deanery The official office of a dean / the group of parishes within a Dean's jurisdiction.

Demesne Manorial lands reserved exclusively for the Lord of the Manor's own use. Prior to the mid 14th century the Lord's villeins would cultivate this land for him but subsequently it was found more profitable to lease the land out.  After enclosure the grouping together of these land holdings created the common Home Farm concept.

Dowager A widow's thirds, on the death of an owner of substance the estate usually was passed to the eldest son failing that to the daughters in common. A widow was by common law entitled to the third of the estate for the remainder of her life. It was usually assumed that this right was forfeit  when if she remarried.

Franklin A substantial freeholder below the rank of gentleman but above a yeoman , a medieval term. 

Frankpledge In medieval England all householders were grouped into tithings of 10 or 12 householders. They had a mutual responsibility for the behavior everyone within their group and presenting wrong doers to the manorial court leet. The right to ensure that everyone was included in such a grouping was termed a View of Frankpledge. The lord of the manors right to all fines metered by such a court, (Royalty), was a considerable source of income. 

Freehold The holding of land without the need for manorial labour service. It could be held by Knight's Service, (a proportion of the fee to provide a Knight to serve the King), or Scutage, (the payment of a fixed rent). There were two types of freehold. That held Fee Simple  could be disposed of at the wishes of the owner, fee entail (fee tail)where an estate was bequeathed under a strict succession order.

Grange Cistercian monasteries of the 12th and 13th  acquired vast amounts of land from Norman magnates who were themselves preoccupied with eternal salvation. These lands were fragmented and difficult to administer from a central base therefore a system of outlying farms were set up (grangia)  staffed by lay brethren. After the black death in the 14th century the recruitment of lay brethren became increasingly difficult and local peasant labour dried up. The granges became an embarrassment and were liable to be let to local landowners. 

Husbandman Engaged in cultivation of the land. In status below a yeoman, one who farms to support himself and his family and who may engage in paid work for larger owners.

Incumbent Holder of a Benefice, chairman of the vestry.

Liberty An area, usually a manor, that is outside a Sheriff's, ( post 14th century Justice of the Peace), jurisdiction.  

Mediety The strict meaning of the word is equal parts, sometimes referred to as a Moiety. An ecclesiastical parish required the appointment of a rector. Some parishes supported more than one rector and in that case the the parish would be divided to suit the number of medieties both in the collection of tithes and the rectorial responsibilities.

Messuage A dwelling house along with it's outbuildings and the grounds it stood in. Capital Messuage,( in capite) , large dwelling house or primary residence. 

Moiety A half, this term is often encountered where an Advowson was split between two heiresses.

Nave The un-consecrated main body of the church where the congregation gathered for the service and the area in which the priest would descend to deliver his sermon. The nave was also used for secular activities and served as a church hall where the parishioners could gather in relative shelter. The upkeep of the Nave was the responsibility of the laity. 

Overseer of the Poor Although appointed by the vestry in Easter week the Overseers were the only parish officer bound by civil law, except the constable after 1842. Created by statute in January 1601 they were appointed after election under the seal of two Justices of the Peace. Working closely with the Church Wardens they were responsible for setting and collecting the poor rate and distributing benefits to those requiring relief. They were required by law to keep detailed account books of income against expenditure and where possible were elected from substantial householders. The overseers would also endorse settlement certificates and bastardy bonds, present settlement queries to the justices for examination and effect removal orders. Along with the wardens they would arrange parish apprenticeships for deserving poor children. see here for detailed description of poor law system

Parish Clerk The post of parish clerk is one of the most ancient of the lay parish positions, the London Guild of parish clerks was incorporated in 1232. Next in line to the incumbent he would assist in the service and lead the singing and responses. The clerks often wrote up the parish registers although this was illegal but almost all kept there own paper copy. Some of these still survive notably at Banbury. The position would very often be passed down from father to son through many generations.

Parish Officers The majority of these  posts elected by the vestry annually at Easter. If elected you could not get out of performing the duties without a very good reason and could be fined. The positions were largely unpaid but some carried ancient perks such as a piece of land or rights to grazing in the churchyard. All parishes were bound to fill the following positions but in areas of low population some parishioners could hold more than one position. 
        Parish Clerk (not elected annually but appointed by the incumbent)
        Vestry Clerk 

        Church Warden - 2         ) positions sometimes held 
        Overseers of the poor - 2) by the same persons

        Sexton ) positions sometimes held 
        Verger ) by the same person

Patron The holder of an advowson

Perpetual Curate A priest nominated by a lay rector to serve a parish that had no vicarage. Once licensed by the Bishop they could not be removed.

