Sixteenth century words and expressions

Glossary of sixteenth century words and terms:

Almoner…Official distributor of alms (money or food) for the royal household; office requiring personal attendance on the King, and involvement, on a junior level, to the royal council.
Aqua vitae…a strong alcoholic drink such as brandy.
Astrolabe…an ancient instrument used to solve problems relating to time and the position of the sun and stars in the sky.

Beef-witted…stupid, dull
Beslubbering…smeared with something thick and oily
Beetle-headed… a stupid person, a blockhead
Black Redstart…small robin-sized bird. The greyish-black male
has a red tail.
Blockhead…a stupid person
Boar-pig…Named after the Bartholomew boar-pig, sold at the
annual London fair, held on Saint Bartholomew’s Day.
Bower…a lady’s private apartment in a medieval manor or castle
Bum-bailey…Sheriff’s officer who catches people by sneaking up
behind them.
Bustard…the world’s heaviest flying bird
By-blow…an illegitimate child

Canker-blossom…a grub that destroys the blossom of love
Cameline sauce…a medieval sauce made in large quantities, usually containing bread, vinegar (or verjuice) and spices such as cinnamon.
Chevalier of Saint-Michel…a French chivalric order begun by Louis XI, ‘the Spider King’. Its aim was to confirm the loyalty of its members to the King. At first, there were only thirty-six members, but these were amongst the most powerful nobles in France.
Churlish…rude, boorish
Civet…an animal with a cat-like appearance, native to Africa or tropical Asia, from which a musky scent used in perfume was obtained.
Clack-dish…a begging bowl that could be clacked to attract attention
Clapper-clawed…thrashed, reviled
Clarsach…a Gaelic triangular harp
Clotpole…blockhead, dolt
Corbie…a raven or crow
Close-stool…a covered chamber pot enclosed in a wooden stool
Coxcomb…a fool’s cap with a crest like a cock’s comb; a simpleton
Craven…a cock that shows no fighting spirit; a coward
To be in one’s cups…to be very drunk
Crook-pated…having a deformed head; not in one’s right mind
Crowstepped…a gable with a staircase kind of design

Damask rose…thought to have been brought to Europe from Syria by the Crusaders in the thirteenth century.
Devil-monk…a mischievous monk
Dewberry…a sweet deep purplish berry, closely related to a
Dismal-dreaming…full of ill-boding dreams
Dissembling…deceitful, false
Dog-hearted…cruel, callous
Doxy…a beggar’s mistress; a whore
Dread-bolted…armed with frightening thunderbolts; terrifying
Droning…to talk for a long time in a boring way

Earth-vexing…extremely annoying
Ell…a unit of measurement, using the distance from a man’s elbow to the tip of his midde finger, approximately eighteen inches.

Fat-kidneyed…very overweight and clumsy
Fen-sucked…rising from the marshes
Flap-mouthed…having broad, hanging lips; talkative
Flirt-gill…a pert or wanton woman
Fly-bitten… attacked by flies, unattractive
Folly-fallen…acting stupidly or rashly
Footlicker…a sycophant; a toady
Fripperies…ornate or showy clothing or adornments
Froward…difficult to deal with, contrary
Full-gorged…fed until satiated
Fusty…old-fashioned in attitude

Gable…a triangular shaped part of a roof, over a window or door.
Galopin…a kitchen helper
Gleeking…to make fun of; foolish
Gorbellied…having a large belly; a paunch
Gourd…vegetable such as a pumpkin or cucumber
Greybeard…an old man
Groat…an English silver coin worth four pennies.

