Friday, July 21, 2023

Touching on Codes


Lambeth Palace Library - MS 658 f. 58 - Adam Bacon Papers

The above is a letter to Elizabethan-era spy Anthony Bacon (brother of Sir Francis Bacon) from correspondent H. H.  You can see code being used in the 8th line from the bottom in the main body of the text.  I imagine this code has to do with political goings-on in other countries rather than communicating about a hidden object, but I thought it would be interesting to share nonetheless.  Below is the binding of this volume of Anthony Bacon papers.

Lambeth Palace Library - MS 658 f. 58 - Adam Bacon Papers

British Library - Sloan MS 3679 - Piccatrix

The above is from a book once owned by Richard Napier (an English cousin of mathematician John Napier).  The book is known as a piccatrix, a book of magic.  I'm not sure if this is a code or if it has to do with astrology or alchemy or other.  The binding of this manuscript is shown below.
British Library - Sloan MS 3679 - Piccatrix

Tractust de Arte Astrological et Magica - British Museum

The above and blow are from the "long-lost" book of Soyga, which was "rediscovered" in the British Library (another copy found in Oxford's Bodleian) in the 1990s.  This book belonged to John Dee, and it was thought that it would shed further light on his communications with angels.  I don't know that what we're looking at here involves a code, but the meanings here are certainly hidden from me.  The cover is two pictures down.  By the way, soyga spelled backwards is agyos or agios, which is Greek for holy.

Tractust de Arte Astrological et Magica - British Museum

Tractust de Arte Astrological et Magica - British Museum

British Library - Claves Angelicae

I believe the image above and four images below have to do with names of angels, but all of them are giving me ideas for codes that I might use rather than the Cardan Grille.
British Library - Claves Angelicae

British Library - Claves Angelicae

I especially like the ideas of making a grid of letters and then having the decryption involve tracing a path through the letters.
British Library - Claves Angelicae

The four pictures above are from John Dee's Claves Angelicae or Key to the Angels (?).  Below this is the binding and the frontispiece.

British Library - Sloan MS 3191 -Claves Angelicae

British Library - Sloane MS 3191 - Claves Angelicae - frontispiece

The codex below contains two works, one of which is one of which is a book on encryption by Jacopo Silvestri.  It was the second book printed on the topic of encryption (1526).  John Dee purchased this book in Venice in 1563, as you can see noted in his own handwriting in the second picture below.  
British Library - 8405.a.9. - Silvestri, Jacopo - Opus novum

British Library - 8495.a.9 - Silvestri, Jacopo - Opus novum

British Library - 8405.a.9 - Silvestri, Jacopo - Opus novum

The images below are from a book about Dee and his conversations with angels by Meric Casaubon.  The grid shown is of the tables or book of Enoch.  One of John Dee's goals was to find the language of the angels, the language that was spoken in the Garden of Eden.  He communicated with angels in order to try to discern this.  It is sometimes called the Enochian Language, though Dee never called it that.  Here too I see great ideas for codes.
Bodleian Library - Ashmole 580

Bodleian Library - Ashmole 580

The next two images are the frontispiece and the binding.
Bodleian Library - Ashmole 580

                                                      Bodleian Library - Ashmole 580

One way of writing in code is to transliterate your message to another language.  John Dee often did this with Greek.  He just took the English letters of what he wanted to write and converted them to the corresponding Greek letters instead.  In other words, he wasn't writing in the Greek language, he ws just masking his letters by using a different alphabet.  What follows is from one of his diaries (kept in an almanac or "ephemerides").  For example the first word below is "this," which is written out using the letters theta, iota, sigma.

The full message says, "This night my wife dreamed that one cam to her and touched her, saying 'Mistres Dee, you are conceived of child, whose name must be Zacharias; be of good chere, he sal do well as this doth!'"

There are two volumes of Dee's diaries in the Bodliean: Ashmole 488 and Ashmole 487.  I'm not sure which of the two I was consulting when I took the picture above.  I could figure it out give time to look at my pictures and my journal.

