‘Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens’

IMG_2353The story of Elizabeth I, daughter of Ann Boleyn and Henry VIII, and Mary, Queens of Scots, is well-known from films and TV series, but this exhibition at the British Library (October 2021–February 2022) approaches these two monarchs from the point of view of documentary evidence – and much more. Bearing in mind how fragile much of these papers must be it is quite amazing how many have survived in good condition and are exhibited here. But don’t be put off by ‘boring’ letters and charters, there is much else here to excite the eye, but this post will focus on the written word.

 

 

IMG_2354But starting with images, here are two glorious miniatures of the two Queens painted by the incomparable Nicholas Hilliard. On the left, Elizabeth I in 1580–5, and on the right Mary, Queen of Scots in 1576. These are both really small and show well the amazing skill of the great artist. Both are in the Royal Collection Trust.

 

IMG_2356Elizabeth’s handwriting when she was young was neat, precise and very clear. There is certainly an Italic feel to this with the letter a, but there is also a touch of Humanistic Minuscule with the arches on the letters n and h. This is a translation into Latin, French and Italian of English prayers and meditations put together by Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth wife. It was presented by Elizabeth to her father, the king, in December 1545.

IMG_2357By 1563, though, the precise and careful script of Elizabeth has deteriorated to what is described in the excellent catalogue as being written in her ‘atrocious cursive or ‘business’ hand, which had replaced the elegant italic hand of her youth’. Here she is reserving the right to choose whether she would ever marry, but had not decided not to marry!

 

 

 

 

IMG_2358The ‘scrawl’ of Elizabeth contrasts with the still precise handwriting of Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1571. This is written by her to Elizabeth after the Ridolfi Plot had been discovered and Mary is writing in despair at her continued imprisonment, saying that if she can’t get support from Elizabeth then she must turn to other sources. Her neat and unadorned signature is at the bottom right of this letter – ‘Marie R’.

 

 

 

IMG_2359The famous signature of Elizabeth I and the ways in which she embellished with flourishes the descenders is well demonstrated here, in contrast with that of Mary. It seems to be pretty consistent throughout her life and was used here on a document which supported the Earl of Mar being regent to James VI in 1571. The script used for the body of the text – Gothic Cursive – contrasts with Elizabeth’s Italic signature. Note the four vertical slits on the left-hand side which indicate where the document would have been sealed after folding.

 

 

IMG_2360Mary was involved in plotting, if only to escape imprisonment, and codes were often used. Documents in code were also sent from the Tudor court. This document, though, is by Mary herself and written to Patrick, Master of Gray, as Scottish ambassador in 1584 to England. Mary wanted to return to Scotland or remain in England but to be free. This, of course, never happened and this letter was intercepted by one of Sir Francis Walsingham’s spies and deciphered by Thomas Phelippes.

This superb exhibition is certainly well worth seeing to give greater insight and background to these two queens, and the exhibition catalogue is, typical of the British Library, beautifully designed and a joy to read through, with thorough, well-researched text – and absolutely worth buying if you can’t make the exhibition.

 

 

 

 

Colour in the pen

CIMG2478Some people think that calligraphy is essentially black writing with perhaps a touch of red. How limiting! Calligraphy can be any and every colour. One way of using colour that I really like is where the pen actually mixes the colour, as on the right. It’s not one line one colour and one line another, but two colours which are mixed, somewhat randomly, as you write.

 

 

 

CIMG2469It is a good idea to choose two colours which have greater contrast than the two in the piece above, but the extract was about water and fishing, so to echo that I chose a bluey-green and a greeny-blue. The text was Welsh with an English translation. So, to start I wrote  out the text in differing styles and heights of letters; after experimenting I decided on Italic for the Welsh and tiny dancing capitals for the English. I had a smallish piece of vellum so I didn’t want to use a large nib. I chose a Mitchell/Manuscript size 5 for both styles of writing, and a size 6 for the title and dedication line to be positioned at the bottom, and then wrote out the words

CIMG2471The lines were of very varied lengths, so a right or left alignment would leave a rather ragged edge. I decided on a centred arrangement after a bit of experimentation. I cut up the lines, measured each one and marked the centre point then placed them on another piece of paper to see how it would look, and where the title and dedication line should be positioned.

 

CIMG2473Once all the decisions had been made, I prepared the vellum (see my Illumination DVD and Illumination: Gold and Colour book here), ruled the lines and mixed up the paint. Writing with two colours in the pen is not quite as hit-and-miss as it may seem at first. With this process individual letters usually consist of more than one colour, and if this doesn’t come out of the pen then it needs to be ‘engineered’. The Calligraphy Clip (see below) shows how to do this. The pen isn’t filled as is usual, but one colour just ‘tipped’ on to the underneath of the pen with a brush, As each stroke is written, the colours in the previous letters and also the ones above need to be taken into account to ensure an overall even effect – not too much of one colour, not too much of the other, and not too much of the mix. Sometimes it’s necessary to go over some strokes with a different colour to ensure this. It certainly doesn’t encourage rhythm and flow, but can be most effective. I find it very appropriate for when I’m asked to write out pieces for weddings or anniversaries; each colour represents one person and the mix of colours suggests their lives together.

CIMG2625This piece has more contrast in the colours, as they are vermilion and ultramarine.

 

 

 

 

IMG_0039This Calligraphy Clip explains how to use two colours in the pen and demonstrates the process, and some of the pitfalls.