Harquebus…an early type of portable gun
Hautboy…from the French ‘haut bois’ ‘high wood’. A woodwind
instrument. An oboe.
Hedge-born…born under a hedge; of lowly birth
Hell-hated…hated as hell is hated
Henbane…a poisonous plant
Hennin…a headdress in the shape of a cone or steeple
Hobby-horse…a child’s toy made from a stick with a horse’s head at
one end.
Put horns on a man…cuckold him
Hornbook…a page to teach children the alphabet, for example,
covered by a transparent piece of horn and attached to a frame by a
Horn-mad…mad like a savage bull
Hugger-mugger…one who keeps secrets
Hyppocras…a wine mixed with sugar and spices

Jack-a-nape…an impertinent person; ape
Jolthead…a stupid or foolish person; a large or heavy head

Kingdom of Castile…a large powerful state on the Iberian
peninsula during the Middle Ages.
Kissing comfit…a perfumed sugar-plum or thin sugared lozenge to
sweeten the breath, with musk, civet, ambergris, and white orris,
set with gum dragon.
Knave… a dishonest or unscrupulous man
Knotty-pated…block-headed, dull-witted

Lamprey…an eel-like vertebrate with a round sucking mouth to
feed off the blood of other animals.
Lichen…a combination of algae and fungus

Maggot-pie…a magpie; a pie made out of maggots
Malmsey wine… a sweet wine, imported from Greece
Malt-worm…drinker of malt liquor; a drunkard
Mammering…hesitating, stammering
Manchet loaf…small flat, circular loaf of very high quality
Master Falconer…a position in the King’s household in France
from the Middle Ages onwards. He was responsible for organizing
the royal falcon hunt and looking after the monarch’s hunting birds.
Master of the Hunt…was the most important office dealing with
the royal hunt and carried great prestige.
Mattois area of Paris…an area of Paris famous for thieves
Megrim…a headache, a migraine
Milk-livered…cowardly, timorous
Milksop…a man or boy who is indecisive and lacks courage
Minnow…a small European freshwater fish; an insignificant person
Miscreant…one who behaves badly, often breaking the rules
Moldwarp…a mole; an old man
Motley-minded…Having the mind of a jester, foolish

Occitan…a Romance language spoken mainly in southern France, but also in Italy and Spain.
Onion-eyed…eyes filled with tears

Pignut…nuts used to feed hogs
Pinch-spotted…spotty complexion
Popinjay…conceited, foolish person
Posy ring…a gold ring, engraved with a secret message between lovers.
Pottage…a thick soup or stew made by boiling vegetables and grains, and if available, meat or fish.
Pumpion…or pumpkin, hence a fat person
Purgatory…in Catholic theology, an intermediate stage after death,
a place to atone for sins before being considered pure enough to
enter heaven.
Puttock…any of several birds of prey

Quintain…a practice target such as a board on a pole or a shield,
used by knights to hone their skills or train new knights.
Quinny…female genitalia

Rebeck…a pear-shaped, two or three-stringed medieval instrument
Reeling-ripe…so drunk that ripe for reeling or staggering
Ring-dove…ringed turtle dove
Rood…a crucifix, especially one placed above the rood screen of a
Roynish…base, vulgar
Rump-fed…fattened in the rump, pampered

Sampler…a piece of embroidery to keep stitches and patterns as a
Scullion…a servant employed to work in a kitchen
Scurvy-valiant…supremely worthless
Sheep-biting…giving to snapping at defenceless people
Shrill-gorged…displeasing to the ear
Small beer…the third use of the malt in brewing to produce a bitter, very weak beer, given to servants, invalids, the elderly and small children. Or to anyone to quench a thirst as water was considered too unhealthy to drink.
Snipper-snapper…a small insignificant fellow
Sot…a drunkard; an idiot
Spur-galled…to be wounded by a spur; galled.
Stew…a brothel
Stock(e)…the trunk or main stem of a plant or tree
Stomacher…a triangular panel, often decorated with jewels, on the front of a woman’s gown.
Swag-bellied…having a prominent, overhanging belly
Swain…a male lover or admirer

Tallow candle…a wick of flax, cotton or hemp, placed in animal
fat such as cow or sheep.
Termagant…a harsh-tempered or overbearing woman
Tiziano Vecelli…an Italian painter known as ‘Titian’ (1490-1576).
Tragacanth…gum from a small shrub, imported from Turkey or
Syria, used as an emulsifier.
Tickle-brained…dim-witted, under the influence of strong drink
Toad-spotted…foully blemished, most evil

Usquebaugh…from Scottish Gaelic, ‘uisge beatha’, ‘water of life’; whisky.

