Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Duhaime's Ancient Common Law Dictionary

Duhaime's Ancient Common Law Dictionary

  • The common law is an old man; well over a thousand years old. As law evolved to the modern yet complex body that it is today, many ancient concepts, theories and terms have been left on the wayside. Many are criminal in nature but many reflect civil law issues as well. Some are Latin or French in origin as both languages permeated deeply into the English law psyche. Many were only weeded out more recently in the history of the common law. In some cases (eg. novation), some still have a strong yet foreign-language heartbeat within the fortress of the common law.
  • Duhaime's Ancient Common Law Dictionary sets down for time immemorial those old, disused and sometimes lost terms otherwise forever buried in the cemetery of the common law, and so we can remember from whence our law came.
  • See also our main Legal Dictionary, the Latin Law Dictionary and the Civil Law Dictionary.

Aberemurder
A spontaneous and gratuitous murder.
Actus Regis Nemini Est Damnosa
Latin: The law will not work a wrong.
Adminiculum
Latin: some evidence tendered to support something else
Aequum et bonum
Latin: what is right and just..
Affray
A fight between two or more persons in a public place so as to cause terror to the public.
Alia Enormia
Latin: The catch-all phrase in trespass pleadings to refer to all such other harms and damages that may have been caused by the alleged trespasser other than those specified.
Animus Furandi
Latin: an intent to do wrong.
Apostacy
The ancient criminal offence of atheism or not being Christian, or of denying the doctrines of a state religion.
Approver
A person who confesses a felony and confesses an accomplice.
Assumpsit
Medieval era action for breach of contract.
Attaint of Blood
The additional personal penalties imposed on the estate of an individual convicted of high treason.
Audita Querela
An application to a court after judgment seeking to avoid execution of that judgment because of some event intervening between judgment and execution which compromises the judgment creditor's entitlement to execution.
Badgering
The buying of food products in one place and selling them elsewhere at a profit.
Barrator
A person who, on more than one occasion, incites litigation or spreads false rumours.
Bill of Attainder
Conviction and sentence to death directly by statute, as opposed to resulting from trial.
Blackmail
The obtaining or attempting to obtain something by the use of threats.
Calvin's Case, 1572
A case which favorably resolved the issue as to whether alien-born persons could exercises certain rights of naturalized English subjects.
Chamberdeacon
An Irish beggar.
Chance Medley
A sudden, unplanned brawl.
Chancery
The English law court with exclusive jurisdiction over equity; now phased-out and merged with the common law courts.
Chancery Lane
A pedestrian lane connecting Gray's Inn with other Inns of the Court in London, England.
Chaste
A person who has never voluntarily had sexual intercourse outside of marriage such as unmarried virgins.
Chirograph
A medieval form of contract which allowed for several verifiable authentic versions.
Code Duello
A rough code on the conduct of a a duel.
Comitatus
Latin: a contract of personal services between a land lord and his men.
Common Law
Judge-declared law. Law which exists and applies to a group on the basis of customs and legal precedents developed over hundreds of years in Britain.
Common Pleas
A court to resolve civil disputes between private citizens and not otherwise involving the Crown.
Common Scold
The now extinct offence of an angry woman who, by brawling and wrangling amongst her neighbours, disturbs the public peace.
Compurgation
The defence to a crime, or answer to a civil claim, perfected by the relevant oaths of the defendant and a number of supporters.
Corody
A pension in food or such other things as may be required for sustenance.
Cucking Stool
A medieval form of punishment; a chair in which was restrained an offender.
Danegeld
An English tax initially intended to pay for national defence against the Danes.
Dedimus Potestatem de Attornato Faciendo
Latin: to substitute an attorney.
Demesne
Land held by a noble under the English feudal system, in absolute ownership.
De Non Sane Memorie
Latin: of insane memory.
Deodand
An object that has been involved in some personal injury, is forfeit to the government.
Disorderly House
A place where acts prohibited by statute are habitually indulged in or permitted.
Domesday Book
An 1086 land census conducted in England.
Dominion Utile
Latin: the property rights of a tenant; exclusive right to use a thing
Dominium Directum
Latin: qualified ownership of a land: not having possession or use of property but retaining ownership.
Drawn and Quartered
A horrific and barbaric punishment imposed upon traitors pursuant to ancient common law: partial hanging, disembowelling and cutting of body into quarters.
Ducking Stool
A contraption of medieval English justice comprised of a chair in which a convict was affixed and then immersed repeatedly into a body of water.
Duel
The fighting of two persons, one against the other, by pre-arranged appointment, as a form of ultimate dispute resolution.
Easter Term
The second of four English court terms during the calendar year.
Eavesdroppers
Those convicted of the obsolete offence of intentional, covert and direct listening-in to another's conversations, and the subsequent use of the contents thereof to disturb the peace.
Ejectment
A ancient now disused claim to remove an individual from occupying another's real property, based on trespass.
Embracery
Improper influence on a juror.
Englishry
The proving to the authorities that a killed person was English.
Engrossing
The buying of products in bulk and the individual re-sale at profit.
Enticement
An old common law action against any person who caused a husband to lose the love, services or society of his wife.
