Jan. B. Hurych

In the last article, "THE MYSTERIOUS DR. RAPHAEL" , we tried to get more information about the person, who "knew" the story of the VM origin. In this article, we reach a little bit further . . .

The role he plays in the provenance of the VM is crucial. As Marci indirectly admitted, the information Mnishowsky provided to him was apparently only rumor and Marci is not vouching for it. Strange, since he did not hesitate to give the good references to Kircher about Baresch in one of his previous letters. That was of course the information about Baresch's honesty, about the man he knew well. In his book, Marci also claimed Baresch was his friend and in his last letter, he shows compassion for unhappy Baresch when he mentioned his friend's spending his last years of life trying to solve the VM. By the way, Marci in his letter says he is also sending with the book the attempts of Baresch to solve the VM - where are they, Mr. Voynich? And if Kircher kept the letter, why not also the samples?
As for Mnishowsky, Marci presented him there more like an acquaintance only and he let Kircher make his "own mind about it". Provided that Marci still remembered quite well the words of Mnishowsky - 22 years after Raphael's death! - we still have two major problems:

1) Was that information based on facts or just some rumors?
2) Did Mnishowsky really tell Marci the whole truth?

This way we split the main question in two, for obvious reasons: some researchers raised the opinion that such rumor was at one time circulated freely around Rudolph's court and was truly reported by Mnishowsky, the others think it was rather secret, internal information, possessed only by few and some even thought Mnishowsky invented the whole thing by himself.

Ad 1) Let us suppose Mnishowsky repeated all the information correctly and the rumor was based on facts: then of course we would have found during past hundred years of intensive search some confirmation of it. None of that appeared: neither Dee (see below) nor Sendivogius nor any other Prague alchemist, astronomer or historian, none of them mentioned the VM! Such famous rumor should surely be repeated by somebody . . . Only prof. Newbold, 300 years later, repeated Mnishowsky's info about Bacon's authorship and built the whole "solution" around it, which did Bacon only disservice since Newbold decipherment was discarded as non-applicable and utterly wrong. True, the story about 600 ducats was later dug out of Dee's diaries, but there is only superficial coincidence with 630 ducats and Dee never said what he got them for, was it a gift or sale or payment for some services! Nothing was mentioned by otherwise punctual Dee in his diaries and besides, he had several manuscripts and the VM would be probably the last one he would ever part with . . .

Therefore, if Mnishowsky's story was never confirmed can we be sure it is really disproved? Not necessarily, but we surely reached the dead. Of course, we do not know anything about Horczicky's ownership either, except for his name in the VM, suspiciously erased and then miraculously recovered again - his name which is not even written by his hand.

Ad 2) The other question is even more tricky: we do not know if Mnishowsky lied or not. The rumor might have existed exactly as he told Marci and there again, we have a shortage of supporting facts, only Mnishowsky's word for it and unfortunately, he was also a lawyer :-). Of course, if his story was true (i.e. if question 1 is answered affirmatively) , we still have only his version for it. Marci did not mention he heard it also somewhere else and that's why he did not want to vouch for it, apparently.

So let's try to attack the problem from the other end - did Mnishowsky tell anybody else? We surely do not know about such person (so far, at least) confirming he heard the rumor as well. Marci does not mention anybody, not even Baresch. So again, dead end. We can probably raise some more questions about the time and subject of the information passed between Marci and Mnishowsky. Did it happen just during a small-talk, some "by-the-way" or was it Marci who was personally inquiring about it? Marci and Mnishowsky were both members of the Imperial Court, both in high functions and as we could guess, the corridors of Prague Castle were apparently populated by courtiers having nothing better to do then to talk rumors. But if it was an answer to curious query by Marci himself, how did Marci know exactly whom to ask? Apparently they knew about each other's cryptography interests: Marci solving Swedish general Banner's letters and Mnishowsky writing his own book or at least his deep interest in cryptography.

It is a possible scenario but what would prompt Marci to investigate the origin of the VM? You guessed it: Georg Baresch was apparently extremely curious and asked his friend to inquire somewhere or maybe directly from Mnishowsky. In that case, he must have known about Mnishowsky's cryptographic interests or his book. That's where is a space for some further speculation and the Wikipedia story claims Baresch got the VM directly from Mnishowsky. It actually suggests Mnishowsky created the VM as a fraud. Baresch of course never told Marci where he got the book from - Marci would otherwise certainly told Kircher. Mnishowsky did not tell him either . . .