Varlet…a base unprincipled man
Verjuice…a pungent acidic liquid, made from juice of unripe grapes or crab apples.
Void…The dessert course of a meal, consisting of spiced wine, wafers and spices, eaten in a separate chamber, by invitation only.

Wastrel…wasteful or good-for-nothing person
Waterfly…a dragonfly; a flighty or troublesome person
Wayward…wilful, erratic
Weevils: type of beetle, often found in nuts, seeds, cereal and grain
Wherryman…a man in charge of light rowing boat/barge, mainly
used for carrying passengers.
Whey-face…a very pale face; milk-face.
Whoreson…a bastard, a coarse fellow
Will-o’-the-wisp…a flame-like ghostly light (caused by gases from
decaying plants), seen at night over bogs, fens and marshes;
something that is impossible to obtain or achieve.





















































Novel Excerpt

This comes from the opening pages of the Prologue where we meet Edward Howard, Thomas’s second son, and Grace Tredavoe, daughter of a Cornish nobleman, engaged in a secret tryst in Zennor Castle, at the furthermost tip of Cornwall. They are a young couple, madly in love, but it is clear they have obstacles to overcome as challenging as Romeo and Juliet who came before them….

       She reached out to touch his cheek. ‘If only we’d known each other then, matters would be so much simpler now.’

  Noticing a tiny frown on the girl’s smooth brow, he took the goblet from between her fingers and set it down. ‘Don’t fret, Grace. Father won’t refuse me. I’m his favourite son.’

     ‘What of my father?’

    ‘He’ll be pleased you’ve made such a good match.’

    ‘Better than—’

     ‘Yes! Far better than him.’


                       *                       *                          *


They fell silent for a few moments, the air between them thick with unspoken words; from the great hall below, came the faint sound of drums and the strains of a hurdy gurdy, interspersed with gales of laughter from the revellers.

    The boy nodded towards the door, a thick swathe of dark chestnut hair falling across his face. ‘“Le branle des chevaux” {‘the horses’ brawl’}. Your brother seems to be leading everyone a merry dance in his role of Lord of Misrule. What luck he managed to find the bean in the Twelfth Night cake.’

    His companion gave a mischievous giggle. ‘I confess luck has very little to do with it. Will and I long ago decided that finding the bean should be a matter of family honour.’

    ‘I see. Then we’re very well matched. Your family and mine. A Tredavoe and a Howard. I’d love to see you as the Lady of Misrule.’

  ‘You will,’ she said, stroking his hair, ‘but not tonight.’

      He grasped her fingers in his and kissed them one by one. ‘No, not tonight. I only hope we haven’t been missed in the great hall.’

   ‘Oh, Ned, why can’t we just run away and find a priest?’

   The girl gave another shiver and the boy pulled her closer to his chest. ‘My love, a Howard never runs away, I’ve learned that from my father. He’s never run away from anything in his whole life. And he always gets up to fight another day. I’ve told him he reminds me of a phoenix rising from the ashes.’

      ‘Here, let me prove my love for you.’ He bent over her and grazed her lips with his own, a laugh catching in his throat.  ‘My sweeting tastes of honey, cinnamon and ginger, with a hint of saffron.’ He placed one hand on his heart: ‘“Her mouth was as sweet as any mead whatever.” So wrote that clever poet, Geoffrey Chaucer.’ He drew her to him again. ‘With this kiss I plight my troth.’

    Entwining her arms around his neck, the girl returned his long embrace with equal passion.


                                 *                       *                         *


     At length, when they were both left gasping for breath, he broke away. Picking up a strand of her long flaxen hair, he wound it tightly around the fourth finger of her left hand. ‘Some say this finger has a vein that leads straight to the heart.’

    The girl’s green eyes flashed. Wiggling her finger, she traced a path downwards from her chin to her chest. ‘See. Mine has.’

   ‘Soon you’ll be one of us.’

  ‘A Howard?’

  ‘Yes. My wife. Grace Tredavoe no more.’

   She let out a long sigh of contentment. ‘I can almost hear the King’s herald announcing our arrival in the great hall at Westminster for the Christmas celebrations.’ Pretending to hold up a trumpet, she adopted a suitably deferential tone: “Your Majesties, may I present Lord Edward Howard—”’

     He laughed. ‘“And Lady Grace How—”’

  ‘We’ll be dressed in such finery and look so happy that the King will—’

   ‘Immediately send me to the Tower for my impudence. Henry Tudor abhors any attempt to outdo him.’

