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Glossary of medieval terms

Readers frequently ask me about some of the Medieval terminology used in my novels so I thought I’d help by posting a glossary of some of them. I’ve made a start and will add to it periodically. For now, here are the most asked about ones.

Women’s clothing

Medieval re-enactment, women wearing traditional wimples
Chemise – T-shaped gown fastened at the neck with ties or pinned with a brooch. Usually made of linen and often with tight-fitting sleeves. Sometimes it’s called a chainse. This comes from chansil, which was a very fine linen fabric.

Wimple – a head covering. Frequently a rectangle of fabric placed over the head and wrapped around the throat and shoulders. Or it could be left open to expose the throat.

Right: Regia Anglorum ladies in period dress. (Thanks to Maggie Ingram for this photo.)

Men’s clothing

Medieval braies - underpants in the middle ages
Coif – A hood made of mail

Gambeson – A quilted tunic worn under the hauberk (see below) to absorb weapon blows. Could be stuffed with fleece, horse-hair, moss. Later on they became known as aketons, because they were stuffed with cotton.

Hauberk – A garment made up of interlinking rinks of iron – ‘chain-mail’ in common parlance. Short or long-sleeved, usually knee-length and split at front of back for ease of walking and horse riding.

Braies – Medieval underpants. Imagine a pair of very baggy boxer shorts without elastic at the waist. They were put on, a belt was tied around them at the waist and the surplus fabric rolled over (see photo, right).


Medieval horses - destrier, palfrey, courser
Destrier – A warhorse. The average size of a Norman warhorse was around 15 hands. They weren’t lumbering great cart horses as is sometimes suggested

Palfrey – Well-bred riding horse

Rounc(e)y – All purpose riding horse, less well-bred than a palfrey

Sumpter – A pack horse

Courser – A swift horse for hunting or racing


Medieval ermine cloak
Coney – a rabbit. At one time coney was a name for a rabbit in general and rabbit was the name of a baby coney under one year old. But as time went on the word rabbit extended to cover the animal in all its guises. The word coney also has sexual connotations in some circumstances and can be an oblique reference to female genitalia.

Ermine – the pelt of the stoat in winter when the animal turns white and just has a black tip to its tail. Very high status – royal. Ordinary people wore cat fur and lambskin.

Vair – the fur of Russian squirrels. High status again. William Marshal & co would have worn vair, or had it on their beds (see illustration, right).


Wastel Bread – Basically bread rolls. For a tasty authentic recipe: Cut a bread roll in half. Scoop out the centres and make breadcrumbs. Reserve. Fry onions and chopped mushrooms in a little butter – add a clove of garlic if liked. When tender, stir in the reserved breadcrumbs. Pile back into the bread casings and eat. You can vary the fillings with whatever you have to hand. I am told by a professional chef that spinach and mushroom is excellent.

Frumenty – a kind of wheat porridge, often flavoured with spices or cooked in almond milk and a traditional accompaniment to venison.

Morap – wine made from mulberries


Bailey – A castle courtyard

Ward – A castle courtyard

Sward – Area of green in the bailey

Aumbry – A small cupboard set in the wall

The Narrow Sea – known today as the English Channel

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