Medieval Writing
The History of r

The letter r is one of the very tricky ones. It comes in many variations, some of which are diagnostic for particular scripts. It may often be confused with other letters, but different letters in different scripts. There may even be more than one distinctive form of r within a single script.

In the Old Roman square capitals, as shown here in an ancient inscription, majuscule R has a familiar form from our modern capitals.
In the rustic capital script, R has the same basic form with slightly more relaxed and curved lines.
The uncial R is in essence similar.
In this example of New Roman cursive, the minuscule r is simply formed from a single line.
In the pre-Carolingian minuscule scripts or National Hands, r varies in appearance and can sometimes be confused with other letters. It may also change form when found in ligatures, notably in the letter combination ri, which may look like a single mysterious letter.
In a 6th century half uncial script r is very broad and curvy, with the upper curl coming down quite low, so that it might resemble an n.
In the specialised book script Corbie ab r has a long descender, and looks rather like a long s which has slipped down below the line.
An old northern Italian book hand of the 8th century displays a short spiky r.
This sample of r from Merovingian minuscule or Germanic book hand is essentially similar to the previous.
This r from the variant of Merovingian minuscule known as Luxeuil minuscule has a similar form to the previous two examples, with an awkward, angular, broken backed look which is typical of this script.
The Visigothic script has produced a neat, compact, pointy r.
The letter r in the formal script known as known as insular half uncial has a long curve which comes practically to the baseline, making it look rather like an n. As the so-called long s is actually not very tall in this script, it may be confused with r. The script also uses the majuscule uncial R occasionally within words, in places where one would not expect to find a capital. This is a lovely formal script, but you do have to sort out these letters in order to read it.
A very similar situation applies with this 9th century example from insular minuscule. My resident medievalist, who reads hideous cursive document hands like they are the telephone book, claims this script is illegible, but it is actually beautifully clear once you work out its own specific forms and can differentiate n, r and s.
In this example from a developed form of Beneventan minuscule the letter r has a similar shape to that of other European minuscule scripts, except that it has an elongated descender.
In Merovingian chancery script the letter r is laterally squashed and elongated.
In the old curialis of the papal chancery r is very simple and small, with a long horizontal extension.

In Carolingian scripts r becomes relatively standardised.

In this version of Caroline minuscule, r is small, neat, pointed and equipped with a little foot.
A sample from a forged 12th century monastic charter shows the same form, but a little giveaway that this is a later script, out of its time, is the use of the second, simplified form of r which appears mainly after o.
The later papal curialis of the 11th century has adopted the form of r with a long descender, perhaps imitating the Merovingian chancery script type.
By the 12th century the diplomatic minuscule of the papal chancery produces a small neat r with a slightly wavy vertical.
The 12th century diplomatic minuscule of the Imperial German chancery has produced a longer r with a wiggly descender. This script always has to have more wiggles than anybody else.
In the formal Gothic book hands, the letter r retains the Caroline minuscule form. A second, simplified form of r appears and is found in the same scripts, on the same page. This form usually appears after the letter o, but sometimes variants in usage are found. Very occasionally a double r uses both forms, one after the other.
This protogothic r from a 12th century French book hand is angular and has an extended foot. The simplified form is also present.
The 14th century Gothic rotunda version of the letter r is the same as the Caroline minuscule form, but the simplified second form has also been employed.
This 13th century Gothic textura r of medium grade fits into the same general pattern.
The very formal Gothic prescissa has a very laterally compressed r with no foot. Even the simplified r is angular and formal in execution.
A relatively informally written late 15th or early 16th Gothic textura script uses both forms of r in a more hastily written form.
A 15th century Gothic textura of quite formal grade in the Dutch language employs the same letter forms as a Latin text, with neat angles and hairline feet.
In document hands and later cursive scripts, r develops a quite a range of variations, and can be a bit difficult to untangle.
more about r
Histories of Individual Letters

History of Scripts
What is Paleography?

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