Medieval Writing
The History of e

The letter e is probably the most variable letter in the whole alphabet. It can be tall or short, simple or complex, open or closed, and can even roll over at different angles. Particularly in the cursive scripts, it may be easy to confuse with a number of other letters.

In the Old Roman square capitals, E is a right angled open letter with three equal horizontal lines.
In the rustic capital script, it is slightly curved, and the central horizontal line is extended beyond the back of the vertical.
The uncial E is of completely different form, being a simple curved letter with an enclosed top.
In this example of New Roman cursive, the minuscule e is open, resembling a small, curved and rather casual version of the earlier majuscule scripts.
In the pre-Carolingian minuscule scripts or National Hands, e is quite variable. Not only does it vary between scripts, it is the letter most likely to be involved in a ligature, which can change its form entirely.
In a 6th century half uncial script it sometimes has the enclosed rounded form, like the uncial e, and sometimes the open form, like New Roman cursive.
In the specialised book script Corbie ab it has the closed shape, although in an awkward looking variant.
An old northern Italian book hand of the 8th century displays the open variant, with the upper and lower horizontals curved in and the central one protruding like a tongue.
This example of Merovingian minuscule or Germanic book hand is very much the same.
The other named special Merovingian book hand, Luxeuil minuscule, is similar again.
Two variants appear in the Visigothic script, one open and one closed. In the closed letter, the central horizontal is extended right through the letter and bent upwards.
The formal script known as known as insular half uncial employs the simple closed loop form, similar to that of uncial script.
On the other hand, this 10th century example of insular minuscule uses the open form with protruding tongue.
In Beneventan minuscule the letter is often taller than other small letters, has a protruding tongue, but the top may curl over to form a closed loop.
Merovingian chancery script displays a tall curly letter e with a tiny closed loop at the top.
The old curialis of the papal chancery, on the other hand, has reduced the letter to a tiny, minimalist loop.
This makes it look simpler than it is, as the forms can be variable within scripts, and the very common use of ligatures beginning with e, as in ec, em, en, er, et, as well as ae, can be very confusing. In general, when e appears in ligature it is taller, as well as entangled in the following letter.
This example of et from the Merovingian or Germanic script listed above shows the ligature that was retained in many later scripts as an abbreviation for the word et, and ultimately evolved into the abbreviation for and that we term the ampersand.
This shows er in Luxeuil minuscule.
And this shows em in an Irish insular minuscule, in this case in a survival to the 12th century. You get the general idea.
The Carolingian scripts simplified all this and used the simple closed form of e.
In a formal rounded version of Caroline minuscule the horizontal closing line is extended in a calligraphic flourish.
A sample from a forged 12th century monastic charter shows the simplest closed form.
The later papal curialis of the 11th century is still employing the minimalist loop of the earlier papal script.
By the 12th century the diplomatic minuscule of the papal chancery has adopted the simple Caroline minuscule e, and as with most letters without ascenders or descenders, has rendered it in very tiny form.
The 12th century diplomatic minuscule of the Imperial German chancery has used the same form.
In the formal Gothic book hands, the same basic form of e was retained, the main differences between different script styles being in the degree of lateral compression and angularity.
This protogothic e from a 12th century French book hand is just a Caroline minuscule e with angles.
The 14th century Gothic rotunda version of the letter retains the rounded shape.
This 13th century Gothic textura e of medium grade has added a simple hairline extension to the horizontal stroke.
The very formal Gothic prescissa, produces a narrow, angular letter with pronounced differences between thick and thin strokes.
A relatively informally written late 15th or early 16th Gothic textura script is hastily produced, with a minumum of angled lines.
A 15th century Dutch language formal Gothic textura uses a more carefully executed variant of the same.
It would seem that e has gone from a variable letter in the early scripts to a highly standardised one, but in the cursive scripts, variety of form reappears.
more about e
Histories of Individual Letters

History of Scripts
What is Paleography?

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