Medieval Glossary 




English French Description
Arrow Loop Archère Narrow vertical slit cut into a wall through which arrows could be fired from inside, shielding the archer. Later, some arrow-loops were modified to suit small cannon, usually by being widened at the bottom. This resulted in a key-hole shape. See also slit.
Bailey Cour Enclosed defensive castle courtyard or Ward
Barbican Barbacane Towers or outworks defending a gateway
Batter Talutage Sloping exterior surface at the base of all walls and towers. Built to protect the base of the wall against attack and increase its stability
Battlement   Narrow wall, consisting of Merlons alternating with Embrasures, built along the outer edge of the wall walk to protect the defenders against attack. See also Crenellate.
Breastwork Talus Low defensive wall or earthwork, especially to protect gunners or artillery. These structures were often improvised both by besieging or attacking forces, and by defenders.

Charter of Franchise Charte de franchise Documents granting liberty to a serf by his lord. The term also applies to the freedom granted to the inhabitants of a town or borough. The issue of a Charter of Franchise freed the town from servitude to feudal lords.
Corbel Corbeau A projecting block of stone built into a wall during construction, for supporting a weight such as a parapet.

Crenellate Créneller To add Battlements.
Curtain Wall Courtine Outer wall, usually incorporating defensive towers.
Daub Torchis A mud or clay mixture applied over wattle to strengthen and seal it. See also wattle and daub.
Donjon Donjon Original name for the keep or main tower. Prisoners were often kept in the lowest part - hence Dungeon.
Drawbridge Pont levis Heavy timber platform built to span a moat between a gate house and surrounding land that could be raised using ropes or chains, to block the entrance, when required. Hemyock Castle is believed to have had a counter-weighted drawbridge, pivoted at the inner end.
Dungeon Ratier The jail, usually found in one of the towers. Often built as a pit entered only via a grill in its roof. Often foul, damp and airless.
Embrasure Embrasure Splayed opening in a wall for a window. Also the low segment of the alternate high and low segments of a Battlement. Provided protection to people within the wall.
Fealty (Oath of) Serment de vassalité Oath by which a vassal swore loyalty to his lord, usually on a Relic of Saints or on The Bible.
Feudalism Féodalisme System of governing whereby semi-autonomous landed nobility had certain well defined responsibilities to the King, in return for the use of grants of land (fiefs) exploited with the labour of a semi-free peasantry (serfs).
Fief Fief Normally, land held by a vassal of a lord in return for stipulated services, chiefly military. Can also apply to an official position. Often called a Holding. 
Forebuilding   Additional building against a Keep containing the stair to the doorway, and sometimes a chapel.
Fosse Fossé Ditch or moat.
Garderobe Latrine, garderobe Small latrine or toilet either built into the thickness of the wall or projected out from it. It is said that garments were stored in the Garderobe in the belief that the smell and draughts would deter clothes-moths.
Gate House Portail The complex of towers, bridges, and barriers built to protect each entrance through a castle or town wall.
Great Hall Grande salle The building in the inner ward that housed the main meeting and dining area for the castle's residents. 
Half-timber   The common form of medieval construction in which walls were made of a wood frame structure filled with Wattle and Daub. Buildings within the castle would often be of this form.