In the meantime, let's stick to the facts. Did Baresch own the VM at that time already? In 1662 Marci published the book where he mentioned he knew Baresch for 40 years. According to René Zandbergen, Marci knew Baresch even earlier, before 1622, apparently since in 1618 when Marci was already studying in Prague. That means Horczicky was still alive at that time (he died 1622) and most likely still owned the VM (if he ever did - all we know is that his name is there, or was, hidden, before Voynich brought it to the light again). Of course, Horczicky was arrested in 1618 by Directorium, later exchanged for Dr. Jessenius and sent to exile from which he returned in 1621 to die a year later. There is a report in Pavel Skala''s "The Bohemian History"(1626) that the houses of the persons exiled at that time were ransacked which may suggest why the VM became lost. In 1625 Marci graduated as a Doctor of Medicine and in 1626 he was appointed the Chief Physician of the Bohemian Kingdom, apparently with the push by his protectors (Count Lobkowitz and Archbishop Harrach) and automatically became the member of the Imperial Court. Later he became the personal physician of Emperors Ferdinand III and Leopold I. Mnishowsky was a member of Imperial Office since 1618 already.

Baresch wrote his first letter to Kircher in 1637 and let it delivered to him personally by p. Moretus - that means at that time he not only owned the VM but got it probably much earlier, considering he hesitated some time, tried his hand first, then asked for help some other persons, maybe even Marci and then spent some time copying the samples for Kircher. In 1638 Marci undertook a journey to Rome and met with Kircher. At that time, Marci apparently already knew Baresch had the VM, but we do not know if Marci talked to Kircher about it. Either way, Kircher did not answer the letter. In 1639 another letter is written by Baresch to Kircher, and again, if we can read between lines, he owned the VM some for time even before he wrote his first letter. To sum it up, Baresch got hold of the VM somewhere between 1622 (when Horczicky died) to 1637, providing Horczicky did not part with the VM until his death. During that time, Baresch already knew Marci well, as Marci admits in his book. If we assume Baresch spent some additional time with Marci, both trying to solve the VM, we still may guess he did not get the VM much sooner than Marci became member of Imperial Court (1626, the earliest date Marci could approach Mnishowsky with his question) and possibly less then 11 years later (1637). Also, if Baresch was so desperate to solve the VM, he would not wait the whole 15 years to contact Kircher who was world famous for his "solving" of hieroglyphs.

Marci claims he got the info from Raphael personally. Assuming Marci asked him - maybe because he was prompted by Baresch - the conversation took place some time between 1626 (when Marci joined the Court) and 1644 (when Mnishowsky died). Say Baresch got the VM in 1626 and when apparently nothing more could have been told by Mnishowsky about the content of the VM, Baresch wrote to Kircher his first letter. But would he really waited 11 years, knowing already that Marci knows Kircher? Probably not, since he could not wait longer than one year after the first letter and in 1639, he wrote the second letter, In 1640, Marci wrote to Kircher recommending Baresch, apparently answering Kircher's query. Was it something in the second letter which raised Kircher's interest? Or was it just only Baresch again pushing Marci? All that insistence could indicate that Baresch still had high hopes, so it could have been the early period of his ownership.

J. Fletcher also mentions Baresch met Kircher in Italy and admired his apparatus. When it was and where is the record of it, we do not know, but that may be another reason Marci did not mention Baresch's name in his last latter: he did not need to, Kircher knew pretty well who he was talking about especially since Marci mentioned he wrote him letters. We may assume - if Kircher was ever interested in the VM and as the "solver" of secret writings he surely would have been - that he always wanted to put his hands on the original, while disregarding the copies sent to him before. It was a very logical decision, because single samples just would not do or maybe he was just suspicious, no doubt. Of course, Baresch did not want to send the whole VM, he wanted to keep the VM content, the real secret, for himself. Kircher apparently saw he was being used and refused to serve such low purpose. Apparently Baresch never intended for the book to be sent to Kircher after his death either, since Marci would surely mention that in his letter. It seems that even Marci hesitated for four years before he sent the book (Baresch apparently died before 1662).

