Over the past few years I’ve been slowly training myself to read 17th Century handwriting. The task is frustrated by a lack of regulated spelling and a tendency towards punctuation and abbreviation. Some hands are very easy to read, while others prove more challenging. I’ve been working today with the above – it’s a note written by a woman to her parents regarding a hat. Below is my attempt at deciphering it – some of it proved easy, but as you will see, some words still remain illegible to me. Anyone with a far better trained eye than my own is welcome to leave suggestions in the comments. Click on the image to open a larger version.

Loving Father and mother with my hartie commendations unto you. Remembered this is to desire you to send me word what fashion my mother will have her hat and whether she will have a double ? Band or a double? or single? with roose(?). I pray send me word unto which(?) order she will have it. And in haste I commit you to the protection of the almighty God whom I beseech to bless you both in body and spirit from London the eighth of May 1603.

Your loving daughter

Francis Woodall.

Update: Suggestion from Stanley Wells that ‘bless you both’ is in fact ‘bless us both’ – thanks Stanley!
And a comment from Sharky deciphers a double ‘tassle’ – ‘whether she will have a double tassle’.
I think ‘frypan’ might be ‘ribbon’…

New suggestion – from Sarah at The Folger – it’s not tassle but ‘Rowle’ band. Thanks Sarah!
The scypere/scyperd has everyone, well, baffled. A trawl through the OED has proved fruitless. Closest I found was ‘scye’ – the opening of a coat for a sleeve to be inserted, which dates from 1830.

Thanks to Simon Leake for pointing out Cypress was used on hats. OED: ‘1612.W. Fennor Cornu-copiæ 55   His hat‥With treble Sypers, and with veluet lin’d.’ ‘Sypers’ refers to Cypress, used on hats during mourning.

So, thanks to all the kind suggestions, the deciphered version now reads:

Loving father and mother with my hartie commendations unto you. Remembered this is to desire you to send me word what fashion my mother will have her hatt and whether she will have a dowble Rowle Band or a dowble syper or single syper with a Roose. I praye send me word in what order she will have it and in hast I committ you to the protection of the almightie god whom I beseech to bless us both in boddy and spiritt from London the eighth of may 1603.

Your Loving Dawyter
Franncis Wooddall

Thanks to on Twitter who helped me decipher it @Wynkenhimself, @Stanley_Wells, @SimonLeake, @rediculusT, @AdeTinniswood, @prattrarebooks, @pbabnet and @light_n_shade

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  • RediculusT
    June 8, 2011 - 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Right, I think frypan begins Scy… The only thing matching the second letter is the c in commit. Apparently ‘Scye’ meant an arm hole – are you sure this is a hat?

  • RediculusT
    June 8, 2011 - 3:51 pm | Permalink

    OK, going for first ? to be ‘rabat’ – a collar of linen or lace.
    The frypans is stumping me. That’s definitely a y, but I don’t think it’s an r first or second as they’re different elsewhere. Hmm…

  • June 8, 2011 - 3:23 pm | Permalink

    I think frypan might be ‘ribbon’??

  • RediculusT
    June 8, 2011 - 3:18 pm | Permalink

    It’s clearly ‘Double Robot Band or double frypans or single frypan without roofs.’ They knew how to do hats in those days.

  • June 8, 2011 - 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Very funny Denis!

    Yes Kim, I think you’re right, it must refer to a decorative rose of some kind.

  • kimawhitaker
    June 8, 2011 - 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps the roose is a rose or rosette type thing?

  • June 8, 2011 - 3:11 pm | Permalink

    I think you have it a bit wrong. It says, “Dear Dad and Mum, What fancy stuff do you want on your hat, Mum? I am going to be so pleased when they invent Twitter and I can do this writing gig in 140 characters. Fran xox”

  • June 8, 2011 - 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant, yes, I think it is ‘double tassle band’. But what about ‘or a double ? or single ? ? roose’? Any thoughts?

  • June 8, 2011 - 3:02 pm | Permalink

    …your job sounds awesome.


    The image is a little small, but could that possibly be “double tassle band or a single tassle or single tassle with roose?”

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