Equity
A branch of English law which developed hundreds of years ago when litigants would go to the King and complain of harsh or inflexible rules of common law which prevented "justice" from prevailing.
Erunt animae duae in carne una
Latin: two souls in one flesh.
Esquire
A mostly informal title associated with those who practice law.
Essoin
A valid excuse for not appearing in Court when summoned.
Estoppel
A rule of law that when person A, by act or words, gives person B reason to believe a certain set of facts upon which person B takes action, person A cannot later, to his (or her) benefit, deny those facts or say that his (or her) earlier act was improper.
Estover
Limited rights granted to a tenant of land to certain product of the land, mostly wood.
Exchequer
A court of law designed to determine claims by the Crown.
Felonious Homicide
The killing of a human being without justification or excuse.
Feme Covert
French: a married woman.
Feme Sole
French: an unmarried woman.
Feudal System
A social and land-use debtor system in use in Europe during the Middle Ages.
Fieri Facias
Latin: that you cause to be made. Mostly used to refer to a writ of judgment enforcement obtained under the old common law of England.
Five-Hide
A unit of measure of land used in Conquest-era (1066) England.
Fool
A human being in form but destitute of reason from birth.
Forestalling
The purchase of food products before it arrives, or as as it comes to a food market, with the intent to sell the same again at a higher price.
Frankpledge
A community pledge in medieval England whereby a defined number of people were jointly held responsible for the denunciation of any crime within their group.
Gavelkind
A form of limited land ownership in England pre-Conquest (1066) which vested to all sons equally.
Gray's Inn
One of four Inns of the Court, self-regulating associations of barristers in England and wales.
Great Seal
A formal and unique seal pressed onto wax used mostly in medieval or even previous times, to authenticate important documents emanating from a monarch.
Guardian by Nature
A mostly discarded assumption of law; that the legal guardian of a child is the father or, on his death, the mother.
Habeas Corpus
Latin: a court petition which orders that a person being detained be produced before a judge for a hearing to decide whether the detention is lawful.
Heresy
A historic criminal offence comprised of the act of public denial of Christian doctrines.
Heriot
A right in ancient common law of a land lord, upon the death of his tenant, to pick any beast belonging to the estate of the deceased tenant.
Hide
A unit of land in England, circa the Conquest (1066)
High Treason
Treason as against the monarch, king or queen, or his/her government.
Hillary Term
The first of four English court terms during the calendar year.
Hissing
A common law right given to the audiences of public performances to openly express their opinion of the performance.
Hue and Cry
A community fugitive-containment strategy of medieval England where a yell went up denouncing a crime, and all within earshot took up the chase.
Inner Temple
One of four Inns of the Court, self-regulating associations of barristers in England and Wales.
Inns of Chancery
Smaller boarding schools for apprenticing law students and serving as preparatory schools for the Inns of the Court up to about 1590.
Inns of Court
The several professional associations of barristers, to which all barristers in England or Wales must belong to one, to wit, Lincoln's Inn, Middle Temple, Gray's Inn or Inner Temple.
Jactitation
A false boast designed to increase standing at the expense of another.
Jura Regalia
Rights which belong to the Crown or to the Government.
Justiciar
An obsolete judicial position of English nobility; that of chief justice of the realm.
King's Bench
Originally, the common criminal court of the common law; later, the general superior court.
King's Proctor
An English office investigating and appearing in select family law cases.
Larceny
A criminal offence now more commonly referred to as theft, covering the unlawful or fraudulent removal of another's property without the owner's consent.
Law French
The original language of the English courts after the Norman conquest.
Law Merchant
International commercial law; the law as it relates to merchant
Lay by the Heels
To commit to prison.
Lex Non Scripta
Unwritten law; the common or custom law.
Lincoln's Inn
One of four Inns of the Court, self-regulating associations of barristers in England and Wales.
Lucre
Financial advantage taken in bad faith.
M
Ancient common law: the symbol branded on the thumb of persons convicted of manslaughter.
Maiden Assize
Historically, a criminal court hearing at which no prisoner was sentenced to death, but more recently, a court hearing at which no prisoner was in jail awaiting trial on a criminal charge.
Maill
Scots law: rent.
Mainprize
The taking of a person into friendly custody.
Maintenance
The obligation of one person to contribute, in part or in whole, to the cost of living of another person.
Manumission
The act of freeing a slave.
Mayhem
Violently depriving another person of a body part to render less effective that person's defence of self.
Michaelmas Term
The last, fourth of four English court terms during the calendar year.
Middle Temple
One of four Inns of the Court, self-regulating associations of barristers in England and Wales.
Miscegenation
Interracial cohabitation or marriage.
Misprision
Offence in aid of the most seriously punished crimes in the ancient common law of England.
Mortmain
French: dead hand. Property taken out of circulation.
Mortmain Statutes
Statutes of ancient English law which prevented the transfer of real property to or from corporations in general, or to or from religious corporations in particular.
Natural Fool
A human being in form but destitute of reason from birth.
Natural Law
The natural rights of mankind.
Nolle Prosequi
Latin: no prosecution.