Hall Aula Principal room in a medieval house, used for meeting and dining. Often, servants would sleep in the hall. It often extended up to the roof. Before chimneys were introduced, there would be an open fire, often in the middle of the floor. The smoke would vent through gaps in the roof. Later, high status buildings were fitted with Louvres - pottery vents in the roof designed to extract the smoke. Pieces of a Louvre have been found at Hemyock Castle. The old medieval ceiling, roof beams, and walls of the great hall at Hemyock Castle are blackened by soot from open fires. See also Solar.
Hauberk Haubert Coat of mail (armour).
Hoards, Hoardings, Hourds Hourds Covered wooden balconies suspended from the tops of walls and towers, allowing defenders to climb through the crenellations to drop missiles and fire arrows accurately on any attackers at the base of the wall.
Homage Hommage Ceremony by which a vassal pledged his fealty to his liege and acknowledged all other feudal obligations, in return for a grant of land.
Inner Curtain Courtine intérieure High wall surrounding the Inner Ward of a castle.
Inner Ward Cour intérieure The open area in the centre of a castle.
Keep Donjon Main tower; final defensive refuge
Knight Chevalier The retainer of a feudal lord who owed military service for his fief, usually the service of one fully equipped, mounted warrior. They were the medieval equivalent of modern day battle tanks. Traditionally, knights aspired to the ideals of prowess, loyalty, generosity and courtesy.
Lime-wash   Protective coating applied to walls, to protect the mortar from weather. The outer walls were rendered and lime-washed, forming a smooth white surface, making them harder to climb - and more imposing to outsiders!
Machicolation Machicoulis Opening between the corbels of a parapet or in the floor, used for attacking besiegers. See also Murder Holes.
Manor Maison forte Small holding, typically 1200-1800 acres, with its own court and probably its own hall, but not necessarily having a manor house. The manor as a unit of land was generally held by a knight (knight's fee) or managed by a bailiff for some other holder. In later years, the power of the manor declined progressively in favour of the vill.
Merlon Merlon The high segment of alternating high and low segments of a battlement, sometimes pierced with slits.
Moat Douve A deep trench dug around a castle to impede attack from the surrounding land. It could be either left dry or filled with water. Water filled moats made it more difficult for attackers to dig tunnels. 
Mortar Mortier à la chaux A mixture of sand, water, and lime used to bind stones together permanently. The lime mortar retained its flexibility and so resisted the shocks of battering.
Motte Motte Man-made or natural mound on which a keep or donjon was built
Murder Holes Assomoir Openings in walls or ceiling of gate house, used for attacking the enemy.
Newel   Centre post of winding or spiral staircase. Concealed dungeon having a trap door in its ceiling as its only opening, where prisoners were often left to starve to death, sometimes in total darkness
Oubliette Oubliette Concealed dungeon having a trap door in its ceiling as its only opening, where prisoners were often left to starve to death, sometimes in total darkness.
Outer Curtain Courtine extérieure Wall enclosing the outer ward
Outer Ward Cour extérieure The area around the outside of and adjacent to the inner curtain.
Palisade Palissade Sturdy wooden fence usually built to enclose a site until a permanent stone wall could be constructed. Often built on a raised earth bank to give further protection. Sometimes these were built as an extra defence or as a temporary protection while a more permanent structure was being built.
Portcullis Herse A heavy timber and iron grille suspended in special grooves in a gate house, in front of a gate, that could be dropped to block the gateway.
Postern Gate Poterne A side or less important gate into a castle. Often used for raids on besieging forces, or for escape.
Priory Prieuré Any religious house administered by a prior or prioress. If the prior was subject to a resident abbot, the house was called an abbey or monastery. The title prioress was held in certain religious houses for women. See also monastery.
Putlog Hole Trou de boulins A hole intentionally left in the surface of a wall for insertion of a horizontal pole. Such holes held scaffolding used during construction, floor joists, or supported hourdings.
Rampart Rempart Defensive earth or stone wall surrounding castle.
Rubble Blocage A random mixture of rocks and mortar, often used to fill the space between inner and outer faces of walls. See also mortar.
Sap Sape Undermining of a wall, above or below ground, by attackers. One siege technique was to dig a tunnel under the castle walls and support the tunnel roof with timbers. Setting fire to the timbers would collapse the tunnel - and the wall.
Scaffolding Echaffaudage Temporary wooden framework built next to a wall to support both workers and materials.
Serf Serf Semi-free peasant who worked his lord's demesne and paid him certain dues in return for the use of land, the possession (not ownership) of which was heritable. These dues, usually called corvee, were usually in the form of labour on the lord's land. Generally this averaged three days a week. Serfs were generally classified as: 'Cottagers', 'small-holders', or 'villeins' although the later originally meant free peasants who were burdened with additional rents and services.
Slit Fente Arrow-slit. Narrow opening in a wall for discharge of arrows and admittance of light. See also arrow-loop.
Spiral Staircase Escalier à spirale Compact staircase often built into the walls of castles. Usually designed so that attackers climbing a clockwise staircase would find it hard to fight with their right hand, whilst descending defenders would have their right (sword) arm free.
Turret Tourelle A small tower rising above and resting on one of the main towers, usually used as a look out point.
Undercroft Cave Cellar, crypt, or basement under a building.
Vassal Vassal Free man who held land (fief) from a lord to whom he paid homage and swore fealty. He owed various services and obligations, primarily military. But he was also required to advise his lord and pay him the traditional feudal aids required on the knighting of the lord's eldest son, the marriage of the lord's eldest daughter and the ransoming of the lord should he be held captive.
Wall Walk Chemin de ronde The area along the tops of the walls from which soldiers defend both castle and town.
Ward Cour Enclosed, defensive courtyard or bailey. Also a child under the protection of a guardian. See wardship.
Wattle, Wattle and Daub   A mat (wattle) of woven sticks and twigs used in walls and fences. When plastered with mud (daub), forming wattle and daub, often used in the walls of dwellings. Recent repairs to a modest 17th century farm labourer's house near here uncovered the (slightly) more modern technique of lath and plaster.

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