Medieval Writing
Ordinary Cursive Hand

Script Type : minuscule cursive

Alternative Name : cursiva anglicana

Date : 15th century

Location : England

Function : letter or document hand

This is a segment from a petition (National Archives, London E.28/76/31) of 1445-6, written in what can only be described as an ordinary cursive hand. The petition, from one Richard Mountfort, complains that one Thomas Burdette has made several attempts upon his life. By permission of the National Archives.  
Pass cursor over letters to see enlarged examples taken from the page illustrated above.  
Distinctive letters : This example shows that, in relation to the reading of old handwriting, letter forms can be the least of your problems. This petition to the crown is not written in the neat bastarda style of the 15th century chancery, but in an untidy cursive hand. The letter forms mostly resemble those of the cursiva anglicana that had been common enough during the 14th century. However, in reading it one has to contend with spelling that is even more eccentric than the usual Middle English, which at least is usually phonetic to some degree. This is downright weird. The handwriting is spread out in some places and cramped up in others. There are corrections made by the untidy procedure of simply crossing out and rewriting above. The writer has also not used one of the standard forms of words for petitions which helps you get your eye in.

Letters with ascenders and descenders, such as b, d, h, l, g or y tend to be loopy. The letter e gives the impression of being written back to front. There are three separate forms of r and two of s. The letter w, while slightly enlarged compared to other letters, does not have the intricate elaborations sometimes found in cursive hands. The letters n and u are indistinguishable, while v is also the same when it occurs within a word, which really helps when the spelling is so eccentric. The letter j is identical to i. The thorn character, which resembles a y but represents th, is here used only in abbreviations and even so it is randomly transformed into a y.

There are no examples of q or x, but z does appear, and in the most unexpected places.

Pass the cursor along the lines of text for a bit of an idea. If you want to follow the whole violent saga, you will have to go to the paleography exercises.

The image on this page has been upgraded from a scan of an old photocopy to a digital colour image downoaded from the National Archives, London. I'm not sure that it is any easier to read, but you get the whole grungy reality.

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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 3/6/2008.