Medieval Miscellany of Terms


Time for some medieval word definitions. This little lot come from a post on Alianore’s blog“Edward II’s Possessions, 1326” and form part of a list of items retrieved from Caerphilly castle in 1326 afterIsabella and Mortimer’s invasion. Alianore wasn’t sure what many of them meant either, so I thought I’d have a go! They all seem to be related to military clothing and equipment.

Aketon – no, not a Japanese martial art. This was a padded and quilted garment which was often the only armour possessed by foot soldiers. Knights also wore aketons under their armour, although in this case it was often sleeve-less. Also known as: acton; auqueton; gambeson; hacketon; haqueton; wambais; wambesium or wams.

Frettes – can’t find a direct translation, but if it comes from the Anglo-Norman verb fretter (to fasten)then it possibly means some kind of fastening. On the other hand, a fret could also be a criss-cross ornamentation. In context of Kathryn Warner’s post, where a pair of these are described as having 50 pewter eyelets I would hazard a guess towards something, maybe ornamental (or protective) that could be laced up in a criss-cross fashion.

Gisarme – a weapon carried by foot soldiers consisting of a blade on the end of a long staff.

Hauberk – long coat of mail worn over a gambeson. It was split up the middle front and back to make it easier to ride a horse. The sleeves could either be long, sometimes with a mail ‘mitt’ or else short.

Jazerant – a coat of linen upon which were attached small plates of metal – to be used as a form of body armour.

Pisan – probably the same as ‘pizaine’ or ‘puzane’ – a type of gorget or breastplate which could either be of steel or a jazerant. Common in 13th and 14th century warfare

Sutturre – again, difficult to come up with anything directly from this word. I do think, though, that it comes from the Latin to stitch or to bind. In the context of Alianore’s post “4 sutturres, twisted, of red silk”, I can only guess that these were some sort of special thread – maybe used as arming points to fasten plate armour to garments?

Ventail – the lower, moveable front of a helmet or else a mail coif that hung off the bottom of the helmet and protected the throat and neck.

Gasingale and Bidowes – I have absolutely no idea what these could be! I have searched everywhere and there is nothing even remotely close. Maybe someone out there will know?

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7 Responses to Medieval Miscellany of Terms

  1. Alianore says:

    Oooh, goody! I was really puzzled by those. (Could have researched them, of course, but given my terminal laziness…;) Thanks for the post!

  2. The editors of the “The Coronation of Richard III” define a “galingale” as an “aromatic root of the cypress rush and the English galingale.” Could that be the same thing as a “gasingale”? Probably not . . .

  3. Gabriele C. says:

    Very useful glossary, thanks.

    Btw, did you chose that big, fat type in the last posts on purpose? I find it more difficult to read than the normal script, it sorta jumps into the eye.

  4. Lady D. says:

    Alianore: You’re welcome 😉 I don’t like not knowing the meaning of things so I’m more than happy to do the footslog – and if it saves everyone else the bother – even better 😉

    Susan: Yes, galangal(e) also came to my mind when I first saw the word – especially after my forays into medieval cookery. But, considering it is found among military items, I somehow doubt they’re the same

  5. Gabriele C. says:

    Well, I can’t tell a difference between the posts in bold (large) script, they’re all too bold for me. 🙂

    The last one in ‘normal’ script was the Writerly Life post.

  6. A gasingale sounds so pretty–shame if it’s something used to bash someone over the head with!

    I sort of like the big type, but I’m nearsighted even with glasses.

  7. Lady D. says:

    Gabriele and Susan: I think I have sorted the type problem. I shall put it back to normal georgia, but – and I think that this has been the main problem with it ‘jumping’ out of the page at you – I shall fade the black a bit. I suspect that it may be the contrast between the black font colour and the white background that makes it a bit hard to read. See if the next post is any better 😉

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