Nota Bene
Latin: note well.
Patrocinium
A contract under Roman law where a man agrees to be another's servant in exchange for food and shelter.
Pederasty
A sexual abuse crime wherein an adult male grooms and sexually assaults an adolescent male outside of his family.
Per Infortunium
Latin: by misadventure.
Petit Treason
Treason by a servant against his master or a wife against her husband
Pettifogger
An inferior lawyer.
Pillory
A medieval punishment and restraining device made of moveable and adjustable boards through which a prisoner's head or limbs were pinned.
Pleader
A now defunct paralegal office in England which allowed licensed non-lawyer individuals to draft pleadings.
Praemunire
An offence initially to prefer the Pope or his authority as against the King of England or Parliament, but later included a wide assortment of offenses against the King and always leading to serious penalties.
Precarium
Latin: the giving of land as a reward or to secure a debt.
Press Gang
A small group of men who abducted a man for the purposes of pressing him into some form of service, often aboard a ship.
Proctor
The short form of the term procurator, one who acts for another.
Procurator
One who has charge of a matter of behalf of another.
Queen's Bench
Originally, the common criminal court of the common law; later, the general superior court.
Queen's Counsel
An designation of a senior barrister indicating of its title holder faithfulness to the Crown, but more recently, contribution to the profession of lawyers.
Queen's Proctor
An English office investigating and appearing in select family law cases.
Rack
A medieval form of punishment or confession extractor in which the subject was affixed to a wooden platform and separate ropes attached to each of his four limbs, which were then pulled apart by a system of pulleys.
Rapina
Latin: to take away forcefully.
Recorder
An ancient judicial position in the legal history of England and Wales, now mostly a part-time judicial appointment given to practising barristers or solicitors in England and Wales.
Redemption
Reverting title to property.
Regiam Majestatem
An ancient compendium of Scottish law; circa 1320.
Regicide
The murder of a member of a royal family.
Regrating
The buying of food products at a market not for demonstrable personal need, but for the purposes of resale at the same market, or one nearby.
Retraxit
Latin: a withdrawal of a legal action.
Rule in Shelley's Case
A mostly abolished rule in estate law to the effect that if a life estate was created but the remainderman was the heir of that person, the life estate collapsed and the entire estate vested in that person.
Sabbath Breaking
Doing business on a Sunday.
Sanctuary
A place of temporary refuge and protection to avoid law enforcement.
Scaccarium
Latin: chess game but in English law, the exchequer, usually in reference to the Court of Exchequer.
Scold
A troublesome and angry woman who, by brawling and wrangling amongst her neighbours, breaks the public peace, increases discord and becomes a public nuisance.
Scolding
A medieval offense; women who were verbally disputative; who incited or agitated against the public peace.
Se Defendendo
Latin: self-defence.
Sedition
The speaking or publishing of words which excite public disorder or defiance of lawful authority.
Servitia Debita
Latin: services rendered to pay off a debt.
Simony
The selling of miracles or the promise of some other alleged form of Divine service in exchange for money.
Slavery
When a person (called master) has absolute power over another (called slave) including life and liberty.
Socage
A term of the feudal land ownership system which referred to the tenure which was exchanged for certain goods or services which were not military in nature.
Star Chamber
An elitist, secretive and abusive court convened from time to time by British kings from at least King Henry VII (1457-1509) to 1640.
Starr
Medieval English law term for legal transactions involving a Jewish person.
Subinfeudation
The process whereby, under the feudal system of tenure, a person receiving a grant of land from a lord, could himself become a landlord by subdividing and subletting that land to others.
Sumptuary Laws
Laws which try to control personal behavior such as manners and what people eat and drink.
Tales
The act of supplementing a jury otherwise incomplete.
Tales de circumstantibus
An order to the local sheriff to round up as many new jurors as may be required to complete a jury on which one or more jurors are missing or have been successfully challenged.
Tar and Feather
The punishment of an offender by covering with hot tar and then feathers.
Tenement
Property that could be subject to easements.
Tractatus de legibus et consuetudinibus regni Angliae
1188 statement of English common law.
Treason
To aid or enlist with a state enemy or to attempt or conspire to harm the head of state, such as a king, queen or president.
Trial by Battle
An ancient dispute resolution method where those in dispute would fight one another until submission or death.
Trial by Ordeal
The trial of a criminal or civil action, in medieval England, by torture or drowning.
Trinity Term
The third of four English court terms during the calendar year.
Trinoda Necessitas
Latin: three ancient necessities held to be owed all landowners to the English kingdom.
Trover
An old English and common law legal proceeding against a person who had found someone else’s property and has converted that property to their own purposes.
Vassal
A subservient, usually land-based relationship to another under the feudal system.
Verba Fata
Latin: faded, obsolete words.
Villeinage
A form of slavery under the English feudal land system; the Lord owned a villein outright, as a chattel.
Wager of Law
An ancient English law defence to a claim of contractual debt.
Widow's Quarantine
A reprieve given to a widow after the death of her husband giving her 40-day exclusive occupancy of the spousal home, estate notwithstanding.
Witenagemote
An assembly of local elders in medieval England.

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