Medieval Writing
The History of r (2)

In the document hands and later cursive book hands, r goes along its wayward track, with a range of variable forms. The letter appears in several distinct forms, and one script may employ more than one form. However, the combination may vary in different scripts. Many of the forms are easy to confuse with other letters.

protogothic r In this formal protogothic example of a document hand from the 12th century, r exists in rather spiky and flourishing variants of the two Gothic forms.
protogothic r
protogothic r In a less formally scribed writ of the reign of Henry II, the letter r appears in only one of these forms.
calligraphic r A calligraphic charter of the 13th century has produced a neat Gothic r with a little angular foot.
cursiva anglicana r In this example of cursiva anglicana, which first appeared in the 13th century, the main version of r is extended way below the baseline, while the actual shape of the letter is somewhat simplified. This form of r is distinctive to the anglicana family of scripts and their descendants. Sometimes this type of r is very open, like a hairpin. It is possible to confuse this letter with another with a descender, such as long s. This particular example also uses the simplified r.
cursiva anglicana r
charter r In this formal ecclesiastical charter of the 13th century, the two forms of r are very similar to the example from a protogothic charter at the top of the page, with the bottom of the vertical stroke of the main form showing a kink to the left.
charter r
chancery r In this example of the formal English chancery hand of the 13th century, based on cursiva anglicana, r appears in a neat little Gothic form with a long, narrow foot. The anglicana form with a long descender and a flourishing curl at the top is present in the same document.
chancery r
chancery r This example of r from an early 13th century writ is simple and cursive, being created from a single wiggly line.
French cursive r This 14th century example of r from a French cursive document hand produces an even more open, cursive, wiggly line form, which could be confused with n or u or v. The tendency for r to become open increases in cursive scripts from this time.
English book hand r With the use of these cursive scripts for book hands, the hybridisation between book and document hands seems to have added particular confusion in the case of r. This 14th century English book hand has three distinct versions of r, including a slightly casual version of the standard Gothic r, the anglicana style r which is open and descends below the line, and the simplified r, which has acquired an added curly flourish.
English book hand r
English book hand r
English charter r This proliferation could also extend into document hands. This example from an English 15th century charter also employs three quite distinct forms of r. There is the simplified, open and long anglicana form. There is a short and very open cursive form which could easily be confused with u or even o. There is also the Gothic form of the simplified r.
English charter r
English charter r
English charter r In another 15th century charter, only the anglicana form of r is employed.
batarde r These examples of r from a formal and mannered version of French bâtarde script employ neat and angular forms of the two Gothic types.
batarde r
French cursive r This late 15th or early 16th century French cursive book hand employs an r constructed from two cross strokes, which could be confused with x except that there are so many of them. This form of r becomes common in 16th century scripts. It also uses a rather flourshed version of the simplified r.
French cursive r
English chancery r In the later English chancery hand, as shown here from an Elizabethan document of conservative penmanship and formal quality, the anglicana r, with a particularly long descender, has ben retained. The simplified Gothic r is also used, but with extra flourishes so that it is no longer simplified.
English chancery r
cursive r This genealogical document of late 15th or early 16th century employs the short, open, cursive r, which can be confused with numerous other letters, even e in some documents of this era. The simplified Gothic r has also become a curly cursive letter.
cursive r
cursive r In this endorsement on a mid 15th century petition to the English chancery, the r is very open and cursive and hard to distinguish from other letters.

Humanistic book hands, as usual, reverted to the neat, rounded, carefully written form derived from Caroline minuscule, so that r becomes recognisable again.

humanistic r In this example from a 15th century Italian book hand, r is very simple and neat.
humanistic r This 16th century example dates from after the advent of printing and has produced a neat r with a rather strange extended curved foot.
The letter r can cause a great deal of confusion, both in the pre-Carolingian scripts, and in the multiple variants of the later cursive hands. Particularly in the later variants, there are no absolute rules on what to expect, so when faced with an unknown piece of writing, it pays to sit down quietly and try to ascertain just what types of r are being employed by identifying some known words, rather than assuming that the letters are simply what they look like.
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History of Scripts
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