Medieval Writing
Gothic Variations (3)
By the 13th century there was a great increase in the production of the written word in terms of books, documents, government records and private legal matters and correspondence. Gothic textura formed a fine display script for significant or prestige works, but more rapidly produced legible writing was needed. A range of styles of cursive develped for different purposes. These tended to hybridise and change so that a great diversity of forms gradually developed.
In England, the script of chancery documents became a cursive, known as cursiva anglicana, around the late 12th and early 13th century. It had an angular, prickly appearance at first, but developed a more rounded, loopy appearance with clubbed ascenders during the 13th century. It became simpler and more legible in the 14th century with less elaborate loops.
(See Grieve 1954, also Hector 1966, also Johnson and Jenkinson 1915, also Wright 1879)
cursiva anglicana
Sample of cursive chancery hand from the middle of the 13th century in the form of an entry in the patent rolls (National Archives, Patent Rolls, 43 Henry III (73). (From New Palaeographical Society 1905)
By the late 13th century, cursiva anglicana was being used for books as well as documents and by the 14th century a relatively formal variant, anglicana formata, had evolved for book production. While Gothic textura was reserved for important display books, cursive was increasingly used for works which were written more quickly, such as chronicles or histories. With the later increase in the use of the English language in literary works, cursive script was used for the vernacular. Cursive book hands also coincided with an increasing use of paper rather than parchment.
(See Harrison Thomson 1969, also Parkes 1969, also Petti 1977, also Wright 1960)
These maps show developments in the 13th century and the 14th century.
cursive book hand Cursive book hand of the late 14th century in a poem Holy Meditation (British Library, Egerton 3245, f.193), by permission of the British Library.
With increased governmental record keeping in the form of transcription of charters and other documents on to rolls, the various writing offices within the royal administration tended to develop particular house styles. These are often referred to as court hands. The exchequer and the chancery were the first to develop distinctive hands during the 12th century, but the more distinctive house styles tended to emerge in the 15th and 16th centuries.
On the continent of Europe, document hands were influenced by the calligraphic cursive produced by the papal curia. The simplification of this hand, reducing the exaggerated ascenders and descenders, produced many variations of cursive style. These tend to be referred to by European paleographers as diploma hands or diplomatic minuscule.
diploma hand Sample of diplomatic minuscule from a diploma of Rudolf of Hapsburg, 1275 (Freiburg, Staatsarchiv, Diplome 41). (From Steffens 1929)
By the 14th century the French chancery was producing a distinctive cursive script termed Secretary. This was introduced into England and Germany in the late 14th century where it was used as a book hand. It is an angular script with elaborate curled ascenders, and it is distinguishable from the cursiva anglicana with which it co-existed.
Secretary hand A sample of French Secretary hand, from the registers of Parliament (Archives Nationales, X1a 8602, f.138v). (From de Boüard 1929)
In Spain the book hand known as Spanish round hand or redonda de libros, was also a cursive derived from a stylised document hand in the late 13th century. It joined a range of types and grades of Gothic, often related to Gothic rotunda, as book hands in use in that country.
Cursive styles were employed for personal handwriting as a steadily increasing proportion of the public became competent in writing. Informal styles of cursive are found in personal letters, domestic records and other private domains in some quantity by the 15th century.
This map shows developments in the 15th century.
The cursive book hands underwent various levels of hybridisation with Gothic textura to produce a range of scripts of mixed characteristic, known elegantly as bastarda scripts. The precise terminology of this family of scripts is exceedingly entangled as the diversity of forms produced by the process was great. By the 15th century, most books apart from the most formal display volumes were produced in some form of bastarda.
bastarda book hand Sample of a bastarda book hand from Hoccleve's Regement of Princes composed in 1411-12 (British Library, Harley 4866, f.88), by permission of the British Library.
In England, two broad types have been recognised; bastarda anglicana which appeared in the mid 14th century, and Bastard Secretary which appeared later and was derived from the imported Secretary hand. A French version of some formality is known, for added confusion, as Bâtarde. However, these processes of hybridisation between document and book hands all over Europe led to a great diversity of writing styles in the 15th century.

An image from the Creating French Culture exhibition shows a later semi-cursive book hand in a lavish page from Christine de Pisan's City of Women in the Bibilothèque Nationale de France.

batarde Sample of Bâtarde script in a mid 15th century work on the Conquests of Charlemagne (Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale MS 9066-68). (From New Palaeographical Society 1904)
The hybridisation process also affected document hands. The English chancery hand of the 15th century is a form of bastarda as the looped appearance gave way to a more angular and less cursive style.
bastarda document hand
English chancery hand in a petition of 1439 (National Archives, London, E28/59/57), by permission of the National Archives.
In the 15th century Gothic book hands were replaced in Italy and neighbouring areas which had favoured the rotunda form of Gothic by the humanistic scripts. However, in some areas, particularly Germany, Gothic textura survived into the era of printed books. Books with Black Letter Gothic typefaces were produced in the late 15th century, and this tradition survived in German book production until well into the 20th century.
Classical revival
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History of Scripts
What is Paleography?

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