Glossary of Medieval Terms

I have literally hundreds of pages on my website covering a range of medieval topics. However, sometimes you simply need a quick definition while reading a story! Here is my simple glossary of medieval terms I use in my novels. If you want more in depth information, be sure to read all of my background research notes!

Ale - A style of beer which is made from barley and does not use hops. Ale was the common drink in medieval days. In the 1300s, 92% of brewers were female, and the women were known as "alewives". It was common for a tavern to be run by a widow and her children.

Blade - The metal slicing part of the sword.

Chemise - In medieval days, most people had only a few outfits. They would not want to wash their heavy main dress every time they wore it, just as in modern times we don't wash our jackets after each wearing. In order to keep the sweaty skin away from the dress, women wore a light, white under-dress which could then be washed more regularly. This was often slept in as well.

Cider - Made by pressing and fermenting apples. By default, cider in the middle ages was alcoholic.

Drinking - In general, medieval sanitation was not great. People would drink milk "raw" - pasteurization was not well known before the 1700s. Water was often unsafe to drink. For these reasons, all ages of medieval folk drank liquid with alcohol in it. The alcohol served as a natural sanitizer. This was even true as recently as colonial American times.

God’s Teeth / God’s Blood - Common oaths in the middle ages.

Grip - The part of the sword you hold, usually wrapped in leather or another substance to keep it firmly in your hand.

Guard - The crossed top of the sword's hilt, which keeps the enemy's sword from sliding down and chopping off your fingers.

Hilt - The entire handle part of the sword, everything that is not blade.

Mead - A fermented beverage made from honey. Mead has been enjoyed for thousands of years and is mentioned in Beowulf.

Pommel - The bottom end of the sword, where the hilt ends.

Tip - The very end of the sword

Wolf’s Head - a term for a bandit. The Latin term caput great lupinum meant they could be hunted and killed as legally as any dangerous wolf or wild animal that threatened the area.

medieval sword parts

In the image below, the white chemise is the long-sleeved white "under-dress" worn beneath the blue "main dress".

medieval chemise

This is just a brief summary of the most commonly used terms in my medieval novels. Please read through all of my other pages for more details!

About Medieval Language
Medieval Languages - the Basics
Writing Medieval Dialogue
Contractions in Medieval Dialogue
Glossary of Medieval Terms


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