French Ciphers during the Reign of Henry II of France

Several French ciphers from the period 1550-1557 are reported in Jean Brunon et Jean Barruol, Les Français en Italie sou Henri II based on the papers of the baron de Fourquevaux (1508-1574).

Cipher between Henry II and Fourquevaux (1553)

Brunon et al. reproduces Henry II's letter to Fourquevaux dated 3 December 1553 (p.76). They could reconstruct the cipher from Fourquevaux's decipherment.


As with Spanish (see another article) and English (see another article) ciphers at the time, this employs non-alphanumeric symbols. For many letters of the alphabet, more than one symbol is assigned. (In the image above, variant forms in handwriting are also given for reference's sake.) Numerical symbols for representing double letters appear to be assigned regularly. Many symbols are provided for nulls. Frequently used words are given special symbols.

Henry II's Ciphers in the British Archives (1554, 1557)

The British Archives have some ciphers of Henry II, deciphered by John Somer.

Cipher between Henry II and Noailles (1554)

SP53/23 no.1 is a cipher between Henry II and Noailles (Wikipedia), ambassador in England.

Each letter of the alphabet is assigned two symbols (or three for "a", "e", and "s"). Common words are represented with two-digit figures (66 for "de", 40 for "que", etc.) or a symbol for "le". Four nulls are included. One letter written in this cipher is printed (in plaintext) in Sheila R. Richards (ed.), Secret Writing in the Public Records, p.17 (deciphered from SP 70/147/35-36).

Cipher between Henry II and d'Oisel (1557)

SP53/23 no.3 is a cipher between Henry II and d'Oisel (Wikipedia), representative of France in Scotland.

Each letter of the alphabet is assigned up to five symbols. Common words are given special symbols or, in some cases, two-digit figures (50 for "plus", 80 for "pour", etc.). Some symbols and words are designated as nulls.

Cipher between Noailles and d'Oisel (1557)

SP53/23 no.2 is a cipher between Noailles and d'Oisel.

Each letter of the alphabet is assigned up to four symbols. Double letters "rr", "ss", "ff" are given special symbols. "Roy de France" is represented by "Dedans." Three symbols and two numbers ("440", "446") are designated as nulls.

Cipher of Sebastien de l'Aubespine, abbot of Bassefontaine (1555)

Etienne Bazeries' Les Chiffres Secrets Dévoilés includes a cipher of Sebastien de l'Aubespine (1518-1582) (Wikipedia), abbot of Bassefontaine and ambassador of France, used in his negotiations with the Landgrave and others in 1555. This looks similar to the King's cipher above (1553).

Cipher between Marshal de Thermes and Fourquevaux (1551)

When Mirandola in Northern Italy was under siege, the Marshal de Thermes (Wikipedia), commander of the French relief, used cipher in writing to Fourquevaux, who guarded the place. Brunon et al. reproduces two of such letters: ones dated 12 October 1551 (p.41) and 9 November 1551 (p.48) and reconstructs the cipher.

The cipher is similar to the one used by Henry II above, though this cipher employs symbols rather than numerals for double letters. This cipher is also used by Cardinal of Ferrara (Wikipedia), Constable Montmorency (Wikipedia), M. de Lyle and de M. de Bonacorsy.

Aloys Meister, Die Geheimschrift Im Dienste der Papstlichen Kurie von Ihren Anfängen bis zum Ende des XVI. Jahrhunderts (1906) includes a very similar cipher between Thermes and "Jorquevaul" (p.225). If Brunon's reconstruction and Meister's transcription are both correct, they are not identical: a symbol like "oooo" is a null in Brunon et al. but represents "les" in Meister; the symbol for "les" in Brunon et al. is assigned to "lug" [luy?] in Meister; the symbol for "vous" in Brunon et al. is assigned to "nous" in Meister, etc.

Cipher between Bishop of Lodève and Fourquevaux (1552)

Brunon et al. (p.81) includes a reproduction of a cipher between the Bishop of Lodève and Fourquevaux. Written on one sheet of paper, it is generally similar to the above ciphers. Each letter of the alphabet is assigned three symbols (or five for vowels). After A-Z, there are two extra symbols (maybe "et" and "con" or "que"; cf. Meister p.314, 214, 225, 229, 230, etc.). Double letters are given symbols (rather than numerals). 28 monosyllable words as well as about 50 names and words are given special symbols (numerals for some).

Cipher between Pierre Strozzi and Fourquevaux (1553)

Brunon et al. (p.91) includes a reproduction of a cipher between Pierre Strozzi (Wikipedia) and Fourquevaux. This is much simpler than the ciphers above. It assigns each letter of the alphabet one symbol or numeral: "8" for A, a nabla-like symbol for B, "15" for C, "i" for D, "zz" for E, "60" for F, etc. Fifteen names ("Roy de france", "Reyne de france", etc.) are given special symbols.


©2014 S.Tomokiyo
First posted on 15 October 2014. Last modified on 15 February 2015.
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