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Early Modern English Words and Wordings

Page history last edited by Dan Towse 13 years, 2 months ago

This article reproduced by kind permission of Dr. J.A. McGowan. 

Dr. McGowan maintains and retains the copyright of this work.



devised very quickly for Ffair Rhaglen VI by Arianrhod o Gymru




The language to which I am going to attend is Early Modern English.  The term “Early Modern” was invented in the late 80s or early 90s by academics who had a hard time using the term “Renaissance” for Tudor and Stuart  England when the Renaissance had come to mainland Europe hundreds of years earlier.


There aren’t any rules--more guidelines, really.  The one thing that is almost a rule is that spellings stay consistent within a given document.  That said, I can find a dozen examples where they don’t without trying very hard—but still, it’s good hallmark to try for.  The court herald who is trying to get used to your spelling and your hand whilst reading a text on the fly will thank you for consistency.


Some things you can mostly depend on:


*I and Y are interchangeable.  Pretty much full stop


In the tail end of period it comes to be more standardised to the spellings we know now, but that’s not hard and fast.  You are even (esp. in early Early Modern English)  allowed to use a Y for the pronoun I—but not once you reach Elizabeth, really, although Spenser used forms like “Ywis” and “Ywot” (“I know”).  He was backwards-looking in terms of grammar though.



*U and V are often interchangeable.


Exception:  if there is a U at the beginning of a common word (upon, unto, use) it is almost invariably a v.  Likewise, in words like “have,” it is usually “haue.”


*U, V, and W are sometimes all interchangeable.


This boggles a bit till you read the letters out loud.  A W is a double U, and some scribes took that literally.  Hence, one of my favourite words (modern spelling virtuous) can be uertuous, vertuous, wertuus, some other variants, and my personal favourite, wertws.  I wouldn’t personally go overboard with mutating spellings to that extent unless you can find actual precedent (which I’ve found as president, incidentally) in a period document.  However, owre for our is quite common (and I’ve never found ovr).





It’s that simple.  No worrying about whether it’s after C or not.  perceeue, beleiue, freynde, receyue for modern perceive, believe, friend, receive.  Etc.


*You can use I for J, but not the other way around (except as the last “digit” in a Roman numeral, e.g., xiij, or as the pronoun “I” (see examples at the end of document))


subiect, iackanapes, iule (the month), iust, iustice, ieuel (jewel), Iames, Iudith, Ioanna.  You may notice that where initials are made into insignia (Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, e.g)., it is ALWAYS an I for the first letter of “Jane.”


Major exception:  If you have substituted an I for a J you CANNOT then choose to use Y instead.  So NOT subyect, for example. 


*Participles can take a final E, especially if they’re gerundive nouns.


Spelynge, tellynge, wryttynge (modern spelling, telling, writing) are all examples I’ve seen and used.


*As you may notice from the above, modern single and double letters are not sacred.  It’s best to take from an extant example.


*Adjectives that in modern English end in –ic or –tic tend to end in –ic(k)al or –tic(k)al.


Fantastickal, mystickal, caustical, w(h)imsickal, diabolickal e.g.


*Wh- and W- as initial letters are often interchangeable, especial in the word modernly spelt “which” (EM wych, whych, whiche, wiche, etc.)


The word we know as witch I have seen spelt which as well (but not the other way around). 


*Any noun ending in –tion in modern English probably doesn’t in EM.


Alternatives:  -cyon, -cion, -tyon, , -tione, -con, -cioun, -ciune, -ciun, -cyun.  –tion is quite late to be found consistently.


*If a noun ends in a hard consonant/long syllable, an acceptable rule of thumb is that you have the option to pluralise it with –es.


hunteres, presentes, dragonnes, islandes, werldes, jeueles (mod. jewels)


*If you see something like the above, it could also be a possessive


   seyntes feest, hunteres bow, werldes end, ieueles price


*An easy way to distinguish between the two in your mind is to use “of X” as the possessive, and this was done in period.  So whereas you can say “St. Dunstannes feast daie,” (after all, there is probably only one St Dunstan), and if you have less room on a scroll that’s entirely acceptable, you can also use “the feestyng daye of holie Seynte Dunstan.”


*Try to think of ways to invert and reword the possessive.  You can say Championnes Tourneie (Champions’ Tourney), but they probably would say something more like the conteste for the fyndyng of championnes.


