4. cursive: Anglicana
The rapid spread of literacy that commenced in the twelfth century brought about an equally rapid increase in demand for documents as well as books. As royal and feudal courts began to privilege documentary evidence — charters, wills, receipts, etc. — over sworn oral testimony, court scribes in search of a faster method of document reproduction developed the first true cursive scripts to appear in western Europe in more than three hundred years.
Most individual letterforms written in cursive scripts are made without multiple lifts of the pen, even between letters within many words. Instead, a cursive script “courses,” or runs, by making connections, often using loops, within and between letters without lifting the pen.
While cursive scripts were first developed by scribes who copied legal and commercial documents (which is why they were known as “court hands”), in the thirteenth century versions of these scripts began to be adapted to book copying as well. Formal Gothic scripts continued to be used throughout the Middle Ages, particularly for liturgical works. But increasingly, books also circulated in the cursive scripts, which were easier to write.
Anglicana is the modern name for the dominant form of Gothic cursive used in England from the thirteenth through the fifteenth centuries. We do not know what name the scribes who wrote it used for the script, how they taught it to each other, or how it became so widely accepted for books, such that even luxury products like Beinecke MS 1086 and Beinecke MS 661 could be written in Anglicana. Note the double-lobed a, 8-shaped g, and elaborate w typical of Anglicana in these works.
Beinecke MS 472 is an early fourteenth-century collection of sermons that shows Anglicana at an early stage of development. Notice the small a with two compartments, or lobes, and the tall s and f letterforms, which to a modern viewer can appear very similar.