Lords, Letters, Seals

Performing research on family history, we often run across terminology of interest or import, so I occasionally provide a layman’s explanation of these terms.

A Lord of Parliament is a member of the lowest rank of Scottish peerage, ranking below a viscount and is said to hold a Lordship of Parliament. Scotland differs from the rest of the United Kingdom in that the lowest rank of its peerage is not a Baron. In Scotland, the term baron refers to a feudal baron. Therefore, the Scottish equivalent to an English baron is a Lord of Parliament. There is no similar designation for female holders. Lords of Parliament are referred to as Lord X, while female holders of Lordships of Parliament are known as Lady X. The wife of a Lord of Parliament is also Lady X. Children of Lords of Parliament and female holders of Lordships of Parliament are styled The Honourable [Forename] [Surname], except that the heir apparent is styled The Master of [peerage title]. Where succession by females is allowed, an heiress presumptive may be styled The Mistress of [peerage title]. After the death of the father or mother, the child may continue to use the style. The creation of Lordships of Parliament ceased when Scotland and England combined into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707 and their parliaments merged.

Letters patent are a type of legal instrument in the form of an open letter issued by a monarch or government, granting an office, right, monopoly, title, or status to a person or to some entity such as a corporation. The opposite of letters patent (Lat. litterae patentes) is letters close (Lat. litterae clausae), which are personal in nature and sealed so that only the recipient can read their contents. Due to the Latin idiom involved, a single document is not a “letter patent” but still “letters patent.” Letters patent often start with a salutation such as “To all to whom these presents shall come Greeting” or “To all to whom these presents shall come or whom the same may in any way concern, GREETING:” or even just “To all and singular, greeting.” However, a document starting with such a clause may merely be a deed poll. Letters patent can be used for the granting of city status or coats of arms, for the creation of corporations, or by a monarch to create an office. They are also common in printed diplomas and academic degrees from educational institutions. A particular form of letters patent has evolved into the modern patent granting exclusive rights to an invention.

The Great Seal of Scotland (Seala Mòr na h-Alba in Gaelic) allows the monarch to authorize official documents without having to sign each document individually. Wax is melted in a metal mold and impressed into a wax figure that is attached by cord or ribbon to documents that the monarch wishes to make official. The earliest seal impression, in the Treasury of Durham Cathedral, is believed to be the Great Seal of Duncan II and dates to 1094. Strictly speaking, the Great Seal of Scotland was abolished by the Act of Union 1707 which provided that “a Seal in Scotland after the Union be alwayes kept and made use of in all things relating to private Rights or Grants, which have usually passed the Great Seal of Scotland, and which only concern Offices, Grants, Commissions, and private Rights within that Kingdom.”

Following is a list of archaic medical terms often found in genealogical research, with the modern equivalent:

Archaic Term Modern Equivalent
Ague Fever and chills of malaria
Apoplexy stroke
Bad blood Syphilis
Black death Bubonic plague
Blood poisoning septicemia
Bright’s disease Kidney disease
Chincough Whooping cough
Chlorosis Iron deficiency anemia
Consumption tuberculosis
Costiveness constipation
Cretinism hypothyroidism
Dropsy Congestive heart failure
Falling sickness epilepsy
Fatty liver cyrrhosis
French pox Venereal disease
General paralysis of the insane Tertiary syphilis
La Grippe flu
Jail fever typhus
Lock jaw tetanus
Lumbago Back pain
phthisis Bodily wasting from tuberculosis
Podagra gout
Pott’s disease Tuberculosis of the spine
Putrid fever diphtheria
Quinsy Tonsillitis with pus
Scrofula (King’s evil) Tuberculosis of neck lymph nodes
Summer complaint Diarrhea caused by spoiled milk