5. cursive: Secretary

By the middle of the fourteenth century, Anglicana documentary and book scripts were well developed and securely established in England. But their primacy was soon challenged by a new Continental cursive script known in England as Secretary. This script, which probably originated in Italy, spread throughout northern Europe during the fourteenth century, and the highly stylized French version had been imported into England and was in use in documents by the end of the century. A book version of the script soon followed, and in the mid-fifteenth century even literary works by English authors were often copied in Secretary. By 1500, it had become the dominant script in England, although some of Anglicana’s most characteristic letterforms continued to appear in otherwise predominantly Secretary texts.

Takamiya MS 18: Brut chronicle

Takamiya MS 18. The Brut, or The Chronicles of England. England (Norfolk?), c. 1437-1450.

Takamiya MS 18 is a mid-fifteenth-century copy of the Brut chronicle in a version of Secretary script. The contrast between this script and the one used in Beinecke MS 661 is readily apparent. The writing is almost fully cursive, with letters completely linked; many looping ascending and descending lines occur, necessitating lifting the pen far less often. Several letterforms are quite different. Minuscule a is not double-lobed, as it is in Anglicana, but has a single compartment; g is formed more like the modern cursive letter than a perfect 8-shaped gw is a less complex letterform than it is in Anglicana. The s and f forms are thicker and bolder as well.

But Anglicana has not disappeared. It is used in running titles at the tops of pages and in marginal annotations. Written slightly larger than the body of Secretary text, these captions and notes clearly show the classic Anglicana double-lobed a, the 8-shaped g, and of course the striking w.

5. cursive: Secretary