I am searching for a fitting word for a story I am writing. The setting is fictional medieval (so not fully historical correct), and there is a group of bandits who have a leader.

I am wondering, how the bandit members would call their leader. Sir? Boss? Or is there a better word?

  • In my opinion, "sir" sounds too honorable for a bandit, doesn't it?
  • And "boss" sounds like a modern word to me and reminds me of modern gangsters.

As stated in the single-word-requests tag rule, here an example sentence:

"We’re ready, sir. Do you want the black horse?"

  • In the Oxford English Dictionary, the first citation for boss, meaning the person in charge is 1635: "1635 J. Winthrop Hist. New Eng. (1825) (modernized text) I. 174 Here arrived a small Norsey bark..with one Gardiner, an expert engineer or work base [= Du. werk-baas], and provisions", so you are right, boss is too modern. (The second use is 1653: "1653 F. Newman et al. Let. May in E. Hazard Hist. Collections (1794) II. 236 From our Place of Residence at the Basses house in the Monhatoes.]" And the first with the spelling "boss" is from 1806.
    – ab2
    Mar 18, 2018 at 21:36
  • Are you looking for a word that would have actually been used when your story takes place or a word that sounds like it would have been used? (If it's the former, a more precise date would be helpful, as the Middle Ages spans 1000 years.)
    – Laurel
    Mar 18, 2018 at 21:53
  • @Laurel It is OK that the word sounds like it has been used. Mar 18, 2018 at 22:40

3 Answers 3


chief dates from medieval times. The Oxford English Dictionary has several definitions for chief, but the one applicable to your case is:

a. The head of a body of men, of an organization, state, town, party, office, etc.; foremost authority, leader, ruler

and the OED has a citation from 1297:

1297 R. Gloucester's Chron. (1724) 212 Þo þe Romeyns were wyþ out chef, dyscomfortd hii were

And the next two citations, of which the second is actually intelligible:

1475 (▸?c1400) Apol. Lollard Doctr. (1842) 57 Wan any auerous or couetous is canonizid..or maad cheef.

1483 Caxton in tr. J. de Voragine Golden Legende 399 She was made abbesse and chyef of al the monasterye

From reading the entire entry for chief, one sees that chief was a word widely used in medieval times, in many ways. For example:

†8. The head town or city; the capital n.1 Obs.

1393 J. Gower Confessio Amantis III. 164 Whan Rome was the worldes chefe

So I think the bandits could well call their chief, chief, and how they would have spelled it (chef, chefe, cheef, chief, chief) is irrelevant because they were probably illiterate.

Addendum: See also Etymonline, chief

  • The problem with these examples is that not one uses chief as a noun of direct address.
    – KarlG
    Mar 18, 2018 at 23:33
  • @KarlG Scour medieval literature and find a term of direct address! Maybe start with Beowulf? Happy hunting. Myself, I am sure the nuns addressed their abbess as chyef. :)
    – ab2
    Mar 19, 2018 at 1:53
  • 1
    I myself would never have wanted to travel in the Middle Ages without my personal chef and would be incessantly calling for him.
    – KarlG
    Mar 19, 2018 at 1:57

I would try using the word master in this case. It doesn't sound too honorful, and doesn't sound modern. I got the idea from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when the evil Death Eaters talk to their leader, Voldemort.

  • 2
    What is honorful intended to mean? That’s not an English word.
    – tchrist
    Mar 18, 2018 at 22:00
  • @tchrist Google Translate translates it to German "ehrenvoll" which back-translates to honorably. Mar 18, 2018 at 22:12
  • 1
    +1 for "master", but -1 for "honorful". What a dreadful word!
    – WS2
    Mar 18, 2018 at 22:39

"We’re ready, Sire. Do you want the black horse?"

Google Books

For this we are ready, Sire, to employ our own lives, to the end that, rendering to you very humble service … (Henry Martyn Baird, 1899)

We are ready, Sire, to cooperate with you, by word and by deed* in the difficult but glorious path which you have chosen. (1869)

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