Medieval Writing
Cursive Book Hand

Script Type : minuscule cursive

Alternative Name : cursiva anglicana

Date : 14th century

Location : England

Function : book hand

Here we have a segment of a late 14th century copy of a poem on Holy Meditation (British Library, Egerton 3245, f.193). By permission of the British Library.
The script is a cursive book hand. The language is English.
Pass cursor over letters to see enlarged examples taken from the page illustrated above.

Distinctive letters : The difficulty of reading this script comes more from the antiquated and eccentric spelling and vocabulary of Middle English than from difficulties with decoding the letters. Latin at least is consistent.

The script is cursive in that the letters are joined, but each letter is fairly clearly delineated. Ascenders of letters such as b, d, h, l and k have large loops. The letter i is dotted with a fine diagonal slash, while y has a dot when it is used as a vowel. The letter a has been simplified to a single chambered form.

There is a different form of y when used as a consonant, known as a yogh, which supposedly represents a sound intermediate between y and g, and while the letter resembles the rare occurrence of z, it is actually quite a different thing.

The letters u and v are indistinguishable, but n is rounded and easily distinguished from them. The letter r is highly variable and there are three clearly different forms. There are the usual two forms of s, the short and curly and the tall form. The letter w, as usual, is over large and extravagant.

The character for th, derived from the runic characters used in Old English and known as a thorn, looks rather like a y except that the descender is straight and it has no dot. This is where that medieval fallacy of "ye olde" comes from.

There are no examples of q, x or z.

Each line begins with a a rather fanciful Gothic capital and the text begins with a very enlarged and decorative capital I (or J if you want to read it that way). There are a few abbreviations in the text.

Pass the cursor over the lines shown to get the idea. You can go on to the paleography exercises if you are feeling really brave.

Script Index

Paleography exercises for this example

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This site is created and maintained by Dr Dianne Tillotson, freelance researcher and compulsive multimedia and web author. Comments are welcome. Material on this web site is copyright, but some parts more so than others. Please check here for copyright status and usage before you start making free with it. This page last modified 11/10/2011.