*AN is often AUN, esp. in words with French roots

            graunt, daunse, plaisaunt, valiaunt



Some useful Words for Scrolls, and some of their variants

Modern English=Early Modern English


all=al, all, alle

ancient (often meaning former)= auncient(e)

authority=auctoryte, auctorite, auctoritee, aucthoryte

award=awarde, awerde

coronation=see –tion variants above.  Can also be crownaciune (etc.) and crounacon (etc.)

coronet=coronet, coronett, coronette, crownet, crownett, crownette, crounet, crounett, crounette

courteous=courteous, courtois(e), courteis(e), curteis(e)

courtesy=courtesy, courtesye, courtesie, courteisie, courteysie, courtoisye, courtoisie, curteisie

crown=crown, crowne, coronne, croun, croune

customs=custome, coutoumes, coutomes



good deeds=good/gode deedes, deedis, deeds, dedes, dedis, dedys.  Combined form: godedis

great=  gret, grete, great

Insulae Draconis:  Ilandes (or Ilondes) draconickal.  Dragonnes Isles.

jewel=iewel, iewell(e), ieuel(l)(e)

king=king(e), kyng(e)

kingdom=kingdome, kyngdom, kingedom(e), kyngedom(e)

land=land(e), londe

letters=lettres, letteres

marshal= mareshal(l), marechal(l)

nobility=nobility, nobylite, nobilyte, nobylytye, nobilittie, nobilytee, etc.

people=persons, personnes, parsons, parsuns, parsunnes

perfect= perfect, parfect, perfeict, parfeict, parfait(e), parfit

pleasant= plaisant(e), pleysant(e), playsant(e).  Can also have U after A and before N

pleasure=plaisir, pleysir

principality=principallitie, principaulte, principaulyte, principallytie

queen=quene, queyne

realm=royaume, roiaume, royaulme, roiaulme

reward= rewerde (not seen this and awerde without the final E)

service=  service, seruice, seruyce, seruis, seruyss

shire=shire, shyre, schire, schyre

sovereign:  souvereign, souverayn, souueraine, souuereign, etc.

these= these, theis, thiys

tourney= tourneie, tourney, tournoy, tounoye, tournoie

treasure=tresur, traisur, treysure, traisor, tresor

virtuous=virtuous, vertuus, uertuus, uertuous, wertuus, wertws

well=well, wel(often run into next word:  weldeserued, e.g.)


world= werld(e), world, worlde





Here follow a few real, honest-to-goodness grants of arms.  I generally slice and dice these, tailor them for recipients, etc.  As a note, it is courteous to provide both a transcription and a translation of your scroll text in with the scroll.  This makes it much, much easier for the court herald reading things out.


A very late one, to get your eye in:


To all and Singuler as well Nobles and Gentles as others to whom these presents shall come:  I Richard St. George Esquier Norroy Kinge of Armes:  of the North partes of the Realme of England greetinge.  forasmuch as it hath all wayes bene a Rule in all well Guverned Com[m]on wealthes very requisite to grace and giue, Craditt to the vertuouse and welldesruing  as well for the Incorrigement of otheres to follow there stepps in all Honorable Actions and Heroyicall vertues as alsoe to Distingwish the base and unworthy from men of Good merrytt by Appropriating vnto them sleues and there Descendants Some Signe or marke of Honor Com[m]only called Armes and because the Just reward of vertue is honor and to detayne a dutye where there weare cause to yeald it weare merely Iniustice being therefore requyred by Richard Parkes of willingeworth in the Countye of Syafford to ranck him in tha societye of men of worth as alsoe fyndinge him to be a man of Such desert as he well deserueth to be Accompted in that nomber The premyses therefore considered I haue thought fitt to Confyrme vnto him these Armes ensuinge videst:  Sables a fess Erminoys betwene three bucks heads Coped or: and For his Creast on a wreath of hic Coullers: or and Sables an Oke tree flourishing with leaues and Acornes, theron a Squirell all proper: as more plainly appeareth depicted in the margent the which Armes and Creast I the sayd Norroy Kinge of Armes doe giue graunte ratifye and Confyrme vnto the sayd Richard Parkes and to the seueral descendants of his bodye foreuer bearinge there due differences. In witness whereof I haue put to my hand and Seale of my office Dated the iiith daye of febrruarye in the xiith yeare of the Raygne of our Soueraigne Lord James by the grace of God Kinge of greate Brittayne Fraunce and Ireland Defendor of the fayth & Anno Dm 1614.



Got it?  It’s mostly i/y suibstitutions and a few of the other things I’ve already mentioned.


Going back to the mid 16th century.  Note the near-rote repetition.


Letters patent of Edward VI, granting and confirming to Sir William Paget…the arms and crest previously belonging to him:  25 March 1553.



