This is an old blog that I started in 2006. I keep it because it has a lot of historical data and people still come here. As of September 2016, no new updates will be made here. All new blog posts and writing/publishing related news will be posted over on my new site at

Monday, May 25, 2009

Glossary for the Medieval Novelist

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

A flavor of medieval terminology will give your manuscript the tone it needs to establish the setting and time period of your book. Below are a few words you can layer into your narrative and dialogue.

1) Anon - At once.

2) Aye - Yes.

3) Benefice - A grant of land made by a lord.

4) Castle Guard - A guard in a lord's castle.

5) Craft - A skilled laboror.

6) Hither - hered.

7) Knave - A man who exhibits inappropriate behavior.

8) Manor - Land held by a Lord and worked by a tenant.

9) Nay - No.

10) Peddler - A traveling salesperson.

11) Randy - Promiscuous.

12) Relief - Tax paid by the inheritor of an estate.

13) Score - Twenty years.

14) Shandy - Stupid.

15) Thee - You. Used for familiar people.

16) Thine - Yours.

17) Thither - There.

18)Thou - You. Used formerly.

19) Thy - Your.

20) 'Tis - It is.

21) 'Twas - It was.

22) 'Twill - It will.

23) 'Twould - It would.

24) Tourney - A tournament.

25) Vassal - A servant who has sworn allegiance to an overlord.

26) Wench - A disrespectful term for a woman.

27) Yon - That.

28) Mead - Fermented drink.

29) Beaker - A tall, wide-mouthed goblet.

30) Flagon - A bottle with a lid.

31) Globlet - A bowl-shaped cup with a stem base and no handles.

32) Tankard - A tub-like vessel used to carry water.

33) Vial - A small vessel that held liquids.

34) Joust - A fight between two knights using lances.

35) Banner - A cloth displaying a mark representing knights and noblemen.

36) Bailey - A courtyard inside the castle walls.

37) Ashlar - Smooth stone blocks used for building.

38) Battlement - The wall around the catwalk to protect soldiers.

39) Drum Tower - A round tower built into the wall.

40) Drawbridge - The movable bridge lowered over a moat leading into a castle.

41) Gallery - A passageway or balcony overlooking the great hall.

42) Keep - The main tower.

43) Solar - The private chambers.

44) Bailiff - Oversaw the manor.

45) Minstrel - Sang songs and recited poetry.

46) Clerk - Kept records and accounts.

47) Dairy Maid - Milked cows and made milk.

48) Foot-Soldier - A low-born soldier.

49) Knight - A horse shoulder.

50) Groom - Took care of horses and stables.

51) Nursery Maid - Worked in the nursery.

52) Provost - Royal magistrate.

53) Squire - Oversaw his master's horse and arms.

54) Steward - Oversaw the castle.

55) Wet Nurse - Fed and took care of the babies.

56) Dagger - Double-edged knife.

57) Destrier - A warhorse.

58) Lance - A 14-foot charging spear.

59) Javelin - A throwing spear.


This is great! I'm printing this ot for future reference!
I've been a solar different than a bed chamber? Or the same thing?

Another great resource, Jennifer, which I'm sharing with my friends who write medieval romance.


A solar is actually the upper chamber of the house. It can be a bed chamber, but it can also be a storage room, a work room, etc.

Thanks, Keli. I'm glad you're passing the info on to help others.

Thanks, Jennifer!
I love medievl stories but have shied away from writing from that perspective because of the terminology. This is a great starter reference.

Wouldn't the words in the glossary be rather later than medival English? Surely Middle English would have been spoken between 11th and 14th centuries, like this extract from Chaucer's Canterbury tales. "Whan that Aueryłł wt his shoures soote,
The droghte of Marcħ, hath perced to the roote;
And bathed euery veyne in swich lycour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;" I'm no history expert but I did write about medival mystery plays. Thanks!
Penny Culliford

Hi Penny, You bring up a great point. This glossary is intended as a starting point for novelists. The sad truth is, "most" readers of today (not all), get lost in too much medieval language, so we have to tone it down a bit or they won't read it. We have to sprinkle in and layer in medieval words to give the novel a flavor of the medieval period.

I don't include as much in my novels as some authors, and I've still received a couple of comments, and others have said they are so glad it wasn't heavy on the language so they could follow it better without feeling like they needed to stop and find a medieval dictionary for constant translations.

In my sequel, Highland Sanctuary, I actually included a passage from Chaucer just as it was written back then, but I only kept it to a couple of sentences. Otherwise, I might get too many complaints or my editors may decide not to include it.

As for the medieval time period, yes, it is generally considered up to the 14th century, but a few historians include up to 1500 b/c some European countries were slower to embrace the transition into the Renaissance period, the Highlands of Scotland were one such place, still operating much on the feudal system throughout the 1400's, more so than the lowlands of Scotland.