Paleography in Examples: Tips for Reading Old Handwriting

Old handwriting is hard to read for modern readers. Introduction to the art is found in websites such as the one by the British National Archives. (The latter presents ten documents as tutorials, of which document 1 is in "italic" style, which formed the basis of the modern writing, document 2 is in cursive style, documents 3, 4, 5, 7, 9 are in secretary hand, document 8 is a mixture of late secretary hand and italic hand, document 6 is in a legal hand (used in the Exchequer), and document 10 is in Chancery hand.)

The present article presents one specimen of reading old handwriting from the French Archives.

A letter in French to the Duke of Savoy from his ambassador in Paris (13 March 1593) is found in two copies in BnF fr.3983, f.166-167 (see another article). Since one copy is more legible and the portions in cipher can be read once the cipher is known, it allows us to read the tougher handwriting in the other copy.

The images below present the original document annotated with transcriptions. The transcriptions can be toggled on and off by clicking on the image. I have to say I can hardly read this handwriting even with the transcription. Still, I hope this is of some help for students in history who are to begin to read old documents.

First Things You Should Know When Reading Old Handwriting

Here are the first things you should know when reading any old documents.

Some Tips for Old French Handwriting

Specific Notes on the Specimen Below

(Some of the following may be general enough to deserve promotion to the above sections.)

©2017 S.Tomokiyo
First posted on 29 June 2017. Last modified on 29 June 2017.
Articles on Historical Cryptography
inserted by FC2 system