1. History of Scripts

The evolution of script and the different styles used by scribes across the medieval period, both in the British Isles and on the continent, is frequently divided (and subdivided) into chronological sections that often, but by no means always, reflect relevant social and political changes. For instance, the impact of the Norman Conquest in English scriptoria was obvious when after a few decades Anglo-Saxon minuscule had almost vanished. Even so, one needs to be careful not to overstate the role that socio-political events played in the history of script. Instead, the evolution of styles reflects much more closely the history of writing, its nature, its purpose and its social penetration, that is to say, the number of individuals capable of writing at any given moment. Thus, it should not be surprising to find that, after the art of writing breaks away from the monastic walls to reach a wider section of the population from the twelfth century, it becomes ever more difficult to read and identify particular scripts. Writing becomes an individual tool and therefore bound to reflect the needs of each particular individual or the social group to which they belong.

The nomenclature used to describe each of these ‘phases of development’ has often been a cause of disagreement among scholars. In spite of this, some degree of standardisation has been sought here, although in the instances where this is not fully possible commentary and guidance will be provided.

For an overview of script evolution in the central Middle Ages, see this clip with Dr Erik Kwakkel (Leiden University).