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Glossary of Terms
Abdicate To formally give up power. When a monarch gives up his throne, for example.
Absolute monarchy A monarchy without any limits set down in a constitution.
Acadia A French colony in the Maritime Provinces of Canada, ceded to Britain in 1713.
American Senate The Upper House of the U.S. legislative (Congress).
Anglican Church A group of Churches, (for example the Church of Ireland, Church of Wales, Episcopal Church of the USA), that are linked to the Church of England.
Artillery Large, mounted guns and cannons.
Assemblée Nationale The Lower House of the French legislative.
Bail A system where a sum of money is deposed in a court to ensure that an individual returns to the court to have his case tried.
Bishop A clergyman who is responsible for an extensive area (called a diocese) and for all the priests in that area.
Bull A formal document issued by the Pope and often sealed with a melted, lead "bulla".
Burghers They were the Dutch equivalent of the French bourgeoisie, the German Burgers and the English burgesses. in other words the "middle class". When the Dutch Republic (United Provinces) came into existence there was no local aristocracy - remember that this region of Europe had, for centuries, been the property of the Habsburg family (Austrian and Spanish), and it had provided all the nobles necessary to govern this ‘economic heartland" of the Habsburg Empire. When independence was achieved the United Provinces was a nation of burghers - merchants, bankers, tradesmen, artisans and artists. The closest that the new nation came to having an aristocracy was the Orange family, but it was of German origin (Duke of Nassau and Prince of Orange were German, not Dutch titles). Although they played a major part in obtaining Dutch independence, after 1649 their influence declined.
Calvinists Followers of the teachings of John Calvin (1509-1564).
Capital Wealth available for investment to make further wealth.
Cardinal A small group of Bishops who elect a Pope and act as his advisors.
Cavaliers Supporters of Charles I in the English Civil War.
Cavalryman A mounted soldier.
Charter A formal document from a monarch granting a company the exclusive right to trade in a certain area.
Church of England The Church created by Henry VIII after the Act of Supremacy in 1534. It is similar to the Catholic Church, but has the monarch, not the pope, as its head.
Clergy Men ordained as ministers or priests of the Christian Church.
Clubmen Peasant defence forces in the West and South-west of England during the Civil War. These men grouped together to protect their property from both the cavalier and the roundhead forces.
Congress The legislature of the U.S. federal government. It consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Constitution The basic political principles on which a state is governed, making clear the rights of the individual and limiting the power of the government.
Constitutional Monarchy Monarchy where the king or queen's powers are limited by a set of rules (a constitution).
Corsairs These were sailors who, in time of war, had a very particular role to play. They were not part of a nation’s official warfleet (which meant showing the national flag at all times on ships which were obviously ships of war). The corsairs (or privateers) were on board ships which seemed to be innocent merchantmen about their everyday business, but which, in reality, were small warships armed with cannon to attack the enemy whenever the opportunity arose. Each corsair captain was issued with "letters of marque" which, in case of capture by an enemy, were supposed to protect him and his crew from the crime of piracy. Piracy was punished by immediate hanging.
Coureurs-de-Bois French-Canadian woodsmen who traded with the native Indians for fur.
Dictator A ruler who is not restricted by a constitution, laws or any opposition.
Divine Right of Kings The idea that a king's right to rule comes from God and that he is answerable to God alone, not to any earthly assembly.
Diet The assembly of the representatives of all the various states in the Holy Roman Empire (Germany).
Diocese A collection of parishes for which a bishop, in his cathedral, is responsible.
Dragoons An infantryman who travels on horseback but who dismounts to fight.
Duke of Parma Alessandro Farnese: He was born in Rome in 1545 and was a devout Catholic all his life. He was appointed regent of the king of Spain in the Spanish Netherlands in 1578. Although he crushed the Protestants of the southern provinces at Gembloux in 1578, he recognised that the seven northern provinces (soon to become the United Provinces) were lost, both to Spain and Catholicism. In 1579 he signed the Union of Utrecht with William of Orange, recognising the independence of the seven northern provinces. (The Spanish crown only officially recognised Dutch independence in 1649.)
