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Elizabethan Vellum Deed, 1581


This is a vellum deed, a manuscript of indenture for the sale of land published during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I “in the third and twentieth year of the reign of our sovereign lady Elizabeth the Queen of England, Ireland, and Scotland Queen, Defender of the Faith”, and was published on 13 August 1581.


The deed was composed in Secretary Hand, a type of handwriting developed in the early sixteenth century with the purpose of making it more legible than the Book Hand of the High Middle Ages. William Shakespeare’s will, composed in 1616, for example, was also written in Secretary Hand, similar to his own inconsistent, scrawled signatures.


The Secretary Hand in this deed is not very formal, and we do not see any flowery majuscules (capitals), when, by way of illustration, compared to some of the more stylized, angular formal Secretary Hand we find in the letters of Henry Neville to William Cecil, Lord Burghley. This deed was probably a common deed written by a secretary or a scrivener in then-cursive business hand, quite popular before the Italian Hand became prominent.


In the first writing-book that appeared in England in 1571 under the title of A Booke Containing Divers Sortes of hands, as well the English as French secratarie with the Italian, Roman, Chancelry and Court hands, Jean de Beauchesne collected a number of beautiful calligraphies in the different hands, including Secretary Hand, and though copies of these Renaissance writing books are hard to come by now, except in national libraries, we can see some plates online that can help us to read Elizabethan documents.


This Tudor deed is in fine condition for its age, and it includes a wax seal hung from beneath the document. The size of this unfolded manuscript is 37.5 x 40 cm (including the seal); the size of the folded manuscript is 13.5 x 12 cm.

Elizabethan Vellum Deed, 1581

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