The English Renaissance “Timeline”: Part III (1 January 2016)

“Habits of behavior begin with the control of the hand, with the formations of the hand.”

– Jonathan Goldberg[1]

In “The English Renaissance ‘Timeline’: Part II,” I discussed how I came upon the works of English Renaissance calligrapher Esther Inglis, specifically through her drawing of an emblem from Jean-Jacques Boissard’s Emblemes (1588). The emblem became even more interesting to me as I thought about it in relation to the self-portrait included in one of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s copies of her Octonaries upon the vanitie and inconstancie of the world (1600/01). The Folger’s is one of nine copies Inglis made of Calvinist theologian Antoine de la Roche Chandieu’s Octonaries.[2] The image I included last week was a detail of Inglis’s self-portrait, whereas, in the image below, you can see her self-portrait within the larger context of the manuscript:


Fig. 1    Self-Portrait of Esther Inglis (1v) and “Octonarie 1” (2r) from Inglis’s Octonaries (1600/01). Folger MS V.a.91, 1v || 2r.[3] (Click here to zoom in.)

There are apparently forty-seven octonaries – eight-line stanzas – in the manuscripts, each illustrated with flowers and written in a different calligraphic style. One of the most fascinating and ornate styles she uses, to me, is lettera mancina, or “mirror writing”:


Fig. 2    “Octo XXX” and Example of “Mirror Writing” from Inglis’s Octonaries (1607). Folger MS V.a.92, 34v || 35r. (Click here to zoom in.)


Fig. 3    “Octo XXX” and Example of “Mirror Writing” from Inglis’s Octonaries (1600/01). Folger MS V.a.91, 30v ||31r. (Click here to zoom in.)

The 1600/01 manuscript is written in French and English, with translations of the octonaries appearing on facing pages. Inglis’s use of “mirror writing” is particularly interesting to me within this context – it is a reversal, or translation, of the French. However, it is also a “reflection” of Inglis as, again, writer and maker of text, as well as the calligraphic nuance with which she pens and translates the octonaries, making each one more memorable for readers – an aide-mémoire.

The intricacy of Inglis’s penmanship and drawings illustrates that, while Inglis copies Antoine de la Roche Chandieu’s printed octonaries, she does not “lack originality” or merely “reproduce” the “designs [of] others,” as some scholars have suggested.[4] Indeed, the self-portrait she draws and includes in the 1600/01 manuscript announces this at its outset – namely through the prominence of her hand. By depicting herself with the instruments of literary composition, Inglis’s self-portrait situates her, visually, as a writer and maker of texts, with her first and last name bookending the drawn frame. Notice how the letters of her name, written in Roman majuscule, so closely mimic print. In this way, her penmanship is very similar to that of English Renaissance calligrapher Thomas Fella, whose “drawings” of printed media I wrote about in an earlier post. She copies printed words from la Roche Chandieu, but through her use of multiple calligraphic styles and floral illustrations, asserts the authority of her own hand and the originality it brings to her works.

As I conclude my three part series on “The English Renaissance Timeline,” I leave you with two more of my favorite images and examples of Inglis’s penmanship, as well as a list of references should you like to know more about Inglis:


Fig. 4    “Octo XIII” from Inglis’s Octonaries (1600/01). Folger MS V.a.91, 13v ||14r. (Click here to zoom in.)


Fig. 5    “Octo XLI” from Inglis’s Octonaries (1600/01). Folger MS V.a.91, 41v||42r. (Click here to zoom in.)

Further Reading:
Frye, Susan. Pens and Needles: Women’s Textualities in Early Modern England. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2010.

Knoppers, Laura Lunger, Ed. The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Women’s Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009.

Ziegler, Georgianna. “‘More than feminine boldness’: the gift books of Esther Inglis.” Women Writing and the Reproduction of Culture in Tudor and Stuart England. Ed. Mary E. Burke, et al. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 2000: 19-37.

[1] Jonathan Goldberg, Writing Matter: From the Hands of the English Renaissance. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1990: 55.

[2] To clarify, the Folger Shakespeare Library houses two copies of Inglis’s Octonaries – one dated 1600/01 and the other 1607.

[3] All images identified as “Folger MS” or “FSL Collection” are here used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License:

[4] Elspeth Yeo, “Inglis, Esther (1570/71 – 1624),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.

Amy K. Burnette is a 6th year doctoral candidate in the Department of English at Syracuse University where she is currently at work on her dissertation project, Praxis Memoriae: Memory as Aesthetic Technique in English Renaissance Literature, 1580-1630.


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