Medieval Writing
Gothic Variations
During the 11th century, Caroline minuscule as written in northern France and Belgium developed a new form, becoming more compressed and angular. Letters were constructed from broad vertical strokes, the ends of letter shafts consisting of slanting hair strokes, or feet. This was the first stage in the development of Gothic book hands. Some, but not all, paleographers distinguish this as a separate phase called protogothic. (See Ker 1960)

Protogothic scripts are displayed by Columbia University Library in a 12th century English volume of various religious writings (X878/L43, f.2v) and by the Bodleian Library in a 12th century volume of Medical and Herbal Texts (MS Ashmole 1462, f.13v-14r). This latter is not the best image for analysis of the script, but who could resist the miniature of "Bald man with sword attacked by a rabid dog and bitten by a snake in the arm."

This map shows developments in the 11th century.
In the 12th century, protogothic spread across a wider area of France and over to England. It began to spread more slowly into Germany. It was predominantly a book hand, although charters in this style of script exist. It is the earliest form of Gothic textura, so called because of its resemblance to a woven textile. It is a minuscule script, also known as Gothic textualis.
protogothic script
Protogothic book script from France, from a volume of Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, Life of Caesar from the late 12th century (British Library Egerton 3055, f.2), by permission of the British Library.
This map shows developments in the 12th century.
In northern Italy in the 12th century, book hand developed a similar angularity in the formation of letters, but retained a broader and more rounded appearance. This script is known as rotunda and was retained until the 15th century. Scripts of this type were adopted in parts of southern France and Spain.
rotunda 12th century script of the rotunda style from the Melissande Psalter (British Library, Egerton 1139, f.210), by permission of the British Library.
The above example is from a codex originating in the Holy Land, and has miniatures in Byzantine style by a Greek artist, but the script is an Italian style rotunda.
While the adoption of Caroline minuscule was a standardising process across many countries and different types of documents, the development of the Gothic family of scripts was a differentiating process in which a range of scripts of great diversity of form developed for a variety of purposes.
Although formal Gothic textura was not generally used for documents, changes and diversification appeared around this time in the scripts used for legal and administrative purposes. In the English chancery during the 12th century a variety of styles developed. Some were compressed and angular, almost spiky. Others were neat and rounded with long calligraphic ascenders and descenders, similar to scripts used in various European centres for diplomas and in the papal curia, replacing the older curialis. (See Bishop 1960)
protogothic document hand
A sample of protogothic document hand of the spiky variety, from a 12th century charter (British LIbrary, add. charter 47424), by permission of the British Library.
calligraphic document hand
Calligraphic document hand of the 13th century, from a private charter (British Library, add charter 20592), by permission of the British Library.
The continuing development of the Gothic family of scripts involved a series of processes of diversification and reintegration, as the competing needs for impressive and legible writing and that for speed of transcription interacted with mannerisms of style.


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