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The key vocabulary you need to learn for your AQA GCSE History paper. Find all the terms and definitions you need to understand, from ‘aristocracy’ to ‘Witan’.

A - B (aristocracy to burgess)

The aristocracy are the highest-ranking people (except the monarch) in most societies.

A baron is a person at the lower end of the nobility who holds land from the king or from a higher noble, such as an earl; William I introduced the title.

Burgesses are the community leaders in towns, who rent land from the nobility.


C - D (chastity to diocese)


Chastity is to refrain from sexual activity. It is often included in religious vows.


Clergy are people trained to carry out religious duties, such as priests.

clerical celibacy

Clerical celibacy is the requirement that members of the clergy refrain from marriage, sex, or physical pleasure.


A diocese is an area of land that is looked after by a particular church.

E - F (earl to fyrd)


An earl is an important member of the nobility, who often governs a large area known as an earldom.

feigned retreat

A feigned retreat is a military tactic in which troops pretend to run away in order to lure enemy soldiers away from a strongly-defended position.

feudal system

All land belonged to the monarch and was given to noblemen in return for taxes and soldiers during times of war.


A franchise is an agreement to hold an event, such as a fair or a market, in a town for the purpose of business.


The fyrd were militarily untrained Anglo-Saxons who were called up to fight in the defence of their local area, usually for a limited time only.

H - M (harrying to monasticism)


Harrying is an old term meaning to destroy or lay waste to an area in order to stop people there from rebelling or resisting.


Homage is a public ceremony in which someone swears loyalty to their lord, often while kneeling and putting their hands between the hands of their lord.

honorial court

Honorial courts were held in castles. At these courts, tenants could appeal cases with their lord.


A hundred was a subdivision of an Anglo-Saxon shire, which was 100 hides in size (a hide is c120 acres).


Marches is a border region between countries or territories, ruled by a Marcher lord who has a fair amount of independence.


Monasticism is a religious way of life in which one renounces worldly pursuits to devote oneself fully to spiritual work.

O - P (ordeal to primogeniture)


An ordeal is a test of a person’s innocence or guilt by subjecting them to severe pain or injury; survival was taken as proof of innocence.


Papacy is the office or authority of the Pope, the leader of the Church in Rome.

Papal Banner

A Papal Banner is a flag given by the Pope as a sign of support or blessing.


Patronage is the process by which a powerful person gives out land, titles, or privileges to ensure an individual’s support.


People do penance, completing tasks set by a priest to make amends for their sins.


Pluralism means holding more than one position or job in the Church.


Ready-made in sections so that it can be put together on site.


Primogeniture is the process by which the eldest son inherits land or titles from his father; younger sons and daughters are left with nothing.

R - S (regent to succession)


A regent is someone who rules a country in the absence of the monarch.


Romanesque is an architectural style often featuring strong, heavy buildings with rounded arches, sturdy pillars, and geometric decorations.


The sheriff was the king’s chief legal official in an area.


Simony means selling positions or jobs in the Church.


A succession is the process in which someone takes over the throne or another very important position.

T - W (tenant to Witan)


A tenant was a person who held or occupied the land of a lord in return for certain services.


A thegn was an Anglo-Saxon nobleman who held land from the king in return for military service.


A villein was a peasant unable to leave their local area without permission from their lord, who granted them small amounts of land in return for their work on his fields.


The Witan was a group of leading earls and church leaders in Anglo-Saxon England who advised the king.