Quarantine Reading: Learn to Read Secretary Hand

August 25, 2020

By Kathryn James

“Secretary hand” is the name for the dominant form of handwriting used by writers of the English language from the late 15th through the mid-17th century. This particular style was known as secretary hand because much of the work of writing was done by professional copyists, known variously as secretaries, clerks, scriveners or scribes.
Secretary hand can be difficult to read. The letters have different shapes than our contemporary equivalents. The alphabet was also slightly different. And, as importantly: 16th- and 17th-century writers spelled and wrote their words in ways that can seem unfamiliar. Even when you can read the letters, the words themselves can still be a bit of a puzzle.
But secretary hand can be learned. Moreover, the sooner you learn, the sooner you’ll be able to read texts written by hand, by people living lives as real as yours, in a past both recognizable and impossibly remote. Many, even most, of these writings have never been published–have often, in fact, never received all that much attention. 
Beinecke Early Modern invites you to learn to read secretary hand: