What type of tremor did the medieval ‘Tremulous Hand of Worcester’ have?
By Deborah E. Thorpe and Jane E. Alty
Brain, Vol.138 (2015)
Introduction: Scholars have recognized for some time that a prolific 13th century scribe had a tremor. He has become known as ‘the Tremulous Hand of Worcester’, or simply ‘the Tremulous Hand’, ‘hand’ being a metonym for ‘scribe’. He is important as the only widely-known medieval writer with a tremor, and for his unusual interest in translating documents written centuries earlier. This is the first time his writing has been investigated from a joint neurological and historical perspective.
Certain or possible evidence of the writing of this man—likely a monk at Worcester Cathedral Priory—appears in at least 20 books. As he never wrote about his tremor, or dated his work, the only sources of information for this study are the handwriting itself and limited clues in its subject matter.
The central question is: ‘what type of tremor did he have?’. We discuss evidence for essential tremor as the diagnosis by tracing the tremor through a series of handwriting samples, charting progression in tremor severity from ‘fine’ to ‘fine–moderate’ and as a correlate, present handwriting from a modern-day individual with essential tremor using a calligraphy pen. We scrutinize literary scholar Christine Franzen’s seminal monograph, reveal new information she has shared with us in personal correspondence, and offer the first analysis of essential tremor in a medieval context. To our knowledge, this is the first time medieval handwriting has been analysed by a neurologist with a specialist interest in movement disorders. Finally, we examine the lifestyle of a scribe in relation to the symptoms of essential tremor, making special consideration of alcohol consumption.
Top Image: Page from The old Englisch Homely on the life of St. Chad, written by ‘the ‘Tremulous Hand of Worcester’