Medieval Writing
Paleography Exercises
Letter Close of King Jean le Bon, 1362 (Paris, Arch. Nat. J 641, no 13/6) (from de Bouärd 1929, Planche II)
This document is a letter from the French king Jean le Bon to his treasurers, requesting that they tend to the needs of one Adam de Beruwik. Why the French king was paying off someone from Berwick I do not know, but those who have a more detailed knowledge of 14th century history may. They were turbulent times, with the French and English constantly at war, but who was actually French and who English and who was friend and who was enemy got a bit confusing at times.

The French king had been captured at Poitiers in 1356 by the English, and held for a massive ransom. He was released in 1360 on promise of the ransom payment, but other high ranking French prisoners were retained as surety. Unfortunately one of them, the king's own son, absconded. The king returned to England in 1363 to repair the bad faith, where he had a high old time wining and dining and partying with his French compatriots, as well as the English royal family, at least according to Froissart. It was a funny old war. The king died in England in 1363.

A letter close is simply a letter sent folded and sealed, rendering it private, as opposed to, for example, letters patent which were delivered open as a public document. The illustration above shows how it looked when folded for delivery. The seal has been removed as it has been opened. On the outside is the address. Of course, it is not in the form as we know it in these days of the (rapidly disappearing) postal service. It would have been personally hand delivered by messengers. They knew where to take it. We will check out the message inside in the rest of this exercise. The address was sometimes written on the dorso of the document, where it could be read without opening it, or, as in this case, written on the separate strip of parchment which was wrapped around the document and attached to it by the seal.

The script is a cursive French Secretary style as used in the royal chancery; not so formal and stilted as the scripts used for charters, but still very neat and correct, as befits a letter from the king. Even though it is a closed letter, it would not have been by his own hand. Like all men of might, he probably just bellowed "Take a letter, scribe!" (in French, of course). The French of the 14th century is not so difficult for us, although there are archaic words and spellings, but there are no accents on letters and no apostrophes, so some words seem to be run together.

As is often the case with single documents, it is not entirely clear what is going on here, as one document may be part of a string of communications or legal processes. If the whole paper trail,or rather parchment trail, is not known, the whole thing may remain a bit of a mystery.

| overview | text | alphabet | abbreviations |exercises | transcript | translation |

Click on each of the above to walk your way through the text. The transcript will appear in a separate window so that you can use it for reference at any time. These exercises are designed to guide you through the text, not test you, so you can cheat as much as you like.
Script sample for this example
Index of Exercises
Index of Scripts

If you are looking at this page without frames, there is more information about medieval writing to be found by going to the home page (framed) or the site map (no frames).
This site is created and maintained by Dr Dianne Tillotson, freelance researcher and compulsive multimedia and web author. Comments are welcome. Material on this web site is copyright, but some parts more so than others. Please check here for copyright status and usage before you start making free with it. This page last modified 18/3/2011.