Medieval Writing
Cursive Personal Letter Hand

Script Type : minuscule cursive

Date : 15th century

Location : England

Function : personal letter hand

This is the upper left hand corner of a letter of William Paston III, in his own hand, to his brother John Paston III, of around 1478 (British Library, add. ms. 27446, f.18). By permission of the British Library.
Full transcripts of all of the Paston letters can be found in Davis (ed.)1971.
Pass cursor over letters to see enlarged examples taken from the page illustrated above.

Distinctive letters : This example of personal handwriting of the late 15th century shows similar letter forms to the cursive or bastarda book hands of this period. The main difficulty with reading it comes from its informality, with some variation in letter forms, personal idiosyncrasy and some general messiness. This is a private letter from an individual, not the work of a professional scribe.

Ascenders of letters such as b, d, h, k, and l tend to be looped, while descenders of g and y are open and curvy. The letter for th, not used every time the letter combination appears, is identical to y. The second form of y, known as yogh, which appears only once in this document, derives from the insular minuscule g and supposedly represents a sound intermediate between g and y. I am not exactly sure what that would sound like, but the concept is intriguing. What did English of this time actually sound like as a spoken language? But that is a diversion.

Some letters are variable in form, the letter r particularly so, while s appears in both the tall and the short and curly form. The letter e is also variable, particularly at the ends of words where it sometimes turns itself back to front and at other times is reduced to a frivolous little loop.

There are some abbreviations in the text.

The segment shown is not continuous text, as it is from a corner of the document, but pass the cursor slowly over it to pick out a few words. If you want to find out what students of the 15th century wrote to their older brothers about, you can look at the whole letter in the paleography exercise.

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This site is created and maintained by Dr Dianne Tillotson, freelance researcher and compulsive multimedia and web author. Comments are welcome. Material on this web site is copyright, but some parts more so than others. Please check here for copyright status and usage before you start making free with it. This page last modified 26/5/2005.