East India Company A company chartered in 1600 by Queen Elizabeth I to trade in the East Indies (India and South East Asia).
Elder A senior lay member of certain Protestant churches who has teaching and administrative authority.
Enlightenment The 18th century philosophical movement which stressed the importance of reason and criticized the existing customs and traditions.
Excommunication Exclusion from the Catholic Church and therefore from all contact with God. For a catholic ruler (king or emperor) this meant not only being condemned to hell, but also the loss of all political power.
Fast Days Days when nothing is eaten or drunk as part of a religious observance.
Federal Government The central government of the U.S.A. which is based in Washington D.C..
French and Indian War The American name for the Seven Years' War (1756-1763) fought between Britain and France for supremacy in North America.
General James Wolfe (1727-1759) English soldier who commanded the capture of Quebec, in which he was killed.
George Washington(1732-1799) American General and first President of the U.S.A. (1789-1797).
Gospels The first four books of the New Testament (i.e. those of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.)
Grandees This was the title of honour attributed to the highest class of Spanish nobility (ricos hombres) who had acquired vast privileges, including the wearing of the hat in the king’s presence. By the 17th century the grandees of Spain had been divided into three classes:
- Those who spoke to the king and received his reply with their heads covered.
- Those who addressed him uncovered but put on their hats to hear his reply.
- Those who awaited the permission of the king to cover themselves (put on their hats).
The Habsburg monarchies (whether Spanish or Austrian) were renowned for their strict etiquette. For this reason their courts had the reputation of being terribly dull and boring.
Habsburg Dynasty The rise of the Habsburgs dates back to 1276 when they gained control of Austria and then, by political marriages, Bohemia and Hungary. A member of this family was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1452 (Frederick III) and the imperial crown was to remain in the family until 1806 when Napoleon abolished the Holy Roman Empire. Nevertheless the Habsburg dynasty continued to rule the Austrian Empire, later to be known as the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1918.
Heretic A Christian who holds beliefs which are contrary to what the Church teaches.
Holy Roman Empire Founded in the year 800 (as you should well know) when Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor. After the Treaty of Meersen (870), the title "emperor" was given to the eastern Frankish kings. In theory the Holy Roman Emperor was the most powerful ruler in Europe, but in practice this was not the case. From the mid-11th to the mid-13th centuries the emperors struggled with the popes in order to decide who really ruled Christian Europe. The Protestant Reformation weakened the authority of the Holy Roman Emperors even further. After the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) the French writer Voltaire described it as being "neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire".
After 1806 the empire was called the Austrian Empire and later, the Austro-Hungarian Empire which existed until 1918. It is significant that the German Empire, which was created in 1871 after the defeat of France in 1870, was called the Second Reich (empire). This was because it considered itself to be the true successor of Charlemagne, rather than Austria. Using the same reasoning, the Germany of Adolf Hitler (1933-1945) was known as the Third Reich until its crushing defeat in May 1945.
House of Commons Lower House of the British legislative (Parliament).
House of Lords Upper House of the British legislative (Parliament).
House of Representatives of the USA One of the governing bodies of the American Congress.
Indentured Servants People having a written contract or bond work for their masters, for example an apprentice.
Indulgence The forgiving of a sin and therefore the reduction of time spent in Purgatory by the soul of a dead person.
Intelligentsia This term is used to describe the scientific, literary, artistic and other intellectual members of society. It is of Russian revolutionary origin, separating this group from the middle class (merchants, tradesmen, bankers, lawyers etc.) and the workers and peasants.
Ironsides Name given both to Oliver Cromwell (old Ironsides), and to his New Model Army.
Jacques Cartier (1491-1557) French navigator and explorer who discovered the St. Lawrence river in 1535.
Landed Gentry. Titled hereditary nobles whose principal income was the rent and dues that came to them from the tenant farmers of their huge estates.
