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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Less is more: Dragon's Bowle for Pan Vitus Polonius

Dragon's Bowle for Pan Vitus Polonius

Finished piece with 'Great Seal' of Elffin I, called the Great. Official seal on reverse (not shown). Text by Genevieve, Latin translation by Arianhwy Wen, called Mala. Iron gall ink by Órlaíth, on parchment. Photo courtesy Isabel Peregrinus.

Dragon's Bowle Vitus Polonius

Closeup of text, while on the slope. I used a pencil topline and indented baseline (using a hard point tool), and erased the topline.


Ductus, taken from the exemplar, and sample line height tests, plus the capital letters from the original.

Latin version
Omnibus paribus nobilibus gentilibus haec praesentia audiendibus aut videndibus, Siridean magnissimus potentissimus Jahanaraque serenissima bellissima reges silvae draconis, salutem.
Vobis probamus Vitum Polonium equitem fidelissimum nostrem qui nos iuvabat decoriter in castro alicubique. Amat hospitalitatum; nemo suum castrum linquit sine absconscione aut sine auxilium. Suae mensae cum cibo gemunt; suae cupae vino propriae cellae suae. Exemplar liberalitate est.
Sic eidem Vitum agnoscemus; eum damus sciphum draconis. Unus paucibus exemplaribus qui incarnit spiritum cordemque silvae draconis.
Fit manibus nostris anno societatis (quin-qua-gesimus secundus).lij. intra nonas augusti apud aula Raglani.

English version

Unto all peers, nobles, gentlemen and gentlewomen seeing or hearing these our presents, greatest and most powerful Siridean, and most serene Jahanara, paragon of beauty, Sah and Bambisn of the draconic wood, greetings.
We present to you Vitus Polonius, our most faithful knight, who serves us with grace both in camp and elsewhere. He loves hospitality; no one leaves his camp without being offered shelter and succour. His tables groan with food; his casks with wine, all from his own cellars. He is an exemplar of liberality.
Thus we acknowledge that same Vitus and give unto him the dragon’s bowl. He is one of a very few who embody/personate the spirit and heart of Drachenwald.
Done by our hands AS 52 in the nones of august, in the inner court of Raglan Castle.


The Dragon's Bowle is a rare honour in Drachenwald, 'awarded at the discretion of the Crown to those who have displayed notable attention to authenticity'.

As I've travelled and camped with Pan Vitus and household many times, I wanted to emphasise his love of good medieval food and drink, and the hospitality of his beautiful and functional encampment in particular.

Design choices

This writ is based on a 12th c letter at the British Library, now called Add Ch 54148.

Description: Letter of Pope Alexander III (b. c. 1100/05, d. 1181; reg. 1159-1181) to Geoffrey, Dean of Rouen, the archdeacons and the Chapter of Rouen, confirming the moiety of the manor of Kilham, Yorkshire, granted to them by King Henry II (b. 1133, d. 1189; reg. 1154-1189). At Tours, 5th Kalends of December (27 November 1162).
So it's an uncomplicated business letter.

However, because it comes from the pope's office, it's written in a beautiful 'Protogothic documentary script' (according to the BL website), which I fell in love with immediately. The spaciousness and airiness of the hand amazed me, considering this piece is described as 195x205mm, or about 8" square. So the x-height (height of the average letter) is tiny, with apparently enormous spaces allowed between lines.

One reason our Society texts don't 'look' like medieval exemplars is that we typically write in English, while the original manuscripts are in Latin.

In Insulae Draconis we have an embarrassment of riches of Latin-literate scribes. I tapped HE Arianhwy Wen for a translation of a short text into Latin, so the text would look more like the original.

In doing the practice piece, I counted words and line spaces and realised I would struggle fitting my text into my A5 piece of parchment.

So I dug out L.C. Hector's The handwriting of English Documents, which includes a fine chapter on medieval abbreviations in Latin (just because they're English documents doesn't mean they're in English).

I then annotated my working text to remind myself where I had to substitute an abbreviation for the full text.

So my working text that I copied from looked like this - the letters in brackets were omitted in favour of short forms. You can see the result in the closeup picture.
Om(n)ib--(us) parib(us)z nobilib(us)z gentilib(us)z haec praesentia audiendib(us)z aut videndib(us)z, Siridean magni(ssimu)--s potenti(ssimu)--s Jahanaraque sereni--(ssima) belli--(ssima) reges silvae drac(onis)--, salutem.
Vob/(is) probam9(us) Vitum Polonium equitem fidelis--(simum) nos--(trem) qui nos iuvabat decoriter in castro alicubiq;(ue). Amat hospitalitat--(um); nemo suum castrum linquit sine absconscione aut sine auxil(ium). Suae mensae cum cibo gemunt; suae cupae vino /pro/priae cellae suae. Exemplar liberalitate est.
Sic eidem Vitum agnoscem9(us); eum dam9(us) sciphum draconis. Unus paucibz(us) exemplaribz(us) qui incarnit spirit--(um) cordemq;(ue) silvae draconis.
Fit manibz(us) nos--(tris) anno societatis (quin-qua-gesimus secundus).lij. intra nonas aug--(usti) apud aula Raglani.


Parchment, ruled with hardpoint tool and pencil
Oak gall ink made by Lady Órlaíth
Metal nib dip pen


The original exemplar is sealed with a lead papal bull - the images show both sides of it. I was intrigued that the silk wasn't braided, but simply threaded through the parchment. Having a large seal hung from the piece, to me, is an important part of the whole design. I thank Lady Constanza for the use of her red silk to complement my yellow, to follow the original as closely as possible.

HLady Lyonet Schwarzdrachen herald lent me her pan of beeswax and resin, and the 'Great Seal' of Elffin I, as well as one of the official Drachenwald seals. 

Heating the wax in a pan of water over a gas ring at Raglan, to pour the seal, was tricky. There might have been a small victory dance when it worked.

Good stuff

I love working with parchment and oak gall ink, and this was a lovely hand to learn. I intend to use it again.

Stuff to work on

The line spacing of the original is broader than my version, so I need to keep working on very small letters in a generous space. 

Labour tally

Research: 3 hrs
Text: 1 hr
Translation: unknown
Layout: 2 hrs
Practice and calligraphy: 3 hrs total
Sealing: a rather fraught 20 minutes

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