Mind your lan­guage!

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - FOCUS ON -

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.

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