Edward the sixt by the grace of God kinge of England ffraunce & Ireland deffendour of ye faith and in yerth of ye Englond & yrlond ye supreme hed, To all & singuler Nobles [et] gentlemen kinge of armes heraulde & other officers of armes unto whome these our l’res patente shall come greting.  Fforasmuche as aunciently from ye begynynge it hath [bene] deuysed and ordeined that the valiaunt and vertuous actes of excellent parsonnes shuld be notoryouslye commended to the worlde with sundry monumentes and remembraunces of their good desertes among the which one of the chefest and most vsuall hath bene the bearing of Signes and tokens in Shildes called Armes the which arre none other thinges than evydences and demonstracons of [prowes] and valeure diuersly distributed according to the qualities and desertes of the personnes that suche signes and tokens of the diligent [pithfull] and couragious might appeare before the negligent cowarde and ignoraunt subiectes and be an efficient cause to moue stirre and kindle the hartes of men to the Imytacon of vertue and noblenes.  We not myndyng the derogacon or taking a waye of anny parte of thauctoritie of so auncyent an ordre but rather tendring the maynten[a]nce therof to thintent, that such as hath don commendable seruice, to their prince and countre, eyther in warre or in peace may both receyue due honnour, in their lives, and derive the same succesively to their pos[terity after] them we are contented & pleased vpon consideracon yf our right trusty and welbeloued Sir Will[ia]m Paget knight, Lord Paget of Be[audeserte] hath bene heretofore as w[e]ll by our most deere ffather king Henry the .viii.the of most famous memory. As by vs in our tyme advaunced, and called to the place of honnour, for his woorthy and comendable seruice entending to haue the same notified by signes and tokens of nobilitie set furthe in due ordre.  And therfore by thaduyse and good reporte of our right trusty and right entierly beloued Cousen and Counsellour John Duke of Northumberland our high Marshal of Englande we haue geuen, graunted confirmed, ratified, established, and by these presentes do giue, graunte, confirme, ratyfye, and establishe vnto our sayd right trusty and welbeloued Sir Will[ia]m Paget knight, Lord Paget of Beaudesert, and to his posterytie for euer, the same signes and tokens in shildes called Armes with ther apertenance whiche he heretofore had Receyued of one of owre kinges of Armes which had none auctoryte for the same.  That is to say, Sable, a crose engraled betwene in .iiii. Egletes argent vpon the crose .v. lionsene passant Sables armed and langed gul[es].  And to the Creste vpon the helme a Demy tygre Sables Rampant fashed tothed with a crowne about the neke argent vpon and wreth argent and Sables Mantled of the same.  Which armes and crest, in consideracon aforesayed, we haue giuen, graunted, confirmed, ratified and establyshed vnto, and for the sayde Sir Will[ia]m Paget knight lord Paget of Beaudesert and to his posteryte ye armes and creastes aforesayde wt thap[ur]tenances, to vse, beare, and shewe for euermore in Shilde, Cotearmure, or otherwyse, and therin to be reuested, at his lybertye and pleasure, without anny impedyment, let or interupcon.  In witnes whereof we haue cawsed theis our l’res to be made Patentes witnes our Self at Westmyster the xxv of Marche the Seuenth yere of our reigne.



And, now that you’ve got your eye in, here’s one from the late 15th century.  Don’t get discouraged:


To all maner men and most[especially] to al nobles gentilmen and gentilwomen thiys presents herynge or seyng humble recomendaciun by me Yrlande kyng of armes and helth_ in or lorde eulastyng for so myche as maistir Thomas Barow clerk hatyh many yerys vertuusly and trewly contened in the seruis of the highte_ and myghty prynce rycharde the duce of glocestre whos wertws abylite [...] hath desarowed the perfeccione of gret honore and wurschipe  I therefor the forsaid yrlande kyng of armes in consideraciune of the promissis and in acoyragyage also of the sam maistir thomas to the continuance of hys said wertuus disposicyun with more honor  and wurschipe dewise and orden armes and conysance for the sam maistir thomas and to hym ande to his hers by thiys presentis give the sam armes to ber and vse in al maner places and aswel in Wear ase in peauxe.  In peace the armes to hym bi me dewised and gewen bi thiys that is to say a schodjune [schochune] of sabil a row of sylver in his kynd a barr of gold in the chef too flour delyse of the sam.  The wych blasun and armes I the forsaid yrlande lynge of armes wittnes thus born belong to no odr perssun within the realme of ynglang wych armes and cousayns [I think the was meant to be conaysans] i the forsaid yrlande kynge of armes giwe and grant by thiys presentis vnto the abowe wryttun maistir thomas barow and hys heres to haue use hald ber and enyoye wythe his liberte and at his pleasur wtout... impedyment of any persunn or persuns forevermor.  In wittnes of the wych I the forsaide kynge of armes do wrytt  thys presentis ande sett to the sam the seal of my armes and sygned them wt my sygn manual the sext day of Januare the sextene yer of the regne of kyng Edward the forth.







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