Category Archives: Handwriting

Curiosities Handwriting

Victorian Shorthand

Travelling forward two hundred years from Elizabethan England, I’ve been trying to decipher this handwriting below without much success. I can manage some of it but not all. It’s entries to Newgate Prison listing the physical descriptions of the prisoners, written in some sort of shorthand. I can decipher names heights and occupations etc but the rest has me baffled. If you have any idea what the shorthand may mean then please do leave a comment below.

Could the ‘fr’ refer to fair? Followed by shorthand for eye colour? In other entries ‘fr’ is replaced with ‘sal’ perhaps for sallow?


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Ben Jonson Handwriting Playwrights

Though thou write with a goose-pen

Three examples of famous handwriting form today’s fragments. The first is a page from Christopher Marlowe’s Massacre at Paris. The second is an epistle by Ben Jonson which includes his signature, and the third, a letter written by the poet John Donne.

Christopher Marlowe’s Massacre at Paris (1593) (Folger Shakespeare Library)
Ben Jonson’s Epistle From Masque of Queens (1609)
Letter to Sir George Moore from John Donne 1602 (Folger Shakespeare Library)

Further examples of early modern handwriting can be found here at my post on Hand D, and here at Handwriting.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Curiosities Handwriting Household


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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