Learning the Court Script of French King Henry IV

Learning to read old court script is a challenge, both in recognizing new letter formats, antiquated spellings, and abbreviations.  Nathan Raab walks us through one such document signed by the Good King Henry, Henry IV of France, from 1607.

Nos amez and feaulx, our beloved and loyal.   This line, among the more legible in the document, uses antiquated French spelling in the address line.

E tres expressement.  Among the hardest elements of these documents are the “e” and the “t,” which appear differently in the same line above. And note the “and” and the unique and connective form it takes at the start of the line.

presente esgalles a celles de l’.  The word “presente” is frequently appreviated in these types of documents, as it is here.  And the old French routinely makes more liberal use of the “s” throughout such as in “esgalles.”

Notre tres cher et ame cousin.  “Notre” is another of the oft-abbreviated French words.  The unique “x” form of the word “tres” can be difficult to recognize. And it is important to know that you don’t really see accents in these old documents, so the word ame (loved) and word ame (soul) would appear identical.

Taxerez chacune des villes.  The letter “r” looks different depending on where it appears within a sentence and word.  And the letter “h” is usually large and accentuated, often below the sentence line.

Par le Roy.  This decorative form appears at the start of the letter.

Noz amez et feau (l) x conseillers les tresoirs.  This heavily abbreviated line appears in the address panel and is probably the hardest part of this letter to read.

xviii ieme jour de Juillet.  Dates in these documents are in Roman numerals.  While the month might be easier (not easy) to read, the the “x” looks like a loop, the “v” looks like a “b,” and the final “i” routinely looks like a “y.”  The word “jour” is abbreviated.

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