Medieval Writing
The History of e (2)

In the 12th and 13th centuries, e tended to retain a simple and recognisable form when employed in document hands. The cursive scripts of the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries developed a progressively increasing variety of forms. The letter may be easy to confuse with c, t, o or r in different scripts. It rolls over on its back, and even turns back to front. It may curl up into a double closed loop, or open up to look like a relatively formless squiggle. In late 15th and 16th century scripts, the endings of words sometimes dissolve into indecipherable loops, so that one is reduced to knowing what the word should be. This can be a challenge with vernacular works where the spelling is not standardised.

protogothic e In this formal protogothic example from the 12th century, the simple closed e is adorned with a fine extended sloping horizontal line.
protogothic e In a less formally scribed writ of the reign of Henry II, the general intention is the same, but it is produced in a more casual manner.
calligraphic e A calligraphic charter of the 13th century displays a simple closed e with a truncated lower curve.
cursiva anglicana e This example of cursiva anglicana, which first appeared in the 13th century, employs the simple closed e.
charter e In this formal ecclesiastical charter, there is a reverse curve at the top of the letter to add a little flourish.
chancery e In the formal English chancery hand of the 13th century, based on cursiva anglicana, the simple e with extended sloping horizontal causes no problems.
chancery e This example from an early 13th century writ has the reverse curve at the top and the hairline extension to the sloping horizontal.
French cursive e This 14th century example of a French cursive document hand displays an unadormed closed loop. So far so good.
cursive book hand e In this early 14th century cursive English book hand the letter has rolled on to its back and the bottom loop is also closed, so that the letter looks like an o with a vertical line through it.
charter e These two examples from a single English 15th century charter show two quite different forms of e, the simple single closed loop, and a double closed loop form where the letter looks to be completely back to front. In some scripts this second form appears mainly at the ends of words.
charter e
charter e It can also appear as the main form of the letter e, as in another 15th century charter.
batarde e This very formal version of French bâtarde script has a neatly formed letter with a reverse curve at the top and a very fine sloping horizontal.
late chancery e In the later English chancery hand, as shown here from an Elizabethan document of conservative penmanship and formal quality, the standard e has become the one rolled onto its back with both loops closed, or nearly so.
cursive e In less formally written documents of the 15th and 16th centuries, e can display a multitude of confusing forms, often resembling other letters. These two examples are taken from a genealogical document of this era, in a cursive hand, and show two basic forms. The first, a minimalist scratch, is undistinguishable in the document from either c or t. The second form is the double closed loop reversed.
cursive e
chancery e This simple reversed loop comes from the endorsement on a mid 15th century petition to the English chancery.

Humanistic book hands reverted to the simple single closed loop form of Caroline minuscule

humanistic display e This example from a 15th century Italian book hand has a slightly angular appearance.
humanistic e This 16th century example dates from after the advent of printing, and is very rounded and unadorned.
The letter e shows two major eras of diversification, separated by a period of conformity. It can be a diagnostic letter for certain scripts, but it can also get a bit out of control and go on its own independent merry way. This is probably just a function of it being a very common letter.
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Histories of Individual Letters

History of Scripts
What is Paleography?

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