Poor Laws The laws governing the treatment and relief of the poor of a parish in force since Elizabethan times. See here for a detailed description.

Rector There were two main types of rector, a clerical rector and a lay rector. A clerical rector was an incumbent who received the Great (or rectorial) Tithes,: all the customary offerings and dues of his parish. He was responsible for the chancel and providing the service books and vestments. In many instances benefices were annexed to corporate bodies such as monasteries or collegiate foundations who in turn received the rectorial tithes. The Lesser (or Vicarial) tithes going to a vicar who was appointed by them to administer the parish. Lay rectors arose after the dissolution of the monasteries when monastic estates were sold to lay men who became lay rectors if the estate had a rectory annexed to it. They acquired the right to appoint vicars to the parish with the approval of the bishop. These lay rectors received the rectorial tithes and also the responsibility of maintaining the chancel etc. Although tithes were abolished by 1936 many old Grange farms still retain the responsibility for maintaining the chancel as a deed covenant. Another type of rector who could be either a lay rector or a clerical rector according to his qualifications were rectors of colleges, Oxfordshire has a good number of these.

Rectory The modern usage of this word often leads to confusion as it is taken to mean a rector's dwelling. The strict meaning is that of a rectorial benefice.

Sexton Assistant to the Parish Clerk carrying out the more menial duties such as grave digging and bell ringing as well as other duties around the church and churchyard. This position was often appointed by the church wardens or incumbent at carried a salary although this could only be a fixed sum for each burial. Often the same person occupied the position as Verger.

Surveyor Responsible for the parish roads, lanes and drainage ditches the most avoided post in the village. Under funded, unpaid  and with a labour force of usually relief men this was the post to be avoided at all costs. Theoretically he could ask any employer for labourers 2 weeks every year but this help seldom materialized. If a major thoroughfare passed through the village and wasn't turnpiked the job could even carry financial penalties if the road was not maintained.

Tithes Tithes were typically a local tax of one tenth of the years product of land and labour. It was levied on a parish basis to support the parish priest, maintain the fabric of the church and support the poor of the parish. It was originally a voluntary contribution and had its roots in the Anglo Saxon Frankpledge where groups of ten persons were largely responsible for each other within the group. It was made compulsory in 10th century  and was enforced both through the civil and ecclesiastical courts. Tithes were divided into greater (rectorial) tithes, the product of the arable fields and value of stock, and lesser (vicarial) tithes, raised from labour and minor produce i.e. the day laborers and cottagers. Where the Rector was not the incumbent he took a share of the greater tithes and his appointed vicar would have to survive on the lesser tithes supplemented by the glebe income and the freehold of the churchyard.

Toft A plot of land on which once stood a building which attracted common rights. 

Verger.  A minor church official responsible the the interior of the church. Often the post of Sexton and Verger doubled up.

Vestry Originally the place where the church vestments, plate and the parish chest containing  the parish records were kept. It was in the vestry that the parishioners met to administer the affairs of the parish and the word vestry came to be used for that body of parishioners also. In this context the members of the vestry were entitled to vote on all parish matters and to elect parish officers. To be eligible for the vestry one had to be a contributor to the church rate. The vestry clerk was responsible for the vestry minutes and the organization of the meetings. In small parishes the Parish Clerk or Sexton would perform this function.

Vicar A clerk in holy orders appointed by a rector to administer a parish.

Vicarage The modern usage is that of a vicar's dwelling the strict meaning is that of vicarial benefice

Villein A Norman term for  tenant who was not free, but held his land, usually a virgate, in return for his labour in the Lord of the Manor's demesne.

Virgate About 30 acres of arable land distributed through the open fields of a village. The standard subsistence holding, it could be more ore less according to the quality of the land. 

Yeoman Early references usually refer to Knights retainers but later the term came to mean a freeholder or tenant engaged in agriculture. The major difference from the minor gentry was that a yeoman would put his own hand to work rather than employ servants. Economically yeomen could and many did acquire substantial wealth and in the 16th and 17th century were the backbone of the rural economy. Many of Leicestershire yeomen were descended from Danish soldiers who were allocated land to farm surrounding the Danelaw boroughs providing a ready defensive force.


Please read my site rules
Copyright © Martyn Parsons. All rights reserved.
Revised 05/04/2011
Contact Me