Medieval Writing
The History of n

The history of the letter n is exactly parallel to that of m. While there are no radical changes to the form of the letter over the centuries, the main problem in identifying it is in teasing it out from other small letters. In some early scripts a majuscule N is sometimes introduced into what looks like an inappropriate place in a row of minuscule letters to give some kind of weight or importance to the script.

square capital N In the Old Roman square capitals, N is angular.
rustic capital N In the rustic capital script, N has a slightly curved line extending below the baseline.
uncial N The uncial n is also angular.
new Roman cursive n In this example of New Roman cursive, the minuscule n is rounded and simple, but the angular majuscule N also appears.
New Roman cursive n
In the pre-Carolingian minuscule scripts or National Hands, n follows the New Roman cursive model, with some minor variants on the treatment of the feet.
half uncial n In a 6th century half uncial script n is formed in the angular uncial style.
Corbie ab n In the specialised book script Corbie ab it has the small rounded form.
old Italian n An old northern Italian book hand of the 8th century shows a simple version of n, without any treatment of the feet.
Germanic minuscule n This sample from Merovingian minuscule or Germanic book hand is also simple and rounded, with pointed ends to the legs rather than feet.
Luxeuil minuscule n This n from the variant of Merovingian minuscule known as Luxeuil minuscule is somewhat laterally compressed, with a wedge at the upper left. The majuscule form of N is also found in this example.
Luxeuil minuscule n
Visigothic n The Visigothic script has produced a broad n with chunky feet and top.
insular half uncial n The letter n in the formal script known as known as insular half uncial starts with a wedge at top left, but the bottoms of the legs are straght, without feet. The majuscule N is also occasionally employed in the middle of words.
insular half uncial n
insular minuscule n This 10th century example of n from insular minuscule has more noticeable feet.
Beneventan n In this example from a developed form of Beneventan minuscule the letter n displays the angular lines with marked differences between thick and thin sections that gives this script its characteristically blocky look.
Merovingian chancery n In Merovingian chancery script the letter n is extremely laterally compressed. The majuscule form is also employed within words.
Merovingian chancery n
old curialis n In the old curialis of the papal chancery it is a very tiny rounded letter.
In the Carolingian scripts n tended to be neat and broad with little feet.
Caroline minuscule n In this version of Caroline minuscule, n is slightly angular with little feet.
Caroline minuscule n A sample from a forged 12th century monastic charter is rounded with small feet.
later curialis n The later papal curialis of the 11th century produces an n with a rounded Caroline minuscule form.
papal n By the 12th century the diplomatic minuscule of the papal chancery produces a similar n.
imperial n The 12th century diplomatic minuscule of the Imperial German chancery has produced a small, neat n with a foot on the right leg.
In the formal Gothic book hands, the letter n, like m, becomes more angular and laterally compressed, made up of repeating units known as minims. This can lead to confusion when it appears with other letters constructed the same way. Words with n are often abbreviated by replacing the n with a superscript slash, simply to reduce the confusion of minims. In some scripts the letter n is difficult, if not impossible, to differentiate from u or v.
protogothic n This protogothic n from a 12th century French book hand is still broad and clear, with little diagonal slashes at the bottoms of two legs.
rotunda n The 14th century Gothic rotunda version of the letter n is broad with a diagonal slash on the right hand leg.
textura n This 13th century Gothic textura n of medium grade is made up of angular minims.
prescissa n The very formal Gothic prescissa has the usual harsh angular form of this script, with straight bases to the legs.
textura n A relatively informally written late 15th or early 16th Gothic textura script shows n made of very spiky minims.
textura n A 15th century Dutch language formal Gothic textura n has very long and fine diagonal tops and tails to the minims. This is really impossible to distinguish from u.
In document hands and later cursive scripts, the confusion can become greater.
more about n
Histories of Individual Letters

History of Scripts
What is Paleography?

If you are looking at this page without frames, there is more information about medieval writing to be found by going to the home page (framed) or the site map (no frames).
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 31/8/2006.