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Learned borrowing from Late Latin gravāmen (physical inconvenience) and Medieval Latin gravāmen (grievance), from Latin gravāre + -men (suffix forming neuter nouns of the third declension). Gravāre is the present active infinitive of gravō (to burden, weigh down; to oppress), from gravis (heavy; grave, serious; hard, troublesome) (ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *gʷreh₂- (heavy)) + (suffix forming regular first-conjugation verbs).[1]

The plural form gravamina is derived from Late Latin gravāmina.



gravamen (plural gravamens or gravamina)

  1. A grievance complained of.
    • 1645, Cornelius Burges, prolocutor pro tempore, The Ansvver of the Assembly of Divines by Authority of Parliament Now Sitting at Westminster. Unto the Reasons Given in to This Assembly by the Dissenting Brethren, of Their Now Bringing in a Model of Their Way. [], London: [] John Field for Ralph Smith, [], OCLC 1058751806, page 8:
      They have brought in two Papers, they ſay, in the nature of a Gravamen. I take it to be a Gravamen, and of ill conſequence for the time to come, when we have liberty to give in Reaſons to the Houſes, that they ſhould in writing give in Gravamen's to us.
    • 1658, James Rawson, Gerizim, Election, and Ebal, Reprobation. Or The Absolute Good Pleasure of Gods Most Holy Will to All the Sons of Adam Specificated, [], London: [] Iohn Owsley, for Henry Shephard, [], OCLC 1227544798, page 97:
      Let there be a tranſpoſition of the words, mercy for truth, in theſe two gravamens, and then ſee whether the ſubject matter be not the very ſame. I muſt therefore deſire the Reader to receive ſatisfaction unto this, from that before written, which howſoever calculated for the meridian of mercy, yet may generally ſerve as an Antidote againſt all his Gravamens.
    • 1766 October 4, Thomas Nugent, “Letter X”, in Travels through Germany. [], volume I, London: [] Edward and Charles Dilly, [], published 1768, OCLC 959735609, page 308:
      After dinner ſome viſitors came in, and among the reſt two or three lawyers, whom I had ſeen in Guſtrow, and who were like to ſpoil our mirth by introducing their jejune talk of gravamina and appeals. One of them could tell twenty, another thirty, another forty, gravamina on the ſide of the burghers of the province.
    • 1997, Stephen L. Wailes, “Der Reich mann vnd Lazarus, Copied by Vigil Raber in 1539”, in The Rich Man and Lazarus on the Reformation Stage: A Contribution to the Social History of German Drama, Selinsgrove, Pa.: Susquehanna University Press; Cranbury, N.J.; London: Associated University Presses, →ISBN, page 62:
      Complaints about the burdens of keeping the lord's hunting dogs are found in several lists of gravamens preceding the Peasants' War, and in the Tyrol "There were special levies [on tenant farmers] for the dogs … of the landlord."
    • 2013, Joseph Creamer, “St Edmund of Canterbury and Henry III in the Shadow of Thomas Becket”, in Janet Burton, Phillipp Schofield, and Björn Weiler, editors, Thirteenth Century England XIV: Proceedings of the Aberystwyth and Lampeter Conference, 2011, Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, Boydell & Brewer, →ISBN, ISSN 0269-6967, page 137:
      In 1239, the bishops presented gravamina to the papal legate detailing 'prejudices of ecclesiastical liberty by the lord king and his bailiffs'.
    1. (Anglicanism) A document sent by the Lower House of Convocation to the Upper House to inform the latter of certain grievances in the church.
      • 1722, Gerard Brandt, “Book XXXIII”, in [anonymous], transl., The History of the Reformation and Other Ecclesiastical Transactions in and about the Low-countries, from the Beginning of the Eighth Century, down to the Famous Synod of Dort, inclusive. [], volume III, London: [] T[homas] Wood, for John Nicks, [], OCLC 1227582867, page 24:
        In the mean while, it was reſolved at the Synod, that ſince they muſt wait for the cited Remonſtrants, they would enter upon ſome of the Gravamina, or Points of Grievance which the Churches had laid before the Provincial Synods.
      • 1855, James Wayland Joyce, “English Synods. From the Accession of Archbishop John de Peccham to the Death of Archbishop John Morton, A.D. 1279–1500.”, in England’s Sacred Synods. A Constitutional History of the Convocations of the Clergy, from the Earliest Records of Christianity in Britain to the Date of the Promulgation of the Present Book of Common Prayer: [], London: Rivingtons, [], OCLC 7807822, page 316:
        Sometimes also committees were appointed to hear the complaints of clergymen and form "gravamina" upon the evidence produced. And "gravamina" of such a formal and authoritative character, if emanating from the lower house, were usually presented by the prolocutor.
