The Exeter Book’s hand is now digital

Exeter Book Hand (EBH) is a facsimile font set based on the calligraphic style found in the 10th-century Exeter Book.

Facsimile Level

EBH aims to be historically authentic through faithful renderings of archaic letterforms, historical ligatures, punctuation and diacritical marks found in the manuscript.

Diverse Styles

EBH comes in four styles: Facsimile, Alternates, Initials, and Runes. The collection is ideal for the creation of facsimiles, palaeography resources and other products with medieval motifs.

Open Source

These fonts are shared under the SIL Open Font License, which means that they are free, and one can easily modify their design or add additional glyphs.

About the Exeter Book

The Exeter Book (Exeter, Cathedral Library, MS 3501) is a remarkable anthology and one of the four major codices of Old English literature that have survived, along with the Beowulf manuscript, the Junius manuscript, and the Vercelli Book. It acquired its name because it has been in the care of the Exeter Cathedral since it was donated to the library there by Bishop Leofric, sometime before 1072.

Written in well-formed Square minuscule, the book was produced around 960–80 in a scriptorium in southwest England. Though damaged and incomplete in several ways, its 123 written leaves are largely well preserved. The content is made up of nearly 100 poetic riddles and some 40 poems and elegies, including such classics as The Wanderer and The Seafarer, which have inspired writers from Ezra Pound to JRR Tolkien. It is also significant in that it contains two poems signed by Cynewulf, one of the few named Old English poets.

In 2016 the Exeter Book was added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, making it an example of global significance. It is a crucial remnant of a once flourishing oral tradition and, had it not survived, Old English literature would be much narrower in scope.

About this Project

The Digital Exeter Book Hand is an independent online resource that aims to encourage the study and appreciation of the scribal hand of the Exeter Book. Currently, the project has two objectives: one is to create a digital revival of the Exeter Book hand, and another is to provide an interactive book-hand edition of selected poems from the Exeter Book for students and general audiences.

Read & Explore

The Script: English Square Minuscule

Before the term ‘Square minuscule’ was introduced, the script of the Exeter Book was deemed ‘a standard example’ of the English hand of the 10th century by Sir Edward Maunde Thompson (Conner 51). By ‘standard’ he meant the hand in which the scribes of that period aspired to write. There are variations in the thickness of the various letter forms. For instance, the letter m demonstrates thick vertical strokes, the letter b exhibits an alternation of thick and thin strokes on the square axis, and the letter g illustrates the alternation of thick and thin strokes on the diagonal axis. The balance of light and heavy strokes in the fine Square minuscule is the result of the intersection of strokes at or near right angles on the square and diagonal axes (51).

The development of Insular minuscule as a book hand in England dates from the end of the 7th century, coinciding with the emergence of earlier hybrid scripts. By the late 9th century, Insular minuscule was undergoing changes, first becoming angular and upright, and then more round under the influence of the Caroline minuscule. From c. 920, the script entered its square phase, and the hand of the Tollemache Orosius (London, British Library, Add. 47967) marks the emergence of the prototype for English Square minuscule (Roberts 39). This reformed Insular minuscule became the standard script in the 10th century and was widely employed for texts both in Latin and Old English. As demonstrated in the Exeter Book, the overall shape of the script is very upright, with long ascenders and descenders and plenty of space between lines, while the ornamentation takes the form of initials made up of elements common in both Germanic and Celtic art.

The People Behind the Words

Medieval manuscripts are the product of intellectual efforts of the time. Many of them were works of art, and surviving examples are priceless. From the beginning of monastic history, the copying of books, regardless of their educational value, was a time-consuming and painstaking process – stealing them was high crime. One scribe, after copying the 12th-century Arnstein Bible, wrote in the colophon:

Liber . . . quem si quis abstulerit, morte moriatur; in sartagine coquatur; caducus morbus instet eum et febres; et rotatur, et suspendatur. Amen.
[If anyone steals this book, let him die in death; let him be fried in the pan; let the falling sickness and fever seize him; let him be broken on the wheel, and hanged. Amen.] (qtd. in Drogin 8)

