Medieval Writing
The History of b (2)

From the 12th century on, English document hands underwent a series of stylistic changes, with the eventual development of recognisable house styles for certain writing establishments.

protogothic b In the formal protogothic document hands of the 12th century, the slightly curved and pointed ascender of b adds to the distinctive spiky appearance.
protogothic b This example is from a less formally scribed writ of the reign of Henry II, with a more casual appearance, but the same tall ascender.
Gothic document b During the 13th century, the forms of the smaller letters tended to become closer to that of Gothic textura book hand, while the document hands were differentiated from these by tall curvy ascenders on the long letters.
cursiva anglicana b The more rounded and curly cursive document hand known in England as cursiva anglicana, which first appeared in the 13th century, introduced some variants on the treatment of ascenders.
cursive document b Large loopy ascenders could have a spilt back, as in this formal ecclesiastical charter.
chancery b In the formal English chancery hand of the 13th century, based on cursiva anglicana, calligraphic flourish could be introduced with elaboratly split ascenders. This was sometimes, but not always, done with b.
document cursive b Less formally penned documents, such as the early 13th century writ from which this letter derives, could display less fulsome loops and less precise closure of the loops.
French cursive b French documentary scripts also used the looped b, as in this 14th century example.
English cursive b These styles of script could also be used as a book hand. In this early 14th century English example, the double loops are not quite closed, giving an appearance somewhat like a safety pin.
cursive document b These two examples from English 15th century charters show how the form of b settled into two simple closed loops, utilising a more genuinely cursive form that did not require pen lifts to create tricky effects on the ascenders.
cursive document b
batarde b The French bâtarde script, shown here as a formal 15th century book hand, also has a looped b. In this example of a rather fiddly script, the letter is shaped into some rather awkward angles.
chancery b The later English chancery hand, as shown here from an Elizabethan document of conservative penmanship, made the closed loop tall and angular rather than rounded.

Humanistic scripts restored the basic forms of Caroline minuscule.

humanistic b This is a very pure and simple form from a 15th century Italian book hand.
late humanistic b After the advent of printing, some handwritten humanistic scripts emulated the more upright forms of printed typefaces, as in this 16th century example.
As you can see, the changes to the form of b over the centuries have largely been cosmetic, although there are multiple variations. You can usually recognise a b when you see one, so if you are looking at an unknown document that looks like an incomprehensible mass of squiggles, find yourself a b to use as a starting point.
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Histories of Individual Letters

History of Scripts
What is Paleography?

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