This letter L is an example of a cadel initial, or lettre cadeau, with anthropomorphic features; that is, it is a letter created out of knot-work and caricatured or grotesque faces of people (actually, it is zoomorphic as well, with that lovely panting dog). It appears on leaf 2 of Folger MS V.a.320, an English manuscript version of Sir Henry Finch’s Nomotechnia, viz. the art of law that was copied in 1607, possibly by the herald and antiquarian Augustine Vincent, who signs the last page, and whose initials adorn the limp vellum binding. 1
Each of the four books of this treatise begins with a carefully worked-out flourished initial, but none as elaborate as the initial L. If you click to enlarge the image below and look closely, you’ll see pencil outlines underneath the pen flourishes; you can also see a date, 23 May 1607, written into the two compartments in the stem of the initial T (image on the far right).
The term “cadel” comes from the French word for gift, cadeau, and cadel initials were most common in the fifteenth century, but they occasionally appear in sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century documents and writing manuals as well. Peter Beal’s A Dictionary of English Manuscript Terminology 1450-2000 (Oxford UP, 2008) defines cadel as
a decorative flourish on certain lettering in medieval or later manuscripts, characterized by the extension and elaboration of the penstrokes on letters, usually at the beginning of particular lines. The more convoluted examples include features such as human heads or other figures and designs.
Bill Hildebrandt’s Calligraphic flourishing: a new approach to an ancient art (David Godine P, 1995) provides a technical account and vocabulary for different types of cadel flourishes and describes a true cadel as one made “with a single line without retracing any part, where the trace may cross itself only once at any crossing point, and where the trace must cross any line in the pattern that it touches.” False cadels have more than one set of lines, and cadels were frequently enhanced with loops to the outside corners, or opened with ends that formed into majuscule letters.
If I’m understanding Hildebrandt correctly, the example below is an example of a false cadel: a true cadel with another true cadel superimposed on it.
The Folger has loads of other examples of lettres cadeaux, predominantly in two illustrated manuscripts, the Thomas Trevelyon miscellany of 1608 (Folger MS V.b.232) and the Thomas Fella miscellany, created between 1585 and 1622 (Folger MS V.a.311). If you click on the shelfmarks, you can scroll down to “linked resources” to view these manuscripts in their entirety. The images below, of the letter L, indicate the wide range of knot-work patterns used by professional and amateur scribes:
Back to Augustine Vincent, the early owner and potential scribe of Nomotechnia: Vincent owned perhaps the most important of the Folger’s eighty-two First Folios, the copy that the printer, William Jaggard, gave to him (STC 22273 Fo. 1 no.01). Vincent has written “Ex dono Willi[am] Jaggard Typographi. A[nn]o 1623” on the title page, and a surviving fragment of the original binding has Vincent’s blind-stamped heraldic badge. A year earlier, Jaggard had printed his friend Vincent’s A discouerie of errours (see my earlier post, Marginalizing heralds and antiquaries, for more on one of our copies of this work).
The Folger has a handful of Vincent manuscripts, and at least four other books owned by him, including a writing manual, Martin Billingsley’s The Pen’s excellencie (London, 1618?) (Folger shelfmark: STC 3062; see also STC 4606 Copy 5, 229- 838f, and STC 12996 Copy 2).
Vincent’s copy of Finch’s Nomotechnia certainly deserves further study, and I invite others to place it in the context of other copies of Finch’s treatise, and other manuscripts and books owned by Vincent. To that end, I’ll leave you with images of the title page, with the title written and pasted into an engraved frame, and the final page of the treatise, with Vincent’s signature.