  2. The essence or ground of a complaint.
    • 1788 April 19, Edward Thurlow, 1st Baron Thurlow, Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, “Cox against Peele”, in The English Reports, volume XXIX (Chancery, volume IX), Edinburgh: William Green & Sons; London: Stevens & Sons, published 1903, OCLC 42342565, page 187:
      [P]roperly, no evidence can be read here that was not read below, and if evidence, which ought to have been read there, was rejected, that ought to be the gravamen of the appeal.
    • 1809 February, Clinton, senator, “James Cheetham, plaintiff in error, against Thomas Tillotson, defendant in error”, in William Johnson, editor, Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Judicature, and in the Court for the Trial of Impeachments and the Correction of Errors, in the State of New-York, 3rd edition, Philadelphia, Pa.: E. F. Backus, published 1839, OCLC 21402979, pages 311–312:
      A count is sometimes considered as synonymous with a declaration, and this was its original signification in the law-French; but it is now most generally considered as a part of a declaration, wherein the plaintiff sets forth a distinct cause of action; and it frequently contains several counts, in which the plaintiff assigns different gravamens, so that if he fail in the proof of any, and substantiate one only, he may still recover; []
    • 1822, “Abstracts of State Trials. The Trial of Henry Hunt, Esq. [et al.], for an Alleged Conspiracy to Overturn the Government, &c. by Threats and Force of Arms.—Before Mr. Justice Bayley, and a Special Jury, at the York Lent Assizes, 1820 [account of the sedition trial following the Peterloo Massacre].”, in The Annual Register, or A View of the History, Politics, and Literature, of the Year 1820, part II, London: [] Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy; [et al.], OCLC 210328011, pages 902–903:
      Falsehood, which was in ordinary cases the gravamen of the complaint, was omitted altogether in the information against him.
    • 1995 November 18, Mark S. Martins, “War Crimes during Operations Other than War: Military Doctrine and Law Fifty Years after Nuremberg—and beyond”, in John B. Jones, Jr., editor, Military Law Review (Department of Army Pamphlet; 27-100-149), volume 149, Charlottesville, Va.: The Judge Advocate General’s School, United States Army, published summer 1995, ISSN 0026-4040, OCLC 1248014424, footnote 30, page 151:
      The gravamen of Count One was that the defendants had conspired to commit crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. [] The gravamen of Count Two was that they had planned, prepared, initiated, waged—or conspired to plan, prepare, initiate or wage—an aggressive war.
    • 2010, Andrew Stumer, “Scope of the Presumption”, in The Presumption of Innocence: Evidential and Human Rights Perspectives, Oxford, Oxfordshire; Portland, Or.: Hart Publishing, →ISBN, page 77:
      Due to the formalistic nature of the distinction between ‘elements’ and ‘defences’ the case often use the term ‘gravamen’ to signify the core of an offence. [] However, it is not always clear what is meant by ‘gravamen’. Two alternatives present themselves. Gravamen might mean the part of the offence which makes the conduct wrongful and therefore suitable for criminal sanctions. Alternatively, it might mean the conduct which the offence is intended to control; that is, the gravamen of the offence depends upon its purpose.
  3. (by extension) The essence or most important aspect of a piece of writing, a point of argument, etc.; the gist.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:essence, Thesaurus:gist
    • 1869 September 1, “The Glory of Christ in the Creation and Reconciliation of All Things. With Special Reference to the Doctrine of Eternal Evil. A Course of Sermons Preached at Eaton Chapel, Eaton Square, London. By Samuel Minton, []. Second Edition. London: Longman, Green & Co. [book review]”, in William Leask, editor, The Rainbow: A Magazine of Christian Literature, with Special Reference to the Revealed Future of the Church and the World, volume VI, number 69, London: W. Kent & Co., [], OCLC 39520061, page 432, column 1:
      That neither Dr. Leask, nor myself, acted on such a principle, is the whole gravamen of our opponent's furious assaults upon us.
    • 1989, Sidney H. Willig, “Impact of Drug Products Liability on Needs for Pharmacoepidemiologic Studies and Expertise”, in Stanley A. Edlavitch, editor, Pharmacoepidemiology, volume I, Chelsea, Mich.: Lewis Publishers, →ISBN, section 2 (Drug Epidemiology and the Law), pages 62–63:
