The Development of Anglo-Saxon and Caroline minuscule

2. The Arrival and Impact of Caroline Minuscule

We must now make a sudden stop in our journey through the evolution of the Anglo-Saxon minuscule. The halt is justified, however. The formal introduction in the middle of the tenth century of the Caroline minuscule into English scriptoria would have a decisive impact on the development and use of the Anglo-Saxon style: it would radically affect the overall shape of most letter-forms and, in the words of David Dumville, it would set up a ‘linguistic apartheid’ in which the Continental script would be the only one suitable for the writing of Latin texts.

The origin and rise of the Caroline minuscule may be dated to the last part of Charlemagne's reign, arising from his promotion of scholarship and education. The adoption of Caroline minuscule as the uniform script at a time of heavily-increased book production due to royal, noble and ecclesiastical patronage was undoubtedly responsible for the success of the script. The clarity and uniformity of its letter-forms were crucial to its rapid expansion across the whole Carolingian territory and beyond.

Its distinctive features include:

- Overall round aspect.

- Uniform length of ascenders and descenders.

- Straight minims with no feet.

- Uncial a.

- Straight-backed d.

- Short r on the base line.

- Mostly tall s, although round s is also used.

- Flat-headed t.

- Ampersand is preferred to ligatured form for et.

Click on the thumbnail below for a fragment of a German manuscript from the ninth century (London, Senate House Library, Flood 1/Closs/Box 67/2), where you can explore all these features in detail.

Transcription Practice

Click here to do some transcription practice in London, Senate House Library, Flood 1/Closs/Box 67/2 verso (opens a new window).