Now let's go back to Mnishowsky. He finished his book on cryptography in 1628, i.e. around the earliest time Marci could have talked to him about the VM. It looks like that was around the same time Baresch got hold of the VM. The other option, that Baresch got it right after Horczicky's death (1622) would put it in the time Marci was still student in Prague - but again, Baresch would have waited with his first letter to Kircher the whole 17 years! That does not seem too realistic, considering his passion for solving the VM. If however he really got it later, who then had the VM after Horczicky's death? Maybe Jesuits, who inherited most of Horczicky's earthly possessions, but how did Baresch managed to get it from them? True, they might have considered it as one of the "libri prohibiti" but it was not on their list and besides, the instructions would have forced them to burn it.

Most likely, Baresch did not get it from Jesuits but from somebody else. It is of course possible he got it from Mnishowsky's who could have been owner for some time. But how did he got it? True, they were both staunch Catholics, but for Jacobus it was the way he was brought up by Jesuits in Krumlov, for Raphael it was mostly the means to his carrier ( in his epitaph he does not claim he served the God, but the Emperor only :-). Besides, his carrier started after 1622, he could not have known Horczicky nor Baresch that well. One thing is for sure: neither Mnishowsky nor Baresch told Marci the whole truth, apparently for some obscure reasons. Baresch was already insincere in his letter to Kircher (we can hardly believe he wanted the decryption only for the "benefit of mankind" and we know it did not "collect the dust on the shelf" only). And Mnishowsky apparently did not tell Marci how he knew for sure that Rudolph owned the very same book. And there is of course one other possibility. . .

Lets us quote again Wikipedia: " . . . the friend of Marci who was the reputed source of Bacon's story, was himself a cryptographer (among many other things), and apparently invented a cipher which he claimed was unbreakable (ca. 1618). This has led to the theory that he produced the Voynich manuscript as a practical demonstration of his cipher—and made poor Baresch his unwitting "guinea pig". After Kircher published his book on Coptic, Raphael (so the theory goes) may have thought that stumping him would be a much better trophy than stumping Baresch, and convinced the alchemist to ask the Jesuit's help. He would have invented the Roger Bacon story to motivate Baresch. Indeed, the disclaimer in the Voynich manuscript cover letter could mean that Marci suspected a lie. However, there is no definite evidence for this theory." (end of quote, no original source listed, j.b.h.).

For some time, I was trying to find the author of that section in Wikipedia, but whoever he is, he merely copied (not in the same words, but close enough) the comment by Jorge Stolfi, made in VML, msg00052.html, 27 Dec 2000, I quote:

"Chinese theory notwithstanding, you may recall my other theory that the VMS was actually written by Raphael Mnishovsky as a demo of his new "uncrackable code". He would have had the book delivered to Baresch for a first test. After watching the poor guy struggle with it for many years, Raphael would have prodded first Baresch and then Marci to send the book to Kircher for the final test. The story about Rudolph and Bacon, quoted in Marci's letter, would then be merely a bait to get Kircher's attention." (end if quote, j.b.h.)

We will not crosscheck here this statement, since it was already admitted it was just a theory, but we can now surely add our two recent findings that are make it a real possibility.

The first discovery.

The first is the discovery that Mnishowsky's book"Construction sive strues Trithemiana" (1828) is in reality no textbook of Czech language but the cypher book, Trithemian style. Thanks to well known Czech cryptographer Mgr. Pavel Vondruska from Prague, we can say with great confidence that the book deals with Mnishowsky's invented cypher in the traditional "Ave Maria" style (the famous cypher of Thrithemius), produced in two versions of the code (in Latin and Czech). It replaces each letter by code word so the final text looks like a Latin prayer or innocent Czech document. There are however two differences: while Trithemius was using words of religious vocabulary, Mnishowsky selected more ordinary, common words. and he sorted them as some kind of grammatical tree. For instance, the two-page sample from the book (provided by Uppsala University) contains only adjectives, both Latin and Czech.

To confirm the above suspicion, I was searching further and got valuable information from leading Slovak cryptographer Mgr. Jozef Krajčovič, PhD., who kindly provided me with the excerpts from the book by Kašpar, J.: Soubor statí o novověkém písmu (The Compendium of Articles about the Modern History Writings, Praha, Karolinum 1993. ISBN 80-7066-679-X. pages 188-190). Below is my translation of excerpts in English (from Chapter 6., The Secret Writings in Modern History. Note: The original Czech names are transcribed in MS Central European font ):