Landsknechts These were mercenary soldiers originating from Switzerland. The Swiss declared themselves free from the rule of the Habsburg Holy Roman Empire in 1291 but then had to fight in order to make it a reality. Switzerland is a small, landlocked country with almost no natural resources, so before the invention of watches, cuckoo clocks and the discovery of chocolate (and later the invention of numbered bank accounts), the Swiss had little which could earn them money, except experienced fighters. In the 15th century, after successful wars against Burgundy, France and the Holy Roman Empire, Swiss soldiers were in great demand because of their discipline and efficiency in killing enemies. Swiss towns and cantons, therefore, organised recruitment campaigns to enroll young volunteers into regiments of soldiers which would be hired out to the highest bidder.
Swiss mercenary regiments were the backbone of French and Imperial armies in the wars between François I and Charles V in Italy. The irony is that many of the Swiss regiments responsible for François’ victory at Marignano (Marignan) in 1515 were responsible for his defeat and capture ten years later at Pavia (1525). The reason being that they had changed sides because the Emperor had paid them more money.
This tradition of employing Swiss mercenary soldiers was continued and can be seen by the fact that when the Tuileries Palace in Paris was attacked by a mob of sans-culottes in 1792, the French royal family was defended by "la Garde Suisse". Even today the ceremonial protectors of the Vatican City are the Swiss Guard.
Lay men or people Any Christian who is not ordained as a minister or priest of the Christian Church.
Legate Ecclesiastical envoy appointed to represent the pope outside Rome.
Lettres de cachet A royal warrant from the king of France, sealed with wax, ordering the imprisonment, without trial, of a person, for as long as the king desired.
Lords General term used to describe members of the Aristocracy.
Magna Carta Charter signed by King John of England at Runnymede in 1215, which is the foundation of the British constitution.
Marston Moor (Battle of) A battle, in 1644, during the English Civil War. It was the first time that Cromwell's newly trained cavalry formation was tried out in the war. The battle was won by Parliament and was the turning point of the war.
Mass The Catholic service during which Christ's Last Supper is re-enacted by the sharing of bread and wine. Catholics believe in the "miracle of the Mass" by which the bread and wine physically change into the body and blood of Christ (transubstantiation). Lutheran and Anglican Churches have a similar ceremony called Holy Communion, but for them the bread and wine only represent Christ’s body and blood (consubstantiation).
Mayflower Compact A signed agreement to ensure peace between the two groups carried by the Mayflower to America, and which was to serve as a foundation for the democratic structure of the settlers.
Members of Parliament (MPs) A name given to elected delegates to the British lower House of Parliament, the House of Commons, in the United Kingdom.
Men-o'-War Name given to the British Royal Navy Ships of the line in the Napoleonic period.
Merchant Venturers This was the name given to a company of merchants founded in England in 1407 and which existed until 1806. It traded with the Netherlands and with Germany and was so successful that, by the middle of the 16th century, it controlled three quarters of the English foreign trade. The merchant venturers even provided financiers and advisers to Queen Elizabeth I. It was to be the model for other successful trading companies, such as the Muscovy Company, the Hudson’s Bay Company, the East India Company and the West Indies Company.
Middle Class A social class of business or professional people, also known as the
Militiamen A military force commonly in use before police forces were established.
Monk A male member of a religious community who has taken vows of poverty (having no possessions), chastity (having no sexual relations) and obedience (accepting the authority of his abbot). A monk is dedicated to a life of prayer and contemplation in a closed community - monastery.
Monopoly The state that exists when one person or company is the exclusive provider of goods or services.
Musketeers A force of soldiers in the army who, at that time, were using an early form of smoothbore gun, called a musket.
New Model Army The name given to the reformed, and better-trained, Parliamentary army in the English Civil War.
Non-conformists Protestant sects who did not believe in conforming with the traditions of the established Protestant Church in both services and organisation.
Nova Scotia A geographical area of the eastern seaboard of Canada.
Outlaw A person declared an outlaw had no legal rights, and could be arrested and jailed, or even killed on sight.
Pardoner A person who had a license to sell pardons for sins committed.
Parish The area around a Church for which a priest is responsible.
Parliament The name given to an assembly of elected representatives who participate in the ruling of the country.
Pastors The name given to the leaders or priests of Non-Conformist churches. Ordained ministers in a Calvinist church.
