Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 March 2012
English Square Minuscule is a formalised development of the compressed angular minuscule scripts in use in England in the eighth and ninth centuries. Used throughout the tenth century, it is found in some eighty surviving manuscripts with texts in both Latin and Old English, in some fifty royal and private charters, and for entries (including Old English documents) copied into manuscripts whose main texts are in other scripts. All of these specimens seem to have been written south of a line running from the Thames to the Severn (for examples, see Plates 7a.1–3 at the back of this volume).
In the reign of Alfred multiple copies of vernacular translations were distributed through Wessex and Mercia as part of a programme to use Old English as a medium for instruction. The Latin originals were most probably written in Insular Half-Uncial or in Caroline Minuscule; however, the translations were presumably copied at Alfred’s court using the compressed pointed minuscule which had become the standard script for books and documents in Wessex. The morphology of Square Minuscule owes much to the competing influences of all these earlier forms of writing, and to the desire to establish a distinctive script which did not require undue scribal dexterity, in contrast to the calligraphic minuscules that had been used in Wessex before Alfred’s reign.
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