"The first in the sense of provenience as well as linguistics Czech cryptographic textbook in manuscript form is Constructio sive Strues Trithemiana, written in 1628 by Czech lawyer and high Imperial Officer Rafael Soběhrd Mnišovský ze Sebuzína a Horštejna, based on the same principle as Trithemius's Polygraphia. It differs in two details: it is bi-liungual, i.e. Czech-Latin and as per author's introductory words, it may serve not only as a cryptological textbook but also as a tool for translations from Czech to Latin and vice versa, as well as for the memorizing of the words in the vocabulary.
Since the words are not in alphabetical or any other logical order, it cannot be used as a vocabulary. The structure shows clearly that it could be used only as a cryptographical help-book and that it was designed for that purpose. Its bilingual content however multiplied the possibilities of the coding and the security of the message.
The Czech user could possibly use it to exercise his knowledge of Latin language, but it was not designed that way, it would otherwise look quite differently. We do not have a record of its common use neither there is any second copy that apparently had to be in the possession of the recipient. The manuscript was of course in Bohemia only for short time, at the end of the 30years war (1648, j.b.h.), it was moved to Sweden as the war booty.

The manuscript of Mnishowsky is stored in the library of the University of Uppsala in Sweden under sign. MS Slav. 60. It contains 208 paper sheets in octave format, the text is on folios 5r-188r (according to V. Flajšhans the text ends at fol. 188r and on fol. 189r is in green ink written the date the work was finished). The manuscript brought attention of several researchers. The first to mention was J. Dobrovský in his book from 1796 called ' Literarische Nachrichten von einer Reise nach Schweden und Russland '. He stated in it that it was the Czech grammatical textbook designed per Trithemius's method and he named Rafael Mnišovský as the author. Half a century later, B. Dudík saw the manuscript; he did not agree on the name of the author, but also considered it to be a grammatical textbook (B. Dudík, Forschungen in Schweden fűr Mährens Geschichte, Brűnn 1852, s. 326-328). The correctness of Dobrovsky's identification of the author confirmed V. Flajšhans ( Knihy české v knihovnách švédských a ruských , The Czech Books in Swedish and Russian Libraries, Praha 1897, p. 52-53) and he also mentioned the opinion of Jireček, that Rafael Mnišovský de Sebuzín wrote this Latin-Czech manuscript originally for his pupil, archduke Ferdinand, later Ferdinand III. (see note 17 below). The deepest research was apparently done by Carin Davidsson in her article "Johannes Trithemius' Polygraphia als tschechisches Lehrbuch", Cod. Slav. 60 der Universitätsbibliothek in Uppsala, Scando-Slavica 5, 1959, p. 148-164. She was the first to mention the manuscript can be used as cryptographical handbook - which is of course suggested already in the Latin foreword of the book. This book is also mentioned as a Latin textbook in "Rukověť humanistického básnictví v Čechách a na Moravě od konce 15. století do začátku 17. století (The Manual of Humanist Poetry in Bohemia and Moravia from the beginning of 15th till the end of 17th century, Vol. 3, Praha 1969, s. 364-366. There is also more info about Mnišovský.

Note 17 (still part of the quote, j.b.h.): The hypotheses that Mnišovský wrote the book as a textbook of Czech language for his pupil Ferdinand, mentioned in literature, is apparently erroneous. Ferdinand became the pupil of Mnišovský in 1619 but the book was written in 1628, at the time he was the secretary of the Court Office. The format of the manuscript is such that Ferdinand could not learn Czech from it, as it is known that in 1627, a year before the book was finished, he spoke Czech language already. Last but not least, should it have been written for the crown successor, Mnišovský would have certainly mentioned it in the foreword or in the dedication."

Note 18: The manuscript is already mentioned in the list of books of Queen Christina since 1649, see C. Davidsson, c.p. s. 148. "(end of excerpts, j.b.h.)

Needless to say, the excerpts are from the book published by Charles University of Prague and they are the results of serious research. From it, we can now reach some further conclusions:

a) Not only is not Mnishowsky's "Constructio" any kind of textbook, but it was not even written for Ferdinand (too bad, he would probably have had the second copy of the book :-). The Mnishowsky himself claims the linguistic application of the book as a bonus only, not as a main purpose.

b) The book has no dedication which is rather unusual for that time. Wasn't it intended for print at all? What purpose then it should serve? We can only guess since his pupil is now out of the picture. Interestingly enough, the VM has no second copy either.

c) If ever Mnishowsky wrote the VM, it came most likely later than his book. Only after studying material for his book, he might have invented much better cipher and get an idea to create a hoax. For that, he needed vellum, but "Constructio" itself is written on paper. And what is more important, the encryption used in the VM is no doubt much more sophisticated. So the VM could have appeared after 1628, but before 1637 (when Baresch wrote his first letter to Kircher). The narrow the span since the comment in Wikipedia, suggesting Mnishowsky discovered his "unbreakable cipher" already in 1618 - is apparently wrong. It may have been typo and the date of "Constructio", 1628, was meant instead. Besides, why would he go back to rather simple Trithemian Ave Maria ten years later after he discovered "unbreakable cipher"? Besides, year 1618 was the year of Prague defenestration, start of the 30-year war and Czechs had more pressing problems than to play with unbreakable ciphers. Horczicky was in jail and the other Catholics laid low or relocated to Vienna as he did. Whom could he possibly brag to about his cipher?

d) Two mistakes were apparently made in early research: first by Dobrowsky, who considered it just a textbook (apparently he did not look too deep since he was otherwise Czech author, extremely skilled in his language) and then by Dudík who assumed wrongly that the abbreviated signature (Rafaël Mnisch., written at the end of the book) means that the true author's name was Mnisch. Both errors now stay corrected. The third mistake, that the book was written for Mnishowsky's Imperial pupil Ferdinand, cannot be traced to its origin, but we now know it had only superficial connection.

e) While the book stayed in Bohemia approx. for 20 years (not so short time, all things considered :-) it was moved to Sweden 4 years after Mnishowsky's death. Since Swedes never got across the bridge to the other side of the river (the student militia musketeers, Marci among them, had successfully defended the barricade there), the book must have been stored after Mnishowsky's death somewhere in the castle treasury. At that time (1648), the VM was at least for 11 years already in Baresch's hands.

So we may have several years of unaccounted ownership of the VM. So why not by Mnishowsky? We learned that Mnishowsky had a good knowledge of cryptography and we know (see my previous article) that he was interested in alchemy, too. But did he really write the VM? I already mentioned his typical, unconnected script which was apparently unusual for his time, something which is also typical for the VM, if we disregard the fact the script there is unknown and disconnected by its design (it has to be, to avoid the uncertainty). We also know the "sentences" in the VM are not identified in normal sense and there is no use of dots (a full-stop, the sign already known in 14th century), only the paragraphs . At the end of each paragraph, the line (the row) is terminated and new row is started. for another "paragraph". The lengths of paragraphs are of course variable, the majority is approx. from 30 to 70 "words". It is a little bit longer then the average length of our sentences (say in this article), but it was never considered by researchers to be rather unusual fact and so the "paragraphs" were always considered as single sentences.

On the other hand, the "paragraphs" as sentences are rather short for Ave Maria cipher (replacing each letter by one word) so it was apparently not applied for the VM. That alone of course does not eliminate Mnishowsky as an author or not even Trithemius, for that matter; since they both were able to come up with something much more sophisticated and economical. Mnishowsky's book however makes him one of the few cryptographers of the time who were skilled enough to improve the Trithemius ideas and even write a book about it. And what's interesting, besides Bacon and Dee, he seems to be another "suspect", well knowledgeable in advanced cryptography. He had to know the works of Thrithemius very well: he even quotes him in the subtitle of his work, indirectly suggesting he learned a lot from his books.

The second discovery.

Recently, I have made another discovery: the peculiar similarity of Mnishowsky's handwriting with another one. Not to the VM handwriting, which would be hard to prove anyway, but the similarity to the hand that wrote the name of Horczicky into the VM. Here is the sample of the word "Tepenec" with Mnishowsky letters from his book, with Mnishowsky letters interposed:

It is apparently the closest we may ever come to the hand that wrote Horczicky's name. That is not to say we should be completely satisfied with the above similarity, but we may never get better hand to fit the famous "signature" in the VM. This of course does not mean Mnishowsky wrote the VM as well, but to write name Horczicky there, yes, he had to own it at one time or another. After all, we already proved that it was not Horczicky who wrote his name there (see my article "THE NEW SIGNATURE OF HORCZICKY"). Of course, why would Mnishowsky write that particular name there and how did he know it was Horczicky who owned it before him we may only speculate. Add to it the fact that Mnishowsky "forgot" to mention all that to Marci and we may as well doubt the rest of his story, too. But that would put the old provenance story on the very shaky ground indeed . . .

20th December, 2007.