Today, it seems strange and unnecessary to chain the books to shelves or call down the wrath of God upon someone who attempts to escape with a sacred text. But in the ages before printing, books were highly valued in their scarcity and workmanship. Medieval handwriting is not only an artistic manifestation of the virtuosic technique of the one handling a quill, but also a reflection of the cultural values of its national origins. The following illustrations from a 12th-century manuscript (Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek, MS Patr. 5, fol. 1v) depict some of the labour involved in the making a book:

The Font: EBH — A Collection of 4 Type Styles

EBH (Short of Exeter Book Hand) is a faithful rendition of the Exeter Book’s hand in four styles, complete with Old English characters such as eth (ð), thorn (Þ) and wynn (ƿ). It covers the great majority of letter forms, punctuation and diacritical marks found in the manuscript, with an extension of the modern character set to make the typeface usable today. It comes in four types:

Facsimile is complete with Old English characters, ligatures, and archaic or special forms of letters (e.g. long S, bowed R, and three different shapes of Y). It also contains the medieval punctuation and abbreviations employed by the scribe.
Þæs ofereode þisses swa mæg:⁊
Alternates offers some contemporary characters interpreted in the style of the scribal hand (e.g. lowercase R and S), as well as letters that were not used by English scribes in the 10th century (e.g. J and W). This character set omits most of the ligatures but adds numerals, punctuation and symbols commonly used in the present day.
Bliþe sceal bealoleas heorte.
Runes, as its name suggests, covers the Old English runes that are present in the manuscript, plus the ones used in the 10th century. (In the Exeter MS 3501, runes are most often found in riddles and sporadically in the Message of the Husband and two poems with Cynewulf’s runic signatures.)
Initials features the enlarged and often decorated letters that were used to mark the beginning of each poem. As with the other styles in this set, this font contains not only the initials that appear in the manuscript, but also the creation of new ones.
Digital Humanities

300+ Glyphs



You can edit the text below!

Exeter-Book Hand Facsimile

Exeter-Book Hand Alternates

Exeter-Book Hand Initials

Exeter-Book Hand Runes

Swa þes middangeard ealra dogra gehwam dreoseð ond fealleþ, forþon ne mæg weorþan wis wer, ær he age wintra dæl in woruldrice. Wita sceal geþyldig, ne sceal no to hatheort ne to hrædwyrde, ne to wac wiga ne to wanhydig, ne to forht ne to fægen, ne to feohgifre ne næfre gielpes to georn, ær he geare cunne. Beorn sceal gebidan, þonne he beot spriceð, oþþæt collenferð cunne gearwe hwider hreþra gehygd hweorfan wille. Ongietan sceal gleaw hæle hu gæstlic bið, þonne ealre þisse worulde wela weste stondeð, swa nu missenlice geond þisne middangeard winde biwaune weallas stondaþ, hrime bihrorene, hryðge þa ederas. Woriað þa winsalo, waldend licgað dreame bidrorene, duguþ eal gecrong, wlonc bi wealle.
So this middle-earth fails and falls each day; therefore a man may not become wise before he owns a share of winters in the kingdom of this world. A wise man must be patient, nor must he ever be too hot tempered, nor too hasty of speech nor too weak in battles, nor too heedless, nor too fearful, nor too cheerful, nor too greedy for wealth nor ever too eager for boasting before he knows for certain. A man must wait, when he speaks a boast, until, stout-hearted, he knows for certain whither the thought of the heart may wish to turn. The prudent man must realize how ghastly it will be when all the wealth of this world stands waste, as now variously throughout this middle-earth walls stand beaten by the wind, covered with rime, snow-covered the dwellings.


The zip folder includes the latest version of the fonts, an overview of the character set and a user guide. (1.6 MB) EBH-all-glyphs.pdf (928 KB) Source and Documentation (Github)

The latest version of EBH was released on 2 January 2022.

