Medieval Writing
15th Century English Chancery Hand

Script Type : minuscule

Script Family : Gothic bastarda

Date : 15th century

Location : England

Function : Document hand or charter hand

This sample comes from a petition of 1439 in the National Archives, London (E.28/file59/No.57). By permission of the National Archives.
Unfortunately medieval scribes did not design the shape of their documents for the computer screen. The upper picture shows the form of the document, only legible if your eyesight is exceptional, while the lower one is a grab from one corner to show the letter forms. The petition is from William Pencrych, a Welsh cleric, who lent 20 pounds to William Tame, Archdeacon of St David's and never got paid back. I must confess to childish amusement about the idea of him petitioning the king about this. The language is English and the script is the form of bastarda which was specific to the English chancery.
Pass cursor over letters to see enlarged examples taken from the page illustrated above.

Distinctive letters : This is a neat and clear chancery hand that is relatively easy to read. The letters are angular, with some curly flourishes on the ascenders and descenders. The letter d has a curly top. The letter k looks like an f with a double cross stroke. Two forms of r are shown, but this seems to be a rather variable letter, one form dropping below the line and sometimes bearing an added upward flourish when it finishes a word. The letter w is an extravagant affair and uses the same enlarged and curly form when used as a capital or within a word. Find the word dwellyng to check this out.

The letters u, v and n are indistinguishable. Combined with the unstandardised spelling, this can lead to variations in precise transcription. For example:

Is this word grannte or graunte? The jury is still out on this one among the professional medievalists of my immediate circle, but unless you are into the intricacies of forensic paleography it probably doesn't matter so long as you know what it means (grant, of course). This is according to the social historian's guidelines for pragmatic paleography where you are reading to find out what the thing is about.

The letter j is included in the alphabet, but one could get into a semantic discussion about whether it is a j or an extended i, as it does not appear as a consonant but where ij appears intead of y, as in

Maij (May, the month of).

Because the enlarged segment shown is not continuous text, it doesn't make much sense, but pass the cursor slowly over the image and see what you can find. To find out what thwe whole thing is all about, proceed to the paleography exercises.

Photographs on this page have been upgraded from scans of ols photocopies to colour images from National Archives downloads.

Script Index

Paleography exercises using Flash

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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 12/3/2008.