Medieval Glossary

The language of medieval England is a fascinating subject. It was not entirely dissimilar to the English language of today but there were some essential differences. These include:
  1. A greater use of French words – only natural after the Norman Conquest of 1066.
  2. Use of words we know today but with different meanings.
  3. Use of words that related to strictly medieval things which we don’t use today, hence they’re no longer or rarely used in everyday life.

e have conducted our own study into medieval language using a variety of sources and compiled our own glossary of medieval terms. The list is by no means final and complete and we expect to be expanding it over time.


Agraffe: Type of clasp

Alembic: A kind of flask used by alchemists for distilling

Allure: Walkway on the wall of a building, usually a castle
Anchoret: A hermit
Apse: The circular end of a tower
Arblast: Crossbow

Armet: Type of light helmet

Arrow loop: Narrow hole in the wall of a castle through which arrows could be fired against an attacking enemy


Baldric: belt worn diagonally from the shoulder to the opposite hip
Ballista: Large siege engine similar to a crossbow
Barrow: Ancient burial mound
Basinet: Type of under-helmet (hemispherical in shape)
Battlement: An extra wall on an allure or walkway built to protect archers
Bill: Type of sword or concave, bladed weapon with a long wooden handle (from Anglo-Saxon poetry)
Bodkin: A type of needle or short dagger
Bow-hand: Left hand (the hand commonly used to hold a longbow)
Buckler: Round, small shield used for both blocking and striking the enemy
Burrel cloth: Coarse, woollen cloth


Camail: Curtain of mail that protected the back of the neck; it hung from the helmet
Cap-a-pie: Head to foot
Capul: Horse
Catapult: Siege engine for launching projectiles towards the enemy’s encampment or castle
Clout: Piece of cloth fixed to a target as a mark to aim for
Cockscomb: A jester’s cap
Crossbow: Powerful bow whose quarrels could often penetrate shields and armour
Cubit: Ancient measurement of around 18 to 22 miles
Curtain wall: Wall protecting a courtyard within a castle


Destrier: War-horse

Device: Coat of arms or heraldic emblem

Donjon: Keep usually within a castle

Dortour: Dormitory

Dungeon: Where prisoners were held (usually underground or in the lowest part of a castle)


Egyptian: Gypsy
Embattled: Enclosed within battlements
Enceinte: Exterior wall built to protect a castle
Event: Outcome or result of something


Fief: Estate granted by the king, held under promise of feudal service
Fortalice: Fortress
Furniture: Accoutrements of a horse


Gaiters: Leggings for the lower leg
Gamut: Scale of notes in medieval music
Gauntlet: Armoured glove
Glaive: A bladed weapon
Gleeman: Saxon composer of songs


Hacqueton: Padded jacket worn under a knight’s mail
Hauberk: A coat of mail
Hership: Plunder
Hilding: Cowardly
Hinds: Farm workers
Hospitallers – Knights who were rivals of the Templars.


Jelly-bag: Conical bag for straining jelly usually made of muslin


Keep: The last defensible position of a castle
Kirk: Church
Knight: Warrior who would fight for a nobleman or lord in exchange for payment of money/lands/titles


Lance: Long spear
Laws of the chase: Hunting laws some of which reserved wild game only for the sport of the Norman nobles in England.
Leman: Lover
Levin-fire: Lightening
Longbow: Literally a long and very effective bow


Manchet: Bread made of properly ground wheat; usually reserved for a medieval castle Lord
Mangonal: Siege-engine for hurling large stones
Mantelet: Temporary wooden defence
Mimmery: A type of play but a ‘dumb-show’
Morat: A drink made of honey and mulberry juice.
Morrion: Helmet
Muscadine: Sweet wine made from muscat grapes


Oubliette: Dungeon where prisoners were often left to die (literally it means cell of forgetfulness)
Outrecuidance: Insolence


Partisan: A long-handled spear
Pauldron: Shoulder armour
Pavis (also pavisse): Type of large shield
Phlebotomy: Letting of blood (with a cupping device as opposed to using leeches)
Pike: Spear used by infantry often over 18 feet long
Popinjay: Parrot
Postern gate: A small, rear gate of a castle
Pouncet-box: Small box with perforated lid used to carry aromatic herbs
Preceptory: A community of Templars
Pyet: Magpie


Quarrell: Bolt with a diamond-shaped head


Rere-supper: A night meal

Reversed: Upside-down – as in a reversed shield which symbolised disgrace for a medieval knight

Rood: Old measurement of land equal to around 1,012m2; could also mean a cross


Sack: Fortified wine (similar to today’s sherry)
Sallyport: Small gate or opening in a fortified building which allowed those inside to launch attacks on enemies outside
Scrip: A small pouch
Senechal: Steward
Sewer: Servant serving food at table
Shambles: Slaughterhouse
Shark’s teeth: Moulding characteristic of early Anglo-Norman architecture
Simarrre: Old spelling of cymar, which was a loose garment worn by women
Sirvente: A composition by Troubadours (from medieval Southern France)
Solere Chamber: A room in the upper part of a building receiving most direct sunlight
Staff: Long weapon made of wood used to strike an opponent
Stool-ball: Game similar to cricket still played today in parts of Southern England
Sword: Prime weapon of a knight in armour


Tithe: A tenth part or a toll/tax
Toll-dish: A dish used by millers who claimed a ‘toll’ (ie. a proportion) of any grain brought to them for milling
Totty: Unsteady
Trebuchet: Siege engine for launching missiles (usually stone balls) at a castle
Turret: Small tower above a larger one, ideal as look-out positions


Vair: Squirrel fur
Vambrace: Armour that protected the forearm



Wastel cakes: Bread made from the finest flour
Windlace: Used to bend a crossbow