The case for a West Saxon minuscule

Wifes Lament - Anglo Saxon minuscule
The case for a West Saxon minuscule

Julia Crick

Anglo Saxon England, Cambridge University Press, 26, pp 63-79 (1997)


Julian Brown’s famous analysis of what he termed the Insular system of scripts marked out a number of routes, now well trodden, through the debris of undated and unlocalized manuscript material from the pre-Viking-Age British Isles. Ever since, the best hope for students of palaeography seeking to date and localize examples of early Insular minuscule has been to follow Brown’s classification and identify them as Type A or B, Northumbrian or Southumbrian, and Phase I or II. Brown’s schema, however, offered orientation rather than a map. As with any typology, it depends on a very few fixed points, themselves unusual because of their lack of anonymity: gospelbooks from Ireland and Northumbria dated by the survival of rare colophons, manuscripts connected with St Boniface which show the operation of a unique editorial mind. Although Brown’s system has been successfully applied to the output of scriptoria whose influences, practices, connections, even locations remain mostly unknown, complications inevitably arise. This article concerns one of them, the recycling in Phase II of a type of minuscule displaying the cursiveness and capriciousness characteristic of Phase I: Type B minuscule as illustrated by the script of St Boniface.

Although the term has sometimes been applied to Southumbrian script in general, in his published work Brown used Type B in a restricted context, when contrasting a looped, shaded, laterally compressed form of Northumbrian cursive minuscule, Type A, with a ‘Phase I cursive of a slightly different type – Type B – that was used for the marginalia in the Oxford MS. of Primasius that were apparently written by Winfrith/Bonifatius before he left England for the last time in 718.’ He then described this Type B’as practised by Boniface.

Type B is generally lighter than Type A, less compressed, and often more cursive in ductus . . . Notable forms are the zig-zag e, often used in ligatures, which is even more summary than the corresponding e in Type A; the g with a long, often unlooped descen- der and an ascending stem crowned by a long horizontal stroke on the left only; u written without a penlift; and an initial A of uncial form with an exaggeratedly long and sharp bow on the left.

Click here to read this article from Anglo Saxon England

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