History of Spanish Handwriting

Spanish documents from the period 1500 to 1800 can be divided into two categories based on the handwriting style used:

  • Documents in Secretary style, called in Spanish, Cortesana and its more challenging derivative, Procesal, used from 1500 to 1640.
  • Documents in the Humanistic style called in Spanish as Itálica, used from 1550 to 1800.

View Samples of these different style

¡Sí, se puede!

In reading an old document written in any language the first attitude to develop is one of “Sí, se puede.” Yes, one can read these documents. This study will emphasize that, with practice, anyone can learn to read any documents written in Spanish after 1640 from anywhere in Spain or Latin America. Likewise reading parish records from 1500 to 1640 can be learned and, with patience and practice, longer narrative documents such as wills, can be mastered.

Looking at the sample of Itálica writing in Figure 1 should reassure the reader that reading Spanish documents in the Itálica handwriting style, especially those that are of a short format which regularly repeats, such as parish sacramental records, can be mastered by anyone with practice. For those with a little fluency in Spanish, the ability to extract data from longer documents in Itálica and, even in Cortesana or Procesal for those with a short repetitive format, can be mastered with patience and study.

If, when learning to read with longer texts in full transcription or with Procesal handwriting from before 1600, one needs more practice before going into the archives, in addition to the website references will be made to the books on paleography in the bibliography the end of this chapter. All of these offer a wide variety of documents, in several handwriting styles, that can provide practice by reading and comparing with the transcriptions contained therein. To enable readers to quickly find sections of these paleographic studies that would benefit them, references will appear throughout the chapters of this book to particular explanations or documents and transcriptions found in those books. Most of the books can be obtained at large university and public libraries or through Inter Library Loan.

This study only deals with documents written in Spanish, or Castilian as it is more properly referred to in the Iberian Peninsula. Although three other languages are spoken in Spain, Catalan, Galego and Euskera (Basque), of these for all practical purposes historical records between 1500 and 1800 are only found in Castilian and Catalan. Furthermore, documents appear in Latin in the pre 1500 period in Crown of Castille and in Catalonia until at least 1800. Learning to read documents in those languages is beyond the scope of this study.