2. Script Types

2.6 The Gothic Scripts - Cursive

Cursive Documentary


During the twelfth century the form of Protogothic miniscule used in documents had began to show certain features which set a neat distinction between that and the script used to copy books (bookhand). Late in the century it developed into a fully cursive script which ignored the angularity and compression of Gothic textualis and, instead, favoured linked letters, loops and other decorative additions. This ‘business hand’, which seems to have developed in the royal chancery,  had a local English style conveniently known as ‘Anglicana’ which featured a double-compartment a, an 8-shaped g, and a round form of s that looks very much like a small numeral 6.

The image below is an English charter from c. 1273 relating to Battle Abbey (East Sussex). It offers a neat example of Cursive Anglicana with plenty of loops on the ascenders. Please note the use of both a double-compartment a (line 1) and a single-compartment one (beginning of line 4); round cursive s alongside long s (e.g., p[re]sentes, line 1); 8-shaped g (e.g., ego, line 1).

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In the second half of the fourteenth century a new form of cursive arrived in England from the French chancery. Even though this new style may have originated in Italy, the secret of its success over the already established Anglicana was the fact that it was even quicker to write. This reflected on the increased angularity of its forms, as seen for instance in the pointed shape of a. Other useful forms that may allow us to set Secretary apart from Anglicana include the use of 'clubbed' ascenders, cursive d with an angular bow, g with an open descender curling to the left, r either showing a 2-like shape or sitting on the baseline and x made with a single stroke.

Here is a page from London, Senate House Library, MS 278 (Robert of Gloucester, Chronicle), containing 15 lines in Latin on the Prophecies of Merlin in a Secretary hand. Note in particular the characteristic shapes of a, d, g, and the 2-shaped r.

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Transcription practice

Click here to try your hand at transcribing a brief extract from Exeter, Dean & Chapter, MS 643 (opens in a new window).