Medieval manuscripts in Dutch Collections
Medieval manuscripts in Dutch Collections

A child’s alphabet

Alphabet and prayers. Latin. Parchment, 4 ff., 208x151 mm. South Holland, c. 1480. The Hague, MM : ms. 10 D 34

As literacy grew in the late Middle Ages, new kinds of texts were written to teach children to read. As is still the case today, the first text children learned to read was the alphabet. In manuscripts from the 12th-14th centuries, the alphabet was sometimes written in a margin or at the end of a manuscript where some extra parchment could be found. In the 15th century, children received their own books, or booklets (as they were often quite short). This example, which is in the Meermanno Museum, is indeed very short, and comprises only 4 folios.

The booklet begins with an alphabet written in very clear textualis script. Small red dots separate each letter so that they are easy to read. For each letter that has more than one form, the various alternates are given. The alphabet therefore begins with three A’s, and has two R’s and two S’s; the alphabet ends with some common abbreviations found in Latin texts. One can imagine a child repeating the letters as his fingers follow their forms.

When the child mastered the alphabet, he then memorized the Pater Noster, the Ave Maria, and the Credo, texts which are all provided in the booklet. The decoration, including a dragon popping out of a shell, would have delighted a child.



  • P. Boeren, Catalogus van de handschriftenvan het Rijksmuseum Meermanno-Westreenianum. Den Haag, 1979, p. 122

  • K.M. Rudy, “An Illustrated Mid-Fifteenth-Century Primer for a Flemish Girl: British Library, Harley Ms. 3828,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 69 (2006): 51-94.

See also

  • A psalter from Royal libraries

    Psalter. Latin, Parchment, 185 ff., 245x177 mm. Northern England, 1190-1200. Leiden, UB : ms. BPL 76 A

  • Flemish surgical instruments

    Small manual for a surgeon, based on the Cyrurgie by Meester Jan Yperman (incomplete). Flemish. Paper, 130x95 mm. Flanders, last quarter of the 15th century. Leiden, UB : ms. BPL 3094

  • The Zwolle bible

    Bible. Latin. Parchment, 6 volumes, c. 530x390 mm. Brethren of the Common Life, Zwolle, 1464-1476. Utrecht, UB : Cat 31 and 15.C.11

  • The Utrecht Psalter

    Psalter. Latin. Parchment, 91 ff., 330x255 mm. Benedictine monastery of St. Peter, Hautvillers near Reims, c. 820-835. Utrecht, UB : Cat. 32 / 1

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