Patriarch The history of the patriarchs in the Christian faith is long and very complex but to make understanding as simple as possible, remember that the division of the Roman Empire in 395 AD by the Emperor Theodosius not only created two separate empires, but also effectively separated the Roman Church into two parts. By the year 1054 the differences between them had become so great that the western Catholic Church, based on Rome, formally separated from the Orthodox Church, based on Constantinople (Byzantium). Unlike the Catholic Church which accepted the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) as its head, the Orthodox Church did not have a unique head. Each region had its own head or patriarch. The patriarchat of Moscow was created in 1589 and has remained in charge of the Russian Orthodox Church ever since.
Peace of the Pyrenees This treaty, in 1659, brought an end to the war between France and Spain which had started with the French intervention in the Thirty Years’ War. It gave France the Roussillon and the northern Cerdagne (which established the Franco-Spanish frontier on the Pyrenees) and Artois. More importantly, it marked a turning point in the history of Europe in that it signified the rapid decline of Spain and the establishment of France as the great continental power of Europe.
Penitence An act, spiritual or physical, undertaken to absolve a sin.
Pikemen A body of soldiers who fought with a pike. This was a combined axe and spear, set on a long pole five meters in length.
Pilgrimage A journey to a shrine or other holy place to confirm faith in God.
Plantation An estate for the cultivation of crops. The term most commonly used to describe sugar plantations.
Prayer Book A book containing a sequence of connected prayers for every holy ritual and Church festivals.
Predestination The belief, held by Calvinists, that God has already decided, even before their birth, the people who will go to heaven and those who will go to hell.
Priest A person who has special power (through his ordination) to act as a mediator between God and man. This allows him to preside over a Catholic mass.
Privateers Private ships that were authorised to carry cannon and commit legalised acts of piracy against enemy ships.
Protestant Christian who does not follow the Roman Catholic Church but whose faith is based on that of Luther or Calvin. The name given to the Christian Churches which broke away from the Roman Catholic Church after 1517. The original three were the Lutheran, Anglican and Calvinist Churches, but several others developed from them - Baptists, Anabaptists, Episcopalians, Methodists, Unitarians and Plymouth Brethren, to name just a few.
Purgatory The place where the souls of dead people were supposed to go in order to suffer before being allowed into Heaven. (Not a Protestant belief).
Puritan English Protestant who followed the teachings of Calvin and wanted to purify the Church of England of all Roman Catholic Ceremony and decoration. (Puritans) These were the English Calvinists whose religious beliefs were identical to those of the Huguenots in France, the Presbyterians in Scotland and the Calvinists of the United Provinces, Germany and, of course, Geneva.
Quakers The real name was "The Society of Friends". It was a Christian group founded in England in the mid- 17th century. Quakers believe that each individual is directly responsible to God, so they have no priests or pastors and no religious ceremonies. They do not even have a church. Instead they have a "meeting house" where every person meets to worship God in his own way and in silence.
Although in some ways they were similar to the Calvinists - no music, no dancing, no frivolity, they were renowned for their great tolerance of all other religions and their belief in "the goodness of man." They detested violence for whatever reason and profoundly believed in the equality of all people in the eyes of God. Quakers became actively involved in the struggle for social reform (abolition of slavery, equality for women, total religious toleration and the abolition of poverty). Although a few in number, they had an extraordinary influence throughout the English-speaking world and, quite remarkably, they have always obtained the sincere respect of all other Christians, as well as non-Christians (Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists).
Quebec Act (1774) After the French defeat during the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), the British were in control of all of Canada, including Quebec with its French, Catholic population. This population was apprehensive and fearful of its future treatment by the British. In turn, the British realised that measures would have to be taken to prevent rebellions and uprisings. The result was the Quebec Act which guaranteed the respect of the French language and the Catholic faith. It also gave to Quebec all of the territory between the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. (The English-American colonists were furious at what they considered to be favourable treatment for French Catholics at their expense. This was one of the causes of the American War of Independence.)
Raw materials Materials which in their natural state are of little use but, when transformed into something else, are a source of wealth or prosperity. Examples: tress changed into tables and chairs, iron changed into steel, crude oil changed into plastic.
