Medieval Writing
Paleography Exercises
Petition of 1445-6 (London, National Archives, E.28/76/31). All images by permission of the National Archives.
This English language petition complains of three assaults with attempt to murder Richard Mountford, evidently a parish priest, by Thomas Burdett. The affrays reportedly resulted in the deaths of other people and the priest was unable to continue the governance of his parish for fear of his life. They lived in interesting times. The cursive script is roughly written with extraordinary spelling and crossed out corrections. It seems the priest may have written it himself, rather than availing himself of the offices of the chancery scribes for the purpose. If so, it does rather open the question of the range of skills which we cover with the blanket term literacy among the clergy in the later middle ages.

Evidently petitions had to be rewritten by the chancery clerks when they were presented in court, providing a certain uniformity of script, standardisation of wording and format, and a more standard form of spelling than that found out in the wilds. Most surviving petitions in the National Archives in London are in the more standard format, but occasionally one turns up, like this one, which was presumably the original submitted by the petitioner. Such examples show a great deal about the range and variety of cursive handwriting, and the complete lack of standardisation of vernacular spelling, as compared to the formality of chancery documents.

This is discussed in Fisher, J.H. 1977 "Chancery and the Emergergence od Standard Written English in the Fifteenth Century" Speculum 52, No. 4, pp.870-899, available online, if you have access to it, from Jstor.

Some of the images in this exercise have been updated from scans of an old black and white photocopy to colour downloads from the National Archives, for greater verisimilitude if not greater clarity. Investigations undertaken to achieve this have also indicated a change to the catalogue number of the document.
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