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HS5216 Medieval Palaeography

Medieval Scribe


Instructor: Dr Helen McKee

Term 2. To be taught at Royal Holloway, Egham on Mondays. Time TBC.

Palaeography is the study of ancient handwriting.  This course provides an introduction to some of the most important scripts of the Middle Ages – Uncial, Half-uncial, Caroline minuscule, Gothic textura, Anglicana, and so on – and these will be studied in the context of contemporary social and political developments (which could have a dramatic influence on script usage).  As well as particular scripts, we will focus on particular manuscripts (e.g. the ‘Lindisfarne Gospels’, the Beowulf manuscript, the ‘Auchinleck Manuscript’, and the ‘Ellesmere Chaucer’) and also look at individual scribes and their careers, where these are known.

Medieval palaeography is a crucial background to the study of history and literature, the sources for which have come down to us in manuscripts, and this course will give you the necessary tools for evaluating this sort of material.  What should you be thinking about when confronted by a manuscript source?  How should you approach transcription from a manuscript?  Where can you find help?

We will study manuscripts written in Latin, Old English and Middle English.  Some knowledge of Latin in particular would be useful, but is not essential.  Every week we will practise reading from facsimiles of medieval manuscripts, and we will also take advantage of the University of London’s rich collection of palaeographical material in the Senate House Library.

Suggested Reading:

Bischoff, Bernhard, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages, trans. by Dáibhí Ó Cróinín and David Ganz (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990)

Brown, Michelle P., A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600, 2nd edn (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993)

Brown, Michelle P., Manuscripts from the Anglo-Saxon Age (London: British Library, 2007)

Clemens, Raymond, and Timothy Graham, Introduction to Manuscript Studies (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007)

Derolez, Albert, The Palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books From the Twelfth to the Early Sixteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)

De Hamel, Christopher, Scribes and Illuminators (Medieval Craftsmen) (London: British Museum, 1992)

Roberts, Jane, Guide to Scripts Used in English Writings up to 1500 (London: British Library, 2005)


  • transcription and script identification exercise (50%)
  • summer examination (50%)

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