Reformation A religious and political movement of 16th century Europe that began as an attempt to reform the Roman Catholic Church and resulted in the establishment of the Protestant Churches.
Regicide Quite simply "those who kill kings". Examples include England in 1649 and France in 1793.
Relics Parts of the body of a saint, or something used by a saint, and supposed to be holy.
Renaissance The period of European history which marks the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Modern History. It is usually considered as beginning in Italy in the 14th century and was marked by an interest in Classical scholarship, scientific and geographical discoveries and the growing importance of non-religious studies.
Repentance Feeling regret for sins committed and asking for forgiveness.
Republic A form of government in which the head of state is usually elected by the citizens. (Not to be confused with "democracy" because many republics, past and present, have heads of state who came into power by military force, or were elected by a small minority of the population.)
Robert Cavelier de la Salle A French explorer born in Rouen in 1643. He moved to Canada in 1666 and set up a fur-trading outpost. In 1669, he began to explore the Ohio region and later explored the Mississippi valley down to the Gulf of Mexico. He claimed the entire region for France and named it Louisiana. He died in 1687 while exploring Mexico.
Roundhead The pejorative name given to the supporters of the Parliamentary cause during the English Civil War by the supporters of King Charles I. It was, in reality, a misnomer because, apart from the short-haired Parliamentary cavalry who had short hair because of their iron helmets, the other Parliamentary forces had shoulder-length hair, which was the fashion at the time. (See the portrait of Oliver Cromwell).
Royalists Those who supported the cause of King Charles I during the Civil Wars (1642-1648).
Rump Parliament This was the Parliament which took control of England after the execution of Charles I in 1649. It was called the "rump" because it consisted of those who remained after the pro-royalist members of the "Long Parliament" (which had been recalled by Charles I in 1640) had been expelled. It was abolished in 1653 when Oliver Cromwell overthrew it by force.
Sedition An offence against the crown and government. It was punishable by a term in prison, so sedition was not considered to be as serious as treason, which was punishable by death.
Sénat This is the "upper house" of the French legislature. In France laws are proposed by the "Assemblée Nationale", the "lower house" but before they can become law, they have to be ratified (agreed) by the Sénat.
Senate (US) This is one of the two institutions with the duty of passing laws. The Senate, (or upper house), is composed of two elected representatives, called senators, from each of the fifty states. The House of Representatives, (or lower house), is the other institution. Together they form the Congress.
Separation of Powers In 1690, John Locke, in his work "On Civil Government", wrote that a government can only function effectively and justly if the three functions (powers) of government are independent of each other:
1. The legislature - the power to decide the laws.
2. The executive - the power to execute the laws (i.e. to ensure that the laws are applied.
3. The judiciary - the power to decide whether a person accused of breaking the law is innocent or guilty.
This idea was adopted by the very influential French "philosophe" Montesquieu, who developed it in his "L’Esprit des Lois" published in 1748. The constitution of the United States of America is very influenced by this idea.
Seven Years' War (1756-1763) This was one of the many wars during the 18th century involving the major powers of Europe. It was particularly catastrophic for France because it lost most of its colonial empire to Britain, especially Canada and India.
Ship Money This was a tax which kings of England had the right to impose in order to build warships. England's safety from attack had always depended upon a strong warfleet and nobody contested a king's right to raise this tax in time of danger. A serious problem arose between 1629 and 1640 when Charles I imposed the "ship money" tax simply to pay for the every-day running of the country when England was not at war. This was illegal.
Sin The breaking of one of the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament of the Bible, but later included any non-adherence to the teachings of the Christian Churches. (What was a sin for one was not, necessarily, a sin for the other.)
Slave A person who is considered to be the personal property of his owner. In some societies, such as Ancient Greece and Ancient Persia, the treatment of slaves was strictly controlled by law. In most cases, however, a slave was considered as an object and his owner could treat him as he wanted.
Society of Friends (see Quakers)
Stadhouder This was the title given to the head of the seven Dutch provinces which fought for their independence from Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries. The most famous stadhouders were members of the Orange family (who are still remembered as heroes of Dutch independence).
