A Misplaced? English Cipher Letter in French Archives

A wholly enciphered letter of BnF fr.2988 (Gallica), f.1, was solved by Torbjörn Andersson from Sweden in 2017 (Cipherbrain). The cipher is basically monoalphabetic substitution, with a few homophones and code symbols. Unexpectedly, the plaintext turned out to be English.


"T" is used as both "q" and "b" (the latter should be "+"). "ω" is used as both "i" and "a" (the latter should have a macron above). At least some must be errors in the ciphertext.

Deciphered Text

In the raw translation of the ciphertext below (in CAPITALS), word divisions are mine. Colored text is my reading.

- is a null, not necessarily the end of a sentence.

** indicates an undeciphered symbol. *barred square* seems to be the writer. *1:* