Ciphers during the reign of Henry III of France (1574-1589) are presented. See also my related articles:
"Catalogue of Ciphers (Mainly Related to Duke of Nevers) in BnF fr.3995" and
"A List of Cipher Materials in Mémoires de la Ligue in the French Archives"
(By the way, Henry III was called "Vilain Herodes" (an anagram of "Henri de Valois") by the preacher Jean Guincestre after his assassination of the Duke of Guise in 1588.)
Table of Contents:
Henry III's Cipher with Ambassadors (Vivonne in Spain, Longlee, Ferals, Foix, d'Este, Vivonne in Rome, Maisse in Venice, Germigny, Germigny-Maisse, Savary)
Duke of Anjou's Cipher
BnF fr.15560-15574 (15560, 15561, 15562, 15563, 15564, 15565, 15566, 15567 (Matignon-1, Matignon1, Aubeterre, f113, Hautefort, Maygnieulx), 15568, 15569 (Matignon2), 15570, 15571 (Chasteauneuf, f184), 15572 (Mayenne1, Camus, Malycorne, Matignon3, Mayenne2, MatignonTuple, StLuc, Biron), 15573, 15574)
References for Background
French diplomatic ciphers used with ambassadors are presented in this section.
Jean de Vivonne, Sieur de Saint-Gouard (later marquis de Pisani), "one of France's most competent career diplomats", was ambassador in Spain in 1572-1582 (Jensen p.27).
Many letters of Vivonne to the King contain cipher paragraphs. The cipher used from April 1572 to November 1574 in BnF fr.16104 (Gallica), BnF fr.16105 (Gallica), and BnF fr.16106 (Gallica, up to f.198) use the following cipher. (That is, Henry III's succession to the French throne upon the death of his brother in May 1574 did not cause a change of cipher.)
(Here and in the following, signatures are reproduced to help identifying writers of despatches in the archives.)
Some letters use many nulls, but the nulls used at the beginning of a cipher passage are relatively apparent. For example, BnF fr.16104 f.298v has a whole line of null characters, but they look so dissimilar from the other characters and it is pretty much obvious that they are nulls.
Occasionally, decipherments in the archives are misplaced and misdated, as reported in Mousset p.xlviii. Two examples in BnF fr.16105 are as follows:
f.38 a letter partly in cipher ("10 Mars 1573")
f.41 "dechifre de la precedente" ("10 Mars 1753") ... this actually corresponds to f.43
f.43 a letter mostly in cipher ("13 Mars 1573")
f.45 "dechifre de la precedente" ("13 Mars 1573") ... this actually corresponds to f.38 (there appear to be textual differences; near the beginning, "desagreable" in cipher reads "mauvais" in the decipherment.)
At least from 1579 (BnF fr.16106 (Gallica) f.207 (the volume includes almost none from 1575-1578)), Vivonne used a different cipher, which he used until the end of 1582 (BnF fr.16107 (Gallica), BnF fr.16108 (Gallica)) and which he left for his successor Longlee by the King's order (Mousset p.x) (hence it is called Longlee's cipher herein and is presented below).
A passage in a letter from Pierre Dor, French consul in Lisbon (d'Ars, p.115), to Vivonne dated 10 February 1580 (BnF fr.16107 f.63) employs the following cipher.
A letter from Jean Pierre d'Abadie to Vivonne, French resident in Lisbon (Lettres de Henri III, roi de France: 8 avril 1580-31 decembre 1582 (Google)), dated 2 May 1580 (BnF fr.16107 f.225) employs the following cipher.
Pierre de Segusson, sieur de Longlée-Renault was de facto ambassador in Spain (his official title was "résident permanent" (Ribera)) from 1582 to 1590. Throughout this period, he used the following cipher (called Longlee's cipher herein), which was left for him by Vivonne. (The evidence found in BnF fr.16110 is up to July 1588 (f.276) but Longlee is reported to have used the same cipher with Henry IV in 1590 (Mattingly p.215). It can be confirmed in Longlee's three letters preserved in BNE Ms.994, f.64-70, of which one is dated 1 April 1590. )
Longlee's despatches are found in BnF fr.16109 (Gallica) and BnF fr.16110 (Gallica) among others and printed in Albert Mousset (ed.), Depeches diplomatiques de M. De Longlee (1912) (Internet Archive, Google), which presents the editor's reconstruction of the cipher (p.lviii-lix). In the above image, I limited myself to only those symbols I actually came across.
A reconstruction by the contemporary Spanish codebreaker Luys Valle de La Cerda is also extant (Mousset p.li). According to Mattingly (p.215), Longlee's cipher had been broken in 1587. (In July 1587, Philip II warned Bernardino de Mendoza, his ambassador in Paris, that Longlée knew Mendoza's secret meetings with his informant (Jensen, Diplomatcy and Dogmatism p.108, 148).) It had also been broken by partisans of Henry of Navarre. M. du Pin (Jacques Lallier, Sieur du Pin, Secretary of State to the King of Navarre) wrote to Walsingham in England on 30 March/9 April 1587: "I send you the copy of a letter from the French ambassador in Spain, M. de Longlee, which has been deciphered and which I think you should see, and make what use of it you can." (CSP, Elizabeth vol.21, Part 1 (British History Online)). Although Henry of Navarre was heir presumptive, he was then at war with Henry III (the War of the Three Henrys (Wikipedia)).
Another cipher of Longlee is preserved in BnF fr.4053 (ff.99-100) but appears to have never been used (Mousset p.liii).
When Henry III was assassinated, Longlee supported the Protestant succession by Henry IV, who told him to remain at his post in November 1589. But Philip II did not recognize Henry IV and hence could not accept his ambassador. Longlee's position became difficult and he was recalled in April 1590. (Mousset p.xxviii-xxx)
A letter, mostly in cipher, of Ferals (François Rougier, baron de Ferralz) to the King dated 2 January 1574 is in BnF fr. 16041, f.1 (Gallica). The cipher can be reconstructed as follows. (In future, this cipher will be moved to an article for the previous reign.)
Paul de Foix (Wikipedia) was ambassador in Rome from 1579 until his death in 1584. Two letters in cipher from de Foix to the Queen (Catherine de Medici) are in BnF fr.16043 (Gallica) (f.243, 1 October 1581; f.286, 13 November 1581) and more letters in cipher to the King or the Queen in 1582-1583 are in BnF fr.16044 (Gallica, f.6, f.29, f.181, f.380v). Unlike typical French diplomatic ciphers at the time, de Foix used a numerical cipher. (Numerical ciphers are also found in the Nevers collection. See, e.g., no.63, no.64 in another article.)
BnF Clair 357, f.167, is a letter in figure cipher dated 28 October 1586. (Though not signed, the characters affixed at the end may indicate the sender.) While about two thirds of the first page is not deciphered, the reconstructed cipher below reveals "jay reccu voz deux lettres en ung mesme temps dont jay faict comunication a ...."
Many letters in cipher from Luigi d'Este (Cardinal d'Este, Cardinal of Ferrara) (Wikipedia) in Rome to Villeroi in 1584-1586 are in BnF fr. 16041, f.259, 264, etc. (Gallica) and BnF fr.16042 (Gallica). Being a grandson of Louis XII, Cardinal d'Este represented France in the College of Cardinals (Wikipedia, d'Ars p.160) and played a key role in the papal conclave of 1585 (Wikipedia).
The cipher can be reconstructed as follows.
Vivonne was ambassador in Rome in 1584-1589, succeeding Paul de Foix, and worked with Cardinal de Joyeuse, Cardinal Protector for France (Jensen p.37, d'Ars p.152).
Vivonne used ciphers different from what he used in Spain. His letters to the King in 1585 used the cipher below. (4 June 1585 (f.50), 7 June 1585 (f.63), 16 June 1585 (f.69), 17 June 1585 (f.75), 2 July 1585 (f.93), 2 July 1585 (f.97), 17 July 1585 (f.105), 17 July 1585 (f.114), 23 July 1585 (f.121) in BNF fr.16045 (Gallica)) Some symbols look like two symbols (see those for "l", "pour", "que"). Symbols for "b" look the same as those for "c".
Vivonne's letters to the King in 1586-1587 use the following cipher. (8 September 1586 (ff.228-234), 17 September 1586 (f.240-245), 17 September 1586 (f.246-247), 4 November 1586 (ff.272-280), and 24 March 1587 (f.297-f.303) in BNF fr.16045 (Gallica))
One specimen in this cipher reads as follows (see also the image).
Two letters of 18 June 1588 from Vivonne to the King in BNF fr.16046 (Gallica) (f.165 ff., f.179 ff.) use the following cipher.
When Henry III was assassinated in August 1589, the Marquis of Pissany had been dismissed in the midst of tensions over the Catholic League and was away from Rome (Jensen p.37, d'Ars p.308-309). Being a royalist, he immediately joined Henry IV (d'Ars p.313), who sent the marquis to Rome for negotiation on his behalf (p.317). But permanent embassy was not established in Rome until after the coronation of Henry IV (Jensen p.37).
André Hurault, sieur de Maisse (mentioned in Wikipedia) was ambassador in Venice from 1582 to 1596, except for a brief period in 1588-1589. When he was sent to Venice in 1589, now representing Henry IV, Venice not only accepted him despite intervention of the Spanish ambassador and the papal nuncio, but also became the first Catholic state to send an ambassador to the Protestant French king. Henry IV also sent, as early as August 1590, de Maisse to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, who helped Henry IV's cause during this critical period.(Jensen p.34-36, d'Ars p.318)
BnF fr.16092 (Gallica) contains "La Clef du chiffre de Mr de Maisse Ambassadeur a Venise" (f.5). It is a numerical cipher as follows, but I have not seen its actual use.
The many letters in BnF fr.16092 from Henry III (countersigned Neufville (i.e., Villeroi) (Wikipedia)) to de Maisse in 1582-1585 employs the following cipher, which is typical of the French ciphers at the time. The same cipher is also used in many letters in 1586 to May 1587 in BnF fr.16093 (Gallica) (ff.1-159).
(Gallica: NAF 22048, NAF 22070)
NAF 22048 (NAF=bibl. nat., nouv. acq. fr.) and NAF 22070 (both concerning correspondence of Jacques de Germigny (Wikipedia), ambassador to Constantinople in 1579-1585) contain many letters of Henry III in cipher. While the deciphering in the margin is hard to read, transcription in Lettres de Henri III helped reconstruction of the cipher. For example, the letter of f.8 in NAF 22048 (addressed to Sr de Germigny, dated 27 August 1579) is no.3480 (p.258) therein.
Ciphertext in this volume uses many nulls, even within a word.
(Unlike the above specimen, Wikipedia presents Henry III's signature in Latin.)
BnF fr.16144 (Gallica) contains many letters from Germigny to the court (f.76 ff.) as well as those of Secretary (Recveil Des Pieces Choisies (1661) p.33 (Google)) Berthier from 1585-1586 (f.3 ff.), who used the same cipher.
NAF 22070, f.69 is an original cipher with an endorsement "Chiffre avec Monsieur de Maisse, Ambassadeur pour le Roy a Venise [signed] Germigni", that is, André Hurault de Maisse. This cipher is in the style of many court ciphers at the time.
Jacques Savary de Lanscosme (Wikipedia) succeeded Germigny. He used the following cipher in letters of 1588 preserved in BnF fr.16144 (Gallica), ff.75-206.
This cipher provides for a symbol to double the preceding letter.
Savary was associated with the Catholic League and did not accept Henry IV as King of France. He was imprisoned by the Ottomans and his relative, Francois Savary de Brèves (Wikipedia, Jensen p.33), who had accompanied him in 1584, as interim ambassador, and then official ambassador. (The ciphers used by Savary de Breves in the next reign are different from the above, with Arabic figures and other symbols. See another article.)
A cipher used in a letter of the Duke of Anjou, brother of the king, to the governor of Cambrai (January and February 1583), broken by the Spanish codebreaker Luis de la Cerda (see another article) is preserved in BNE Ms.994 (f.5-9) (the image is licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA).
A letter partly in cipher "Du sr de la Boderie au sr de Melimont son frere", dated London, 8 October 1585, is in BnF fr.15972 f.10-12 (Gallica). La Boderie may be Antoine Le Fèvre de La Boderie (1555-1615), who served as an ambassador in England in 1606-1611, but his activities in 1585 are not found in the description of his early careers found in the preface of Ambassades de Monsieur de la Boderie en Angleterre sous le règne d'Henri IV (Google) or in the reference to him in a Wikipedia article of his brother. Moreover, his brother Melimont is not found in his genealogy.
The cipher can be reconstructed as follows.
As is often the case, the handwriting of the plaintext made the reconstruction difficult. Matching the ciphertext and plaintext at the beginning and the end came to a deadend. (Of those, at least my assignment of "si tost" near the end turned out to be correct. Vertical signs in the ciphertext often (but not always!) indicating word breaks helped alignment.)
I found "xviii" in the ciphertext and, as expected, the plaintext had its counterpart. But the words surrounding it were hardly legible. Then, I found "xx" in the ciphertext, but the counterpart was not found in the plaintext. Then, I thought "mil" (one of the few words I could recognize in the plaintext) might be preceded by "vingt", which should correspond to "xx" in the ciphertext. This revealed the signs for "m", "i", "l" (and "que" preceding "vingt"). After this initial finding, the reconstruction was only a matter of time.
Memoires in cipher, titled "Memoires concernans quelques grands d'Escosse qui se declarent pour le Roy prenans pretexte de vouloir restablir la religion en Escosse et Irlande" is in BnF fr.15972 f.40 (Gallica). The cipher can be reconstructed as follows.
Although this document is filed after a document relating to the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1587, historians' help is needed to date this document. Dating is important because the extensive use of Arabic figures with diacritics is a characteristic often seen in ciphers in the reign of Henry IV.
BnF fr.15560-15574 include many letters in cipher addressed to the court of Henry III of France. Many are addressed to the King or his counsellor Villeroi (Wikipedia). While many ciphers have been reconstructed from already deciphered materials, there still remain some unidentified ciphers.
Apparently no cipher.
F.42 is a letter of 12 July 1579 from Don Juan de Borgia, Spanish ambassador at the imperial court of Maximillian II, then at Prague, to Philip II, reporting the Prince of Parma's seizure of Maastricht in June. The reconstructed cipher is given as "Cipher with Don Juan de Borgia (1579)" in another article.
Ff.65-66 and ff.69-70 are letters mostly in cipher. The former has some interlined text, which allowed reconstruction of the cipher. Deciphered text revealed it was information from Antwerp, dated 16 January 1580. See another article for decipherment and reconstructed cipher.
Apparently no cipher.
These are letters to Mr de Mercoeur probably from the Duke of Guise. Undeciphered. (Several ciphers related to the Duke of Guise are given in another article and one cipher used by the Duke of Mercoeur is in another article but they do not seem to match.)
Anyone who succeeded in deciphering these is kindly asked to contact me or post at this blog entry.
Undeciphered. Dated "ce xxvje juin." Endorsed "A Monseigneur / Monseigneur le Duc de Mercoeur"
This letter, addressed to Villeroi, has several lines in cipher. The reconstructed cipher is as follows. (The last line cannot be read except for the first "d.")
There are undeciphered letters on f.7, f.62, f.91, f.105, and f.122: "probablement de princes de la maison de Guise".
An undeciphered letter.
A letter partially in cipher, deciphered. Uses Aubeterre's Cipher below.
Uses Matignon's Cipher-1, reconstructed as below. (The last line on f.54r appears to be all nulls.) For the maréchal de Matignon, see Wikipedia.
Uses Aubeterre's Cipher (partially deciphered between lines), reconstructed as below. (This Aubeterre is probably David Bouchard d'Aubeterre mentioned in Wikipedia.)
The following can be reconstructed from interlined deciphering.
Uses Hautefort's Cipher, reconstructed as below from partial interlined deciphernig. (This Hautefort is probably Jean de Bellièvre (1524-1584) mentioned in BnF Data.)
Uses Maygnieulx's Cipher, reconstructed as below.
Uses Aubeterre's Cipher (see above).
Uses Matignon's Cipher-1 (see above).
Uses Hautefort's Cipher (see above).
A letter (April 1585) in seven pages from Matignon to Henry III. Mostly in cipher, deciphered in f.133. Uses Matignon's Cipher-2, as reconstructed below from f.131.
A letter (September 1585) of Matignon. Mostly in cipher, with interlined decipherment for a few portions. Deciphered in f.273.
Uses Matignon's Cipher-3 (see below).
Used in ff.34-35 (deciphered in f.36). (There seem to be more words in the deciphered text before "protestans" than in the ciphertext, even if allowing for one or two code symbols I could not identify.)
L'Aubespine-Châteauneuf or Guillaume de L'Aubespine, baron de Châteauneuf-sur-Cher was ambassador to England from 1584 to 1589 (Wikipedia).
A letter from Forget to Villeroi of 31 December 1585. Undeciphered. Uses Mayenne-Forget's Cipher 1 (see below).
Entirely in cipher, undeciphered (The digital image of BnF for this page is upside down.). Uses Matignon's Cipher-3 (see below), which allows deciphering (see the image).
A letter with many key words in cipher, with interlined decipherment. The cipher can be reconstructed as follows.
This is used among Charles of Lorraine, Duke of Mayenne (Wikipedia), Forget de Fresnes (Wikipedia), the counsellor Villeroi (Wikipedia), and King Henry III. Letters in this cipher are found in f.14 (deciphered in f.15), f.18-21 (deciphered in f.19), f.78-79 (deciphered in the margin), f.91-92 (deciphered in the margin), f.110 (undeciphered), f.123-124 (undeciphered), f.143 (undeciphered), f.150 (undeciphered), f.154 (undeciphered), f.173 (undeciphered), f.196 (undeciphered), f.201 (undeciphered), etc.
Numerical nomenclature is also provided: 12 (il), 13 (qui), 14 (que), 17 (car), 24 (notre?), 25 (nous?), 26 (leur? vous?), 40 (lui), 34 (ainsi), 35 (parce que), 43 (point), 51 (pas), 47 (tout?), 48 (aussi), 52 (plustost), 76 (le roi de Navarre), 82 (le Prince de Conde), 84 (Vicomte de Turenne), 98 (Montauban).
The beginning of f.111 can be deciphered as something like "Monsieur de Villeroi vous verres bien par la lettre que je fais au roi dueiemes...."
The beginning of the ciphertext of f.143 can be deciphered as something like "s'estant laisse entendre 49 il se voulloit de partir du 76 duquel je scai quil est tres malcontant et ayant considere que je lai tousjours ou y tenir pour le meilleur ...."
The beginning of the ciphertext of f.150 reads something like "il estoit me besoins car je tourvai quil auoit ...."
The beginning of the ciphertext of f.154 reads something like "en quelle peine [nous] estion ...."
Two pages entirely in cipher, undeciphered, except for the date line "Du xxxe Janvier 1586" (Note f.43r is repeated in the digital data). This date is the same as that of the letter in f.42 of St. Luc but the latter, in the same hand as St. Luc's letter in clear in f.35, does not seem to be a decipherment. F.44 is a letter of Catherine de Medici, which is too long to be a decipherment of this.
Letter of M. de Chasteauneuf, envoy to England. One word left in cipher, deciphered as "cabrian". The cipher corresponds to Chasteauneuf's cipher above.
Cipher used by Camus (Claude Camus de Pontcarré).
Used in f.111, f.112, f.132, f.134, f.151, f.272.
The cipher can be reconstructed as follows.
Cipher used by Malycorne (?Sourches Malicorne).
Used in f.162-163 (partly deciphered in the margin).
The cipher can be reconstructed as follows.
Used in f.189 (deciphered in f.190), f.276 (undeciphered), f.277-278 (deciphered in f.279-280), f.282 (deciphered in the margin). Also used in f.179 in BnF fr.15571 (see the image above, which includes some additional (variants of) symbols).
The undeciphered text in f.276 can be read as something like "La Guiolle est en doubte du pu pour les amis de la Roussiere sont et grand nombre avec lu...." La Roussiere appears to refer to the governor of Fontenai in 1586 (Memoires de Maximilien de Bethune, duc de Sully, vol.1, p.107).
Used in f.210, f.215, ff.216-217, ff.218-219, ff.227-228, ff.289-290, ff.295-297, f.351, ff.354-355, ff.369-370.
This cipher was used not only by Forget but also by Matignon (ff.218-219, undeciphered) and the Duke of Mayenne (see BnF fr.15573 below).
Most ciphers, whether homophonic or not, use one symbol, letter, or Arabic figure to represent a letter. In contrast, this cipher replaces each letter with a tuple (set) of two to four symbols/letters/figures.
The only letter known (to me) to have used this tuple cipher is the one in ff.234-239, (of which the endorsement bears the name of "Mr de Matignon" and date "xix[?] Mar 1586").
Used in f.245 (deciphered in the margin), f.260 (undeciphered).
The beginning of f.260 can be read something like "arriva hier en Olleron et a ce matin venu en son ... ou il a eue le plaisir de voir la ... avec ses galliotes et de quelques canonnades de nostre fort je croy il ny fera pas grand sejour sans retourner a ...."
In 1586, St. Luc (François d'Épinay de Saint-Luc) took the island of Oléron (Wikipedia) from Agrippa d'Aubigné, whom he took prisoner (Wikipedia; Sarah Scott (1843), "The Life of Théodore Agrippa D'Aubigae" p.71).
Used in f.298, f.349 (both deciphered in the margin). Armand de Gontaut, duc de Biron was maréchal de France.
Forget's letter (August 1586). Deciphered in the margin. Uses Mayenne-Forget's Cipher-2.
Duke of Mayenne's letter (August 1586). Deciphered in the margin. Uses Mayenne-Forget's Cipher-2.
Biron's letter (August 1586). Deciphered in the margin. Uses Biron's Cipher.
Forget's letter. Deciphered in the margin in neat hand. Uses Mayenne-Forget's Cipher-2.
Duke of Mayenne's letter. Deciphered in the margin in neat hand. Uses Mayenne-Forget's Cipher-2.
Endorsement illegible (to me). Undeciphered. Uses Mayenne-Forget's Cipher-2.
Undeciphered. "Rene Duval, Sr de Stors" according to catalogue.
Undeciphered. Signature illegible (to me) (Lucas?).
Duke of Mayenne's letter. Deciphered in the margin. Uses Mayenne-Forget Cipher-2.
Deciphered in the margin. Uses Matignon's Cipher-3 above.
Undeciphered. Uses Matignon's Cipher-3 above. Its beginning reads something like "a ce quil plaist [votre] majeste me commander lui donner advis pour lentre de [votre] arme...."
Michel François (ed.)(1984), Lettres de Henri III, Six volumes are listed in Wikipedia. A preview of a volume is found at Google.
Verneilh-Puiraseau (1843), Histoire de France, ou l'Aquitaine depuis les Gaulois jusqu'à la fin du règne de Louis XVI, vol.3 (Google)
Jacques Auguste de Thou (1734), Histoire universelle de Jacque-Auguste de Thou, depuis 1543 jusqu'en 1607, vol.9 (Google)
Garrett Mattingly, Renaissance Diplomacy (Internet Archive)
"Liste: des ambassadeurs, envoyés, ministres et autres agents politiques: de la cour de France près les puissances étrangères" (1848) Annuaire Historique Pour L'année ..., 12, 145-252 (JSTOR)
De Lamar Jensen (1974), "French Diplomacy and the Wars of Religion", The Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Oct., 1974), pp.23-46 (JSTOR)
Jean-Michel Ribera, "Diplomatie et espionnage: Les ambassadeurs du roi de France auprès de Philippe II. Du traité du Cateau-Cambrésis (1559) à la mort de Henri III (1589) online
Albert Mousset (ed.), Depeches diplomatiques de M. De Longlee (1912) (Internet Archive, Google)
Guy de Bremond d'Ars (1884), Jean de Vivonne, Sa Vie Et Ses Ambassades Pres de Philippe II Et a la Cour de Rome (Internet Archive)
Giovanni Anticona, "Les lettres des ambassadeurs a Rome et autres agents. Tomes VII et VIII. 1584-1588, edition commentee" (Academia.edu)