Stamp Act (1765) This act placed a stamp duty (tax) on legal papers, newspapers, pamphlets, and even playing cards, in Britain’s North American colonies. After defeating the French in 1763, the British armies had to fight the great native Indian chief, Pontiac, who was trying to stop colonists settling on native Indian territory around the Great Lakes. The British government thought that the American colonists should help pay for their own military protection and introduced the Stamp Act. The colonists reacted violently because the Stamp Act was passed by the Parliament in London and they did not have the right to elect MPs. The principle of "no taxation without representation" was the basic reason for the outbreak of the War of Independence in 1776.
Streltzy They were an élite corps of the Russian Army created in the mid 16th century. For over a hundred years they formed the personal bodyguard of the tsars and, in the process, they became influential and ambitious. In 1682 the streltzy attempted to prevent Peter the Great from coming to the throne in favour of his half-brother, Ivan. Not surprisingly, Peter took savage reprisals (heads on spikes once more) and the streltzy were abolished in 1689.
Stuarts The royal family, of Scottish origin, which ruled England from 1603 to 1688 (apart from the eleven years 1649-1660).
Supreme Court (US) As the name indicates, it is the highest court of justice in the U.S.A.. Its major function is to examine every law passed in the country (both federal laws and state laws) to see if it respects the U.S. constitution. If it does not, it either has to be changed or abandoned.
Synod This name is given to any form of Christian ecclesiastical assembly (conference of clergymen).
Theology The study of the teachings of religion and the foundations of belief.
Tithes A tenth part of the produce of a family which was paid to the Church as a tax.
Transubstantiation The Catholic belief that the bread and wine consumed during the Mass is literally turned into the body and blood of Christ.
Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748) The treaty which ended the War of the Austrian Succession. Although Britain was on the winning side and France on the losing side, this treaty did not settle the real problem between the two countries. France and Britain were soon at war again in 1756 (the Seven Years' War).
Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) Between 1433 and 1494, Portugal was in the process of establishing a colonial empire in Africa, and was on the way to reaching India. In 1492, Spain had also begun to create a colonial empire, and it soon became obvious that there was a danger. If ever Portugal and Spain claimed the same territory, then a war would be inevitable. To prevent this, the monarchs of both countries asked the pope to find an acceptable solution. The result was this treaty. The pope drew a line 370 leagues west of the Azores. Any new territory to the east of this line would belong to Portugal and the new territory to the west would belong to Spain.
Treaty of Utrecht (1713) This treaty ended the War of the Spanish Succession. The end of this war had finally set the limits to the military ambition of Louis XIV. It also established Britain as a major military power, (as well as a maritime power), after the crushing British victories over the French at Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde and Malplaquet.
Tudors The royal dynasty of Welsh origin which ruled England (and Wales) from 1485 to 1603.
Vassal A man who promised to be loyal to his lord in return for protection and land
Wars of the Roses (1455-1485) This was a civil war fought between two princely dynasties, the House of York and the House of Lancaster. They both claimed the throne of England. The wars ended in 1485, with the defeat and death of Richard III ("A horse, a horse. My kingdom for a horse.") at Bosworth Field and the victory of the Lancastrian Henry Tudor. In 1485 Henry became the first Tudor king of England - father of Henry VIII and grandfather of Queen Elizabeth I.
War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713) The last major war of Louis XIV's reign. Louis' failure to win this war, and its enormous cost, helped to create not only his personal unpopularity in France, but also a financial crisis which, made worse by other unsuccessful wars, was one of the causes of the French Revolution. Although one of Louis XIV's grandsons, Philip V, became the first Bourbon king of Spain, (so replacing the Habsburgs), the Treaty of Utrecht imposed the complete separation of the French and Spanish Bourbon houses. France and Spain would never be united.
William Pitt Later known as "the elder" to avoid confusing him with his son, William Pitt "the younger". He became Prime Minister of Britain in 1756, and was largely responsible for Britain’s victory in the Seven Years’ War and the creation of a vast new empire. He championed the cause of the American colonies.