Scandinavian Handwriting

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Gothic Handwriting

See the tutorials in the FamilySearch Learning Center on "Reading Scandinavian Gothic Handwritten Records".

Gothic handwriting was not called such until the last half of the 1800’s. Earlier it was customary to call it Danish or Norwegian script. But when the modern handwriting, Latin script, became the national script then the old script had to be called something else.

The word Gothic was originally a belittling expression which means barbaric. It comes from the humanists of the Italian renaissance. Their fondness for the antique had its counterpart in that they did not like the slender, pointed forms which had predominated in architecture, fine arts, and literary works up to their time.

That which came to be called Gothic script is a rather narrow and angular script which was in use from the end of the 1200’s to the end of the middle ages. Many of the same strokes are again found in the newer Danish or Norwegian handwriting. Therefore it was not unnatural that this later handwriting was also named Gothic. To prevent confusion it is now usual to call the Gothic script from the middle ages older Gothic script. The later script is then called the newer Gothic script. It was developed in Germany as the foundation of the older writing of the early 1500’s and came to Norway a few decades later.

Common words found in Scandinavian marriage records:

Scandinavian Words in Marriage records.jpg

History of Handwriting in Norway –800 to 1600 A.D.

Since a time in the 1000’s, books and documents have been writtien in Norway. However, the only items which have been preserved from that time are some small fragments of missals in Latin. The writing in these books was called Carolinian Miniscule. It consisted of letters of various heights in a four-line pattern. The Carolinian Miniscule writing was a standardization of numerous handwriting styles and was created at the time of Charlemagne about 800 A.D. It became popular in France, Germany, and Northern Italy and dominated the German handwriting scene for nearly 300 years. It came to Norway with the missionary liturgy books from England.

In the 1200’s the letters began to be more slender and to be written closer together in a more vertical style. It foreshadows the change over to Gothic Script which was fully developed by about 1300. By the 14th century the Gothic style had evolved into the Fraktur script. The Gothic and Fraktur handwriting became the basis of most handwriting styles in Central Europe.

After a time the script came to be used for everyday purposes such as agreements, letters of correspondence, keeping accounts, and different private formal purposes. A script was needed which was quicker to write. In a short period of time it became the typical writing in letters and other documents. Handwriting in Norway was dominated by the older Gothic cursive until the end of the 1500’s.

In the 1400-1500’s two distinct forms of writing were created, Latin and Gothic. These influenced European and Norwegian script until well into the 1900’s.

History of Handwriting in Norway –1600 to 1700’s A.D.

The newer Gothic script was brought to Norway by government officials, civil servants and scribes from Denmark. From 1600 until 1814 the development of writing styles was exactly the same in Norway and Denmark. The central administration gave the tone of the script. Letters which were sent from the reigning government offices in Copenhagen gave the recipients a current reminder of what was a professional and timely writing style. Regulations and announcements reached to Vardøhus just as quickly as to Bergen and Kristiania.

The script was constantly changing. It is often possible, therefore, to date a document based on the writing style. This applies to the overall look and to the individual letters. But the changes were not so different that a scribe in 1800 would have difficulty in reading a document written two hundred years earlier.