   The girl let out a gasp. ‘Don’t ever say that again, Ned. Not even in jest. Promise me.’

    ‘I promise. But Father has taught us never to be afraid of anything or anyone. Certainly not of the King. He calls him “Goose” behind his back.’


Thomas Wolsey's Hyppocras

      1150 ml (2 pints) red or white wine

      2.5 ml (1/2 teaspoon) each of ground cloves, nutmeg       

      and galingale.

      10 ml (2 teaspoons) ground cinnamon

        225g (8 ounces) sugar

        1.5 ml (1/4 teaspoon) ground ginger


  • Mix the spices in the wine and leave overnight
  • Filter the wine through a paper coffee-filter and run it through a second time if cloudy.
  • Dissolve the sugar in the filtered wine, ready for use.                                 





Zennor Castle Mince Pie

Hampton Court Kitchens

Hot water pastry:
500g strong plain flour
150 g lard (such as Trex)
Pinch of salt and white pepper
1 egg yolk
300ml water

For the filling:
280g ground beef, 200g ground pork, 200g ground lamb mixed
I small onion chopped
I carrot chopped
2 big cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons of mixed fruit
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
2 tablespoons of red wine
I tablespoon of fresh chopped coriander
1 tablespoon of fresh grated ginger
I1/2 teaspoons of cumin
11/2 teaspoons of cinnamon
Salt and pepper
1 egg

1) Place the lard in a saucepan and bring to the boil.
2) In a large mixing bowl, sieve flour salt and pepper together.
3) Take an egg yolk and hide it under the flour on one side so that the boiling liquid does not cook it immediately.
4) Pour the liquid into the bowl and rapidly stir with a wooden spoon.
5) Once cool enough to handle, shape it into a ball and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.
6) Divide into two halves and roll out onto a floured board, one half for the base and the other for the lid.
7) Grease a shallow oval dish (30cm x 21.5cm) and line with pastry.
8) Mix together the pork, beef and lamb. Add the chopped coriander, ginger and garlic and mix together thoroughly. Then, in another bowl combine the brown sugar, cumin, salt, pepper, cinnamon and red wine.
9) Layer the ingredients into the pastry case. Start with a layer of the meat mixture then add the mixed fruit, onion, carrot, wine and sugar mixture.
Brush the edges of the pastry with beaten egg and fit the top, gently pushing it into place, using a fork to flute the edges.
11) Cut four pieces of pastry into triangles and place in middle of pie in a star shape. Between each triangle, make a cut. Brush the lid with egg.
12) Bake in a preheated fan oven 150 degrees C. After 20
minutes, cover the top with tin foil, lower the heat to 140 degrees C and bake for a further 1 hour 30 minutes. Serve warm.

Huge thanks to Sophie Jackson who kindly let me reproduce her recipe ‘A Medieval Christmas Pie’ from her excellent book ‘The Medieval Christmas.’ Sutton 2005. Here it is, with a few alterations from me when I tried it out in my Tudor kitchen.

The Field of Cloth of Gold

Imagine yourself off to the Olympic Games; the Cannes Film Festival; Paris fashion week; the final of Masterchef; Glynbourne and a performance at the Royal Shakespeare company. Throw in a smattering of young royals, including two kings both in their twenties: handsome, rich and powerful; all the top politicians; some serious A-listers from France and England. Plenty of healthy (and not so healthy) rivalry. A competition to pick the best jousters, the fairest women, and most of all, the King to outshine his rival. And there you are: at The Field of Cloth of Gold, a stunning Festival, with its very own especially built palace, amidst a sea of tents of shimmering gold, and pavilions of untold luxury. No expense was spared. On either side. When: June 7th to June 24th, 1520. Where: In a vale between the villages of Guines, in the English pale of Calais, and Ardres, in France. Why: To arrange a meeting to back up the 1518 Treaty of Perpetual Frienship. Guests: Strictly by invitation only to 6,000 lucky nobles from the English and French courts.