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Latin Palaeography

Palaeography is the study of old handwriting.

This online tutorial will help you learn to read the handwriting found in documents written in Latin between 1086 and 1500. The tutorial is for people who already know medieval Latin. If you need to learn, visit our Latin tutorials.

 

Documents in Latin from this period can seem illegible to modern readers, not only because of the unfamiliar letter forms, but also because documents were heavily abbreviated. The aim of this tutorial is to give you the practical tips and experience you need to tackle new documents confidently on your own.

 

Each of the ten lessons below is constructed around a different document from The National Archives.

  1. Lessons

  2. Sample of this lesson's 'hand' 1086 Little Domesday Book

    King William, perceiving a threat from Denmark, sent men all over England to find out what each landowner held and how much it was worth to assess the financial and military resources available to him. This document, which relates to Dunwich in Suffolk, features a reference to how the village had lost half its farmland through sea erosion since the Norman conquest.

    Catalogue reference:E 31/1/3, folios 311v, 312 abbreviations Document image

  3. Sample of this lesson's 'hand' 1481 Prerogative Court of Canterbury will

    This is the will of John Hill of Bridgwater. It outlines his bequests to the church, several other religious institutions and his family and acquaintances. John Hill names his wife, Thomasina, as his executrix.

    Catalogue reference:PROB 11/7 abbreviations Document image

  4. Sample of this lesson's 'hand' 1275 Ancient deed

    This document records the lands granted by Adam de Stratton, clerk, to Edmund de Watervord in 1275. By the mid-16th century, with the dissolution of the monasteries, the lands passed to the Crown.

    Catalogue reference:E40/5451 abbreviations Document image

  5. Sample of this lesson's 'hand' 1199 Final concord

    This document records the outcome of a property dispute in Wavendon between Simon Passelewe, the plaintiff, and his uncle, Nicholas, the defendant.

    Catalogue reference:CP 25/1/1414 abbreviations Document image

  6. Sample of this lesson's 'hand' 1481 Writ

    King Edward IV sends orders to his faithful servant, Sir Guy Fairfax, to receive the answer to a charge against Peter Bank. The plaintiffs, George Box, Piers Burton and his wife Margery, daughter and heir of William Watson, are disputing land rights in Featherstone and Ackton. Peter Bank had already received a bill of complaint followed by a writ of subpoena, which he ignored.

    Catalogue reference:C 1/2/118 abbreviations Document image

  7. Sample of this lesson's 'hand' 1349 Patent roll

    This document contains five types of letters patent: a ratification of William de Prestonís estate; a licence for enfeoffment involving Simon Simeon, Walter Power and Thomas Loges; a pardon for William de Norton of Melton Mowbray for the death of William de Loughtburgh; a presentation of the chaplain, William de Kyngeshevide, to the vicarage of the church of Llanrothall and a grant to the burgesses of Preston in Amounderness.

    Catalogue reference:C66/227, folio 23 abbreviations Document image

  8. Sample of this lesson's 'hand' 1436 Tax assessment

    Sir Robert Roos, sheriff of Lincolnshire, collected the subsidy on lands, offices and annuities granted to Henry VI in 1435. This document records those individuals who paid tax in the county of Lincolnshire, noting the value of their lands, rents and other taxable income, and the amount of tax due.

    Catalogue reference:E 179/136/198, folio 2 abbreviations Document image

  9. Sample of this lesson's 'hand' 1419 Manorial extent

    This document is a survey of the valuation of various manors which once belonged to Joan, countess of Hereford. The site of the manor of High Wycombe is described, including other buildings such as a cowshed and stable. The third paragraph describes other rents in High Wycombe, including rents paid by the burgesses, freemen and villeins.

    Catalogue reference:DL 43/14/4 abbreviations Document image

  10. Sample of this lesson's 'hand' 1489 Inquisition post mortem

    This document is an inquiry into what property or income of the deceased John Dysney of Bishop Norton and his father John Dysney of Kingerby might belong to the crown, and includes a detailed account of the Dysney estate.

    Catalogue reference:C 142/23/116 abbreviations Document image

  11. Sample of this lesson's 'hand' 1422 View of frankpledge

    This document covers four parishes or tithings in Berkshire: Burghfield, Sulham, Tidmarsh and Purley. For each parish, the head tithingman presents the total payment and penalty charges for minor offences committed by various members of the tithing. Offenders were amerced (fined) and the amount was written above their names. If anyone failed to pay the amercement, this was carried on to the next view of frankpledge and was amerced again for the same amount. Thus, numbers after several names indicate the number of times the amercement has been demanded.

    Catalogue reference:SC 2/212/2 abbreviations Document image