Mind your language!
To interpret 16th-century records correctly, you must not only think like a Tudor (requiring you to learn about Tudor social history) but talk like one. Many words had different meanings, and it’s vital to be aware of this when reading documents from the period.
‘Nephew’ and ‘niece’ meant ‘grandson’ and ‘granddaughter’ and, sometimes, a cousin of a younger generation, while the word ‘cousin’ itself often meant ‘nephew’ or ‘niece’. However, it could also mean ‘first cousin’, ‘second cousin’ or even ‘third cousin’. ‘Uncle’ and ‘aunt’ sometimes referred to cousins of an older generation. ‘Brother’ and ‘sister’ extended to half-siblings, including illegitimate ones by mistresses. These were regularly sired by the Tudor gentry and accepted as part of the family. ‘Natural son’, however, did not mean ‘illegitimate son’ but ‘biological son’. ‘Son’ and ‘daughter’ extended to sons-in-law and daughters-in-law, as well as stepchildren, while ‘father-in-law’ tended to mean ‘stepfather’.
Forms of address can also be confusing. A ‘dame’ was the wife of a knight. ‘Lady’ (as in ‘Lady Jane Grey’) was used for the daughter of any peer and, occasionally, for the wife of a gentleman or knight, as in ‘Lady Brereton’. A ‘master’ (‘Mr’) was the gentleman from whom you held land, and a ‘mistress’ (‘Mrs’) was his wife, widow or daughter (whether married or not); ‘master’ was restricted to gentlemen as well as to university graduate priests (such as rectors). ‘Sir’ denoted that you were a knight, but also that you were a non-graduate priest, such as a curate or chaplain. Finally the post-nominal ‘Esquire’ was restricted to very wealthy gentlemen who were also armigerous, although in theory it was applicable to all armigers who were not knights.