There have been codes since time immemorial, going back at least as far as the famous Ceaser Cipher, which is just a letter substitution by shifting the alphabet a space or more down.  I imagine most codes have been used for military secrets - or by lovers - or for political intrigue.

I'm only aware of one that has to do with treasure, and that is the Beale Cipher from 1820s America, which can be found at this link:

There is also a fifteenth-century codex known as the Voynich Manuscript, which no one has been able to decipher, so who knows what secrets that holds!  (This is in Yale's collection, and I haven't traveled there yet, despite it being in the US!)

Sunday, October 23, 2022

John Dee and Mortlake


This is a rather delayed post, my travels having taken place in May 2022; it is either the fourth or fifth post I've done on mathematician and mage John Dee since 2016 - other posts cover his childhood, his interactions with the Tudor courts, his books, his genealogical scroll, the RCP Dee exhibition, etc.  This is the first time I've been able to get out to his home in Mortlake where he lived most of his life, the home in which was housed his huge library (largest in England at the time) and at which he hosted visiting scholars who gained much from interacting with him and having access to his books.  Queen Elizabeth I visited him here more than once - quite something to have the monarch show up at one's home, especially when one is not of the nobility!  Dee now lies buried in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, which is right next door to where his home once stood. Though church grounds (and most of the church itself) would not have looked in Dee's time like it does in the pictures here, I find the arch in the churchyard evocative of what I know of Dee.  To be casual rather than mathematical or historical here, I found that it reminded me a bit of the archway in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which separates the world of the living from the world of the dead.  And, so, as I walked through this churchyard archway in the way that I did in the video below I kind of wondered if it was a good idea to be doing so.

John Dee is buried inside the church rather than in the churchyard, but I'll post a few more pictures of the churchyard to give an idea of the place as it is now.  

Dee did live adjacent to this church, and when Queen Elizabeth I visited him they conversed while standing by the wall between his property and the church.  Where his house once stood there are flats named "John Dee House," but the wall is still there, parts of which seem to be original.  In the picture below, look through the trees to see the church tower.

Note again the tower beyond the wall.  A tower was here in Dee's time as well, a plaque in the church and plaques on the tower indicate dates relating to the tower (pictured further down), and the tower does seem to have some Tudor architecture but also seems to be a bit of a conglomeration of styles at this point.

The more I travel, the more skeptical I am about stones with dates on them and whether they are original to the structure or if they were placed there later.  Above we have the date 1407, which is 120 years before Dee's birth, below is a plaque from 1911 inside the tower stating that the tower was built by Henry VIII in 1542, and the second image below is of a stone in the wall just to the side of the tower which matches the Henry VIII 1542 date, but which I've been told is very likely quite a bit later.    Regardless of which parts of the tower are newer or older, there would have been a tower on this site in Dee's time, and some parts from his time may make up parts of the tower we see today.

As I mentioned, Dee is buried within/under the church.  It is not known exactly where he lies, both because renovations and reconstructions have happened since his time and because the church is very near the Thames river, so in the more than 400 years that have passed since he was buried, things may have changed underground.  There is a plaque inside honoring him.

He was likely buried near the altar.

Here is information from inside the church about various relevant dates:

Dee's property extended down to the Thames and icluded a large garden and an orchard.  The view below is across the street and down a path:
I didn't leave time for exploring, but I'd like to come back sometime and walk along this path.

Mortlake is quite near Richmond, and Queen Elizabeth I often stayed at Richmond Palace, a palace that was one of her favorites.  On the few occasions she visited Dee she came by horseback or by barge down the Thames.  Above is the Thames as it would have fronted Dee's property, and below is the Thames as it passes by what was Richmond Palace:
Almost nothing of the palace remains today.  There is a gatehouse, and a building known as "The Wardrobe."

But, back to Mortlake.  Here are the flats where John Dee's house once stood - note the fall at the end of the row of flats:

And here is a 5-minute-long video giving context of the area: