2. Script Types

2.3 Caroline Minuscule


The development of Caroline minuscule is the Frankish empire is often described as one of the pinnacles in the history of western script. Its relevance is shown, not only by the fact that this style eventually reached most of Western Europe, but also that it remains the basis for the typefaces we still use today. The support given by Charlemagne (742-814) to scholarship and education fostered the production and circulation of manuscripts across his realm. In this context, Caroline minuscule became, or rather it was implemented as, a single, unified writing style. Its main features include an overall clarity, due to the roundness of its forms, the uncial shape of a and the absence of feet in minims such as m and n.

Click here for an example of Continental Caroline minuscule from a Southern French scriptorium (Bibliothèque Municipale de Lyon, MS 481, s. x1). Please note the simplicity of its minims (lack of feet in letterforms such as m and n) as well as the absence of hooks in e. (Opens in a new window)


Caroline minuscule was introduced into the Anglo-Saxon scriptorium during the monastic reforms of the 950s. The arrival of the continental script restricted the use of the earlier Anglo-Saxon minuscule (during both its square and round phases) to the vernacular texts, that is to say, texts in Old English language. This implies that English scribes would have to master the two scripts, especially when they were required to write bilingual manuscripts or documents. Bilingual customaries (such as the Rule of St Benedict or the Rule of Chrodegang) and, more frequently, charters in which the boundary clauses are in Old English whereas the main body and witness-list are in Latin, provide us with valuable examples where the same scribe shifts from one script to the other.

Here is a charter from 1044 [Exeter D&C, MS 2526] in which the Anglo-Saxon scribe uses English Caroline (or Anglo-Caroline) minuscule for the core of the document in Latin (the terms of the transaction), Anglo-Saxon minuscule for the boundary clauses, and Caroline again for the witness list. Note the presence of feet in the English Caroline form of m and n, unlike those in the continental example above. Also, note the main differences between the forms of a, e, g and r in both scripts.

Click on the thumbnail to view the full page (opens a new window).

Here is a clip of Prof Julia Crick (KCL) discussing the features of the Anglo-Caroline script in Exeter, D&C MS 2526.


Transcription Practice

Click here to transcribe a few lines from London, Senate House, MS 1019 (opens a new window).