Frequently Asked Questions

They are licensed under the OFL – the Open Font License, which means they are open source. You are allowed to download and install them for free and modify them if you wish.
This feature is on by default in most graphic design and office applications. In Microsoft Word, however, you must manually enable automatic ligature substitution on the Advanced tab of the Font dialog box. This is described in the README file that comes after downloading the font.
If you are interested in other insular-style fonts, you may wish to check out e.g. BeowulfOT by Peter S. Baker and Insularis Minuscula by Juan José Marcos. Both scholars have created an admirable range of historical script fonts with advanced typographic features.
EBH Facsimile: ‘Þæs ofereode þisses swa mæg.’ (Idiomatic translation: ‘This too shall pass.’) – Deor, recorded in the Exeter Book (fols. 100r–100v)
EBH Alternates: ‘Bliþe sceal bealoleas heorte.’ (Translation: ‘Happy is the innocent in heart.’) – Maxims I, recorded in the Exeter Book (fols. 88v–92v)
EBH Runes: ‘HRONÆSBAN’ (Translation: ‘whale’s bone’) – recorded on the Franks Casket
EBH Facsimile (in Specimen): ‘Swa þes middangeard . . . wlonc bi wealle’ – Wanderer, recorded in the Exeter Book (fols. 76v–78r)
EBH Alternates (in Specimen): ‘So this middle-earth . . . snow-covered the dwellings’ – ibid., adapted from Echard’s translation
Yes, it is. A complete digital copy of the Exeter Book, which also features the uninked imagery marginalia, can now be accessed at To view the manuscript in situ, you may keep an eye out for the announcement on the Exeter Cathedral website.
If you have any feedback or suggestions with regard to the fonts or the project, please fill out this Google form or contact Ruby at
You are welcome to suggest changes by creating a new issue on Github, where the repository is located.


Conner, P. W., ​Anglo-Saxon Exeter: A Tenth-Century Cultural History (Woodbridge 1993)

Drogin, M., ​Medieval Calligraphy: Its History and Technique (New York 1989)

Dumville, D. N., ‘English Square minuscule script: the background and earliest phases’, Anglo-Saxon England​ 16 (1987): 147–179

Gameson, R., ‘The Origin of the Exeter Book of Old English Poetry.’ ​Anglo-Saxon England​ 25 (1996): 135–85

Ker, N. R., ​Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon​ (Oxford 1957)

Parkes, M. B., Their Hands Before Our Eyes: A Closer Look at Scribes—The Lyell Lectures Delivered in the University of Oxford, 1999 (Aldershot 2008)

Roberts J., ​Guide to Scripts Used in English Writings up to 1500​ (London 2005)

Useful Links about the Exeter Book


I am thankful to be standing on the shoulders of many others. I owe much of what I have learned to the authors I have consulted and not least to my wonderful teachers at the University of Göttingen. I would like to especially thank PD Dr Göran Wolf, who gave me the idea for this project and provided valuable guidance on its development. Without his support from the beginning, this project would not have been possible. I would also like to extend my special thanks to Dr Anna Dorofeeva, Dr Elliott Lash, and Dr Liza Wing Man Kam for their generosity in sharing their expertise and providing specific suggestions for this website. Any mistakes or oversights that remain here are, of course, my responsibility alone.

Above all, I am enormously grateful to the Exeter Cathedral Library and Archives, the University of Exeter Digital Humanities Lab as well as its partner universities for their efforts in making the manuscript of the Exeter Book available to all on the Internet.

Wrætlic is þes wealstan, wyrde gebræcon;
burgstede burston, brosnað enta geweorc.
Hrofas sind gehrorene, hreorge torras,
hrungeat berofen, hrim on lime,
scearde scurbeorge scorene, gedrorene,
ældo undereotone. Eorðgrap hafað
waldend, wyrhtan forweorone, geleorene,
heardgripe hrusan, oþ hund cnea
werþeoda gewitan. Oft þæs wag gebad
ræghar ond readfah rice æfter oþrum,
ofstonden under stormum; steap geap gedreas.

The Ruin, lines one to eleven