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  The Glossary

The Scottish Archive Network (SCAN) Glossary defines archaic words and phrases, mostly Scots law terminology, commonly found in documents and records in Scotland's archives. If you think a word or phrase should be added to the glossary, or an existing entry could be defined better, please contact us. Since the SCAN project ended, the Dictionary of the Scots Language has gone online at, and this should be consulted for Scots words and phrases (including legal terms).



either the symbolic act of giving legal possession of a piece of heritable property, or the instrument by which such an act was proved to have happened. The origin of the term is the same as that for the word 'seize' - meaning to take possession of (in Scottish documents it is generally rendered 'seis'). Hence, for example in an abridgement of sasine, someone who became the owner of a property (by succession, gift, purchase or whatever) is recorded as being 'seised' of that property. see symbols.

firescreen; shelter against the weather
for the main function of the royal seals, see signet letters.
seis, seised

see sasine
the little payments made to the miller and servants of a mill in meal, grain, or a money equivalent by those having their corn ground there; they depended on the particular custom of the mil land were variously called "bannock, knaveship and lock and gowpin"
confiscation of a bankrupt's assets by a court of by his creditors
service of heirs
the process by which an heir acquired the right to an estate.  It started with the brieve ordering an inquest to determine who was next heir to the estate, followed by the retour of the inquest stating the heir's right to succeed followed by his entry, (his formal acceptance by the superior of the estate).  It was called a "special service" when the heir's ancestor had been formerly infeft in the estate, that is, had had full legal possession of it by virtue of a sasine; if the heir's ancestor was not infeft, then the process was called a "general service".  Until the process of serving the heir had been gone through, he would be the apparent heir; see also heirs
table napkin; serviette
obligations which went with a property, or which had to be performed to a particular person
"sheriffs in that pairt"
Although ordinary mortals had baillies in that part to represent them in carrying out a particular function, usually the giving of sasine, the Crown's representatives on such occasions were "promoted" to sheriffs
change of clothing

signet letters
the signet was the smallest of the four royal seals, and being smallest, was used for the most routine business.  The Great Seal would be used for charters, treaties, grants of land, commissions to high officers of the Crown and other major state documents; the privy or secret seal was originally used for royal orders or brieves, but later came to be used for such things as grants of moveable property and grants of minor officer the quarter seal was used for more routine administrative documents and warrants for the use of the Great Seal, in fact for much the same purposes as the privy seal had been originally used, and the signet was used simply for the private letters and order by the king to his "sheriffs in that pairt" ordering them to carry out a specific function; it was thus used to authenticate orders by the king's court to its functionaries for the administration of the law, in summoning people to court or in carrying out one of the legal diligences against them.  Such letters were prepared by writers to the signet.
was a document prepared by a clerk or writer to the signet as the warrant for a royal grant to the person in whose name it was presented
singular successor
someone who has acquired title to a property by some other means than being the heir to it, for example, by purchasing it
slains, letters of
letters by the relations of a person who had been killed, witnessing that they had received compensation (assythement) for the death from the killer, and applying to the Crown for a pardon for him
an obsolete method of holding lands in return for the performance of certain services to their superior; a shade different from ward-holding since the service to by returned could be just about anything and was not (necessarily) of a military nature.  In Scotland, holding in soccage seems to have been mostly in return for agricultural services.  In the case of services performed to the king's person, for example by his barber or by the keeper of his falcons, it could be called "sergeanty" instead of soccage
taking meat and drink by force or menaces, and without paying
sowming and rowming
a legal action to determine the number of cattle allowed to be pastured on a common by each of the people having a right to do so
special charge
letters under the signet seal charging the heir of someone who had died infeft in lands, to enter as heir to them.  The word "special" is there because the ancestor of the heir had been infeft in the lands, as in a "special service", which was the process by which the heir of someone who had been infeft acquired right to his estate
the teinds due to the Church
the taking away of someone else's moveable goods against their will or without the order of the law; the "moveable counterpart" of ejection, as it were
staff and baton (fustum et baculum in Latin)
These were the symbols used to represent a vassal's resignation of his lands into the lands of his superior
steelbow goods
were corn, cattle, ploughs and similar implements which might be given by a landlord to his tenant farmer to enable him to stock and maintaining the lands leased by him; for this, the tenant was bound to return goods of equal quality and quantity at the expiry of his lease
a regular payment made in money, grain or both for the support of a parish minister, which was renewable (and re-negotiable) every five years
stoup, stowp
wooden pail; flagon; tankard; mug; jug for milk or cream
as rief implies, it is a form of theft; this one is theft committed by force, and not in a clandestine way like the normal thing
all the lands which were astricted to a particular mill, in that their holders were bound to have their grain ground there and nowhere else, were called the mill's sucken; the people bound to the mill were its "suckeners"
straw pad or cushion, used as a substitute for a saddle, frequently in a pair slung on either side of the horse; turf seat
the person who had made an original grant of land in return for the payment of an annual sum or feu, or for the performance of certain services, or both; the person receiving the grant who was thereby bound to make the payment or do the service which went with the lands, was the superior's vassal
Supply, Commissioners of
persons who were nominated every year in each county, to levy the land-tax due from their county, maintain roads and control the raising of the militia, etc.
letters under the signet which delayed or suspended diligence or other legal action, and was thus more temporary than letters of relaxation
the giving of sasines was a ceremony deriving from a time when few people were literate and it was thus highly symbolic so that anyone could see and recognise what was going on.   The grantee's baillie would meet the granter's baillie on the ground of the lands being granted, with several witnesses and a notary, present the grantee's title to the lands (his charter and precept of sasine from the granter) and ask that sasine by given; these would be passed to the notary who would read them to the witnesses, and then the granter's baillie would give sasine by presenting the grantee's baillie with a symbol appropriate to what was being granted, so that the witnesses could understand that ownership had been formally transferred.  The most common symbols were earth and stone used for the giving of sasine in lands' if what was granted was an annual rent from lands, these would be passed over together with "a penny money".  If sasine was given in fishings the symbols were a net and coble; if in the patronage of a church, a psalm book and the church keys, if in a mill, the clap and happer of the mill, if in teinds, a sheaf of corn, if a jurisdiction, the court book, if property in a burgh, a hasp and staple, and combinations of these might be used.   Finally, if lands were resigned to a superior, the symbol passed over were the staff and baton.  After all this was done, the notary would go away and write it all up in the form of an instrument
strainer or filter (for milk)