My Indenture Scroll

It’s sometimes fascinating what you learn in the process of making SCA items. This time around: word etymology. The word “indent”, is made up of two parts, the second of which “dent”, is originally from the French word for teeth. To “indent” an item historically meant to quite literally cut it into two portions with a ‘tooth-like’ wavy line. These two parts allowed separate parties to keep a portion of a document in duplicate in the event that it should need to be legally proven or reviewed. The two parties could demonstrate that their copy was part of the original whole by placing the two documents together at the cutline and matching them up. This document was called a “Chirograph”. (You can read more about and see original chirographs at the Medieval Writing page at this link.)

In period, a master taking on an apprentice would be one such business agreement that could need this type of document. Apprentices would formally be taught the trade of their master while in turn the master would have an ‘indentured’ servant to assist with the tasks being learned. It was a two-party agreement in which both sides had specific terms and goals that were spelled out.

While planning my apprenticeship ceremony with my good Mistress Genoveva, she had decided she had wanted to have us develop an indenture document which would be signed and witnessed during the ceremony.  I had never seen a document presented like this during an SCA ceremony so it was rather intriguing and would make the ceremony interesting for those watching. Not to mention…period…and, a lesson for all! Because of my background in scribal arts, she had suggested that I research, design, and make it myself.

She had already found several other SCA indenture scrolls and period documents to source design and text.  And, she set off to write the text that would be written on the scroll. Because we weren’t entirely sure where we would hold the ceremony, this was all rather impromptu and I had only about 8 days to create the document (I’ve done more…in less! Challenge accepted!) The photos below outline my process.


My first step to making any scroll is to completely draw out the layout in pencil. I do this so that I can make sure that I like the piece as an overall design. This includes the areas to be both illuminated and written in calligraphy. In this case, I had to write in the large letters for the “Cyrographum” in the center so I could see how it would look. I used the Latin spelling. Since I didn’t know how long the text would go, I left a significant amount of white space on either end of the text area. This would also allow for signatures and the area to fold up for inserting the tabs for the paper tags that would hold the wax seals. The entire piece was 28″ tall by 12″ wide. It barely fit my drawing board and became cumbersome once I started the calligraphy because of its length.
During the layout process, I made marginal notes to myself as to where I thought the art should end and where the halfway point was that would be cut. This was a rather unique layout in that I had to remind myself that while I was designing a ‘whole’ the end product would be only a half of what I was creating!
My next step is the calligraphy. I have always done this second because it’s my least favorite step! I love to do the illumination and can really get wrapped up in that process. Doing the calligraphy before hand shows you how much area you have left to illuminate. You can never really judge how many lines it will take effect to complete the text no matter how well you map it out. I found it interesting that duplicating the same words did not turn out exactly the same on both versions. Though, I was very satisfied with the way both sections looked.
Next, I completed the center text “Cyrographum” with a very large pen point. And then I began the illumination portion. These documents were meant to be VERY plain. As legal documents, they would not have had gold or even any painting on them at all. I added the floral and vine just to bring ‘something’ to the page and tried my best not to over do it. Together, it looks like ‘too’ much. Please check out the latter images though, of it cut apart. My thought was to design the floral so it indicated the ‘top’ border of the piece. Each of the illuminated sections are slightly different.
At first I had a hard time deciding if just the gold with the black outlines for the illuminated areas would be enough. Though, clearly you can see in the end, I added a little bit of color in reds and blues to the flowers. The design I chose was inspired by a 14th century German scroll since my Mistress and I both have German personas.
Here’s a look at the completed document. I’ve added the signature lines and measured and folded up the areas where the tag for the wax seal will be placed. Ready for the event!
Yep! Two parts…wow that was a lot of work!

I thought I’d share the text in full. I’ll admit, it’s some of the most beautiful text I’ve ever had the privledge of sharing. I cried when I first read it. It reads in full as follows:

CYROGRAPHUM — All should know that this indenture made this first day of April in our home Barony of Cynnabar at this Terpsichore, during the reign of King Edmund the Vth, Anno Societatis LI, bears witness that Hannah Schreiber has become both apprentice and protege to Genoveva von Lubeck for a duration of years to be determined to further her art and serve her Kingdom, during which term the said Hannah will give to Genoveva her fealty, saving only those responsibilities which she bears to her family, Barony, and Kingdom. Hannah shall serve the said Genoveva in all things lawful and honest, well and faithfully, courteously and diligently, shall keep the said Genoveva’s secrets, and shall obey her lawful and honest commandments; she shall not do damage to her said Mistress within the said term; she shall not waste inordinately the goods of her said Mistress nor lend them to anyone without her direct order or consent. The said Hannah will not knowingly keep any secret that may be to the loss or prejudice of her said Mistress, but shall well and faithfully, honestly and obediently bear and hold herself both in words and deeds towards her said Mistress and all hers as a good and faithful dependent ought to bear and hold herself during the said term. And the said Genoveva will guide the said Hannah in the mastery of her art which she uses by the best and most excellent means that she knows, and shall diligently guide and counsel the said Hannah in the love of service and duty, or cause her to be guided by others in all matters she deems fit and appropriate. This indenture is to be reviewed yearly within our beloved Barony upon the occasion of this Terpsichore event, and renewed shall long as we both agree, until the Monarch demand the fealty of said Hannah directly, or else as long as the earth should stand. In testimony whereof the aforesaid parties pledge to these indentures interchangeably as evidenced by the witnesses below-written.

You can read about the entire ceremony in my blog post here.


  1. Barbara Sinclair says:

    Is that where “indentured servant” comes from? I understand that to mean sort of ‘subservient to’.

    You scroll is lovely and certainly shows a lot of work and care, and is beautifully done. Thanks for the interesting information.

Comments are closed.