Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

Pen Trials And Other Doodles In 13th And 14th Century Books

Share this:

Doodle by bored medieval school boy. A 15th-century doodle in the lower margin of a manuscript containing Juvenal’s Satires, a popular classical text used to teach young children about morals. Photo: Carpentras, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 368.

Doodle by bored medieval school boy. A 15th-century doodle in the lower margin of a manuscript containing Juvenal’s Satires, a popular classical text used to teach young children about morals. Photo: Carpentras, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 368.

AT Leiden University, Holland, Erik Kwakkel has been checking 13th and 14th Century for ‘pen trials’, “sketches, doodles, and practice strokes a medieval scribe would make while testing the ink flow of a pen or quill.”

Kwakkel tells Colossal:

From a book historical perspective pen trials are interesting because a scribe tends to write them in his native hand. Sometimes, when they moved to a different writing culture (another country or religious house) they adapted their writing style accordingly when copying real text—books. The trials, however, are done in the style of the region they were trained in, meaning the individuals give some information about themselves away.

Medieval scribes tested their pens by writing short sentences and drawing doodles. The pen trials above are from Oxford, Bodleian Library, Lat. misc. c. 66 (15th century)

Medieval scribes tested their pens by writing short sentences and drawing doodles. The pen trials above are from Oxford, Bodleian Library, Lat. misc. c. 66 (15th century)

Leiden UB VLQ 92

Leiden UB VLQ 92

Students with pointy noses. Leiden, University Library, MS BPL 6 C (13th century).

Students with pointy noses. Leiden, University Library, MS BPL 6 C (13th century).

Doodle discovered in a 13th-century law manuscript (Amiens BM 347).

Doodle discovered in a 13th-century law manuscript (Amiens BM 347).

Medieval smiley face. Conches, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 7 (main text 13th century, doodle 14th or 15th century).

Medieval smiley face. Conches, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 7 (main text 13th century, doodle 14th or 15th century).

doodles 1

Frollow Kwakkel on Twitter. He blogs at medievalbooks.