      Prescription drug suppliers are more likely to add even unverified reports that stand as aberrations in pharmacoepidemiologic studies when they associate a use of the product with an appreciable gravamen of injury.
    • 1990 April 26, Lawrence J[ack] Smith, Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1989: Hearing before the Subcommittee on Crime of the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, One Hundred First Congress, Second Session on H.R. 993: Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1989 [] (Serial No. 93), Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, OCLC 869428235, page 25:
      The grit of your argument—gravamen; I haven't used that in a long time since I practiced—the gravamen of your argument is that availability is the test, the key. [] Tell me where is the gravamen of your argument?
    • 2002 July 31, Eric S[teven] Raymond, “SF Words and Prototype Worlds”, in SF Words[1], archived from the original on 7 May 2021:
      The gravamen of this essay is that these signifiers (the jargon of SF [science fiction]) function not merely as a set of isolated signs but as descriptions of a stock set of prototype worlds which they logically and conventionally imply, and which permit writers to specify mainly what (if anything) is unique about their world vision rather than what is shared with the rest of SF.
  4. (obsolete) A formal charge or complaint.
    • 1657 April 25, “The Dutch Embassadors in Denmarke to Ruysch”, in Thomas Birch, editor, A Collection of the State Papers of John Thurloe, Esq; Secretary, First, to the Council of State, and afterwards to the Two Protectors, Oliver and Richard Cromwell. [], volume VI (Containing Papers from the Year MDCLVII to MDCLVIII), London: [] [F]or the executor of the late Mr. Fletcher Gyles; Thomas Woodward, []; and Charles Davis, [], published 1742, OCLC 879723643, pages 169–170:
      In the ſaid conference, the ſaid lords communicated unto us further, that ſince the departure of the laſt poſt there hath declared to the reſident of Sweden, beſides the gravamina about ſome unequitableneſs and injuries committed concerning the tolls and paſſage of the Sound, that reparation and ſatisfaction muſt be made to the king and crown of Denmark in this treaty to be made with Sweden, []
    • 1662, “a Catholick gentleman” [pseudonym; Serenus de Cressy], “That Mr. [Edward] Bagshaw’s Instilling Suspicions into the Peoples Minds, as if English Divines, &c. Had a Designe to Introduce Popery again, is a Mere Acting over the Late Rebellion”, in A Non Est Inventus Return’d to Mr. Edward Bagshaw’s Enquiry, and Vainly Boasted Discovery of Weakness in the Grounds of the Churches Infallibility. [], [London?: s.n.], OCLC 15338920, page 31:
      [W]hen certain intereſt of a few great perſons were complied with, and ſeveral too juſtly complained of Gravamina from the Roman Court remedied, there might be a poſſibility of cloſing again with that Church which they then only ſo far deſerted.
    • 1779, Samuel Hallifax, “Of the Course of Proceeding in the Ecclesiastical Courts, and Courts of the Two Universities, in England”, in An Analysis of the Roman Civil Law; in which a Comparison is, Occasionally, Made between the Roman Laws and Those of England: [], 3rd edition, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: [] J. Archdeacon printer to the University [of Cambridge]; and sold by T. & J. Merrill, []; B[enjamin] White, T[homas] Cadell, and J. Wilkie, [], OCLC 1227557061, paragraph 35, page 126:
      In an Appeal, whether from a Gravamen or the Sentence, an Inhibition is iſſued from the Superior Court to the Inferior, to ſtop Proceedings.
    • 1793, “Proceedings in the Court of Delegates”, in An Account of the Proceedings in the University of Cambridge, against William Frend, [], for Publishing a Pamphlet, Intitled Peace and Union, &c. [], Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: [] B[enjamin] Flower, and sold by W. H. Lunn, and W. Page, [], OCLC 1102743687, page 213:
      The court was unanimouſly of opinion, that Mr. Frend ſhould now proceed to the gravamina. And Mr. Frend did proceed to the gravamina accordingly; in the courſe of which he read to the court a paper, which, he alledged, he had been prevented by the vice-chanceller from reading in the court below, before ſentence was pronounced upon him.



  1. ^ Compare “gravamen, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2019; “gravamen, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.

Further reading[edit]



gravamen m (plural gravámenes)

  1. tax
  2. encumbrance

Derived terms[edit]

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