Collection of ms cadel initials, scripts and proverbs.1560s-70s.
26 leaves, 37 by 28cms, mounted into C19 album. Ms large historiated initials with floral and vegetal
motifs, fantastical creatures, humans and animals, hand coloured, with proverbial sentences in
different scripts inc. Secretary, Chancery, Gothic (likely by same hand), borders lined with lighter ink,
to reverse of some leaves charming alphabetical calligraphic exercises. Slight age yellowing, light ink
spotting, dust and finger marks, repairs to some edges and corners. In C19 album folio, half brown
morocco on marbled boards, edges and joints slightly rubbed, spine gilt.
Exceptional and very rare example of hand coloured Elizabethan-era calligraphy and cadel initials.
The work is made up of the twenty four letters of the Elizabethan alphabet as well as two symbols in
pen and ink. In the Elizabethan alphabet the letters ‘u’ and ‘v’ were the same as were ‘i’ and ‘j’.
Initials are decorated with numerous and varied designs including floral motifs, leafy sprays, acorns,
classical figures including a satyr, dragons, a crowned king, an Elizabethan noblewoman, and
animals including bears, a monkey playing a trumpet and birds. The designs are fantastical, rendered
in a free-flowing, naïve style, outlined in black ink and coloured with attractive green, grey and
brown neutral tones using watercolours. Connecting the designs is complex geometric Celtic-style
ornament, coloured in order to evoke a three dimensional effect. This is an example of a cadel initial,
or lettre cadeau, a letter created out of knot work and caricatured or grotesque people and other
creatures. These initials were most common in the fifteenth century, but continue into the sixteenth
with examples like the present.
The piece can be dated to the 1560s-70s in part due to ‘P’ (no. 15), ‘oure noble queene’, likely
relating to Elizabeth I rather than Mary I and also ‘O’ (no. 14) has an image of an early Elizabethan
young woman wearing a small ruff and early form of Spanish farthingale, a bell-shaped hoopskirt,
dating from the 60s-70s.
The exquisite cadel initials are accompanied by around four lines of manuscripts in a variety of
carefully wrought hands, proffering stimulating and remarkable comparanda for the reader. These
include Secretary hand, italic, Chancery, Gothic bookhand and Roman lettering. The text provides the
reader with charming and useful proverbs as well as some biblical passages. ‘A’ states, “Man hath
power over his wordes until they be spoken. But beinge uttered they have power over him that spake
them &c.” ‘E’ asserts, “Everie good gifte and everie perfect gyfte is from above, And commeth
downe from god the father of lightes with whom is no variablenes Neither is hee changed into
darkenes. Of his owne will behot he us with the worde of trueth. Not of oure &c.” ‘Q’ advises,
“Quietlie deale quarrell not you that will lyve in reste for true it is to eche degree a quiet life is beste
‘O’ contains an exceptionally drawn image of an Elizabethan aristocratic woman; perhaps Elizabeth
herself. Beneath it states “A vertuous woman is a noble gyfte” as well as “Howe greate is hee that
findeth wisdom Yet is hee Not above him that feareth the Lorde &c.” Indeed, much of the content
refers specifically to women. ‘N’ (no. 13) states, “Nothing becommeth a woman more than soberite ..
faithfulness and chastity, Gorgeous apparel … not excellent beautie are not to be compared to their
This calligraphic series is possibly the work of an apprentice scrivener training in the legal arts.
Legal documents were enormously complex and required advanced penmanship and
draughtsmanship as well as a detailed understanding of the variety of scripts popular at the time.
Historiated initials headed new sections and provided a formal decorative arrangement. The
charming roughness to the designs suggests the leaves were composed by a pupil for a master. This
work also represents the standardisation of Elizabethan scripts during this period as a result of the
advent of printing (Calle-Martín, Javier & Miranda-García, Antonio, ‘The Punctuation System of
Elizabethan Legal Documents: The Case of G.U.L. MS Hunter 3’, 2008). The onset of printing in the
early 1500s led to the increased appreciation of scribes and their craft. The ‘Model Book of
Calligraphy’ 1561-62, by Georg Bocskay (J. Paul Getty archives, object no. Ms. 20 (86.MV.527)) is
another example of an exercise in aesthetically impressive writing combined with artistic depictions
of nature and its curiosities.
A comparison can be drawn between this example and Folger MS C.a.320, an English ms version of
Sir Henry Finch’s Nomotechnia, vix. The art of law from 1607. Each of the four books of the treatise
commence with a flourished initial similar to the present manuscript, yet these are uncoloured.
Alongside these are lines of legal text. The Folger also has the Thomas Trevelyon miscellany, 1608
(Folger MS V.b.232). This Elizabethan pictorial and poetical ms covers a variety of practical,
religious and moralistic topics as well as proverbial wisdom, much like our example. the Thomas
Fella miscellany, c.1585-1622 (Folger MS V.a.311) includes proverbs and poems alongside lively
drawings and cadel initials, as well as a scrivener’s alphabet. These examples are both coloured.
Another calligraphic manuscript by Henry Fielde comprises tracts, verses and letters with colourful
ornamentation and sold at Sotheby’s in 2015 for 106,250 USD. Coloured calligraphic manuscripts of
this period are rare and sought after. For comparanda from the British Library see Harley MS 3739,
Harley MS 3885, Harley MS 1742 and Arundel MS 100.
The paper used is thick and expensive, some leaves bearing pot watermarks (cf. Briquet 12801,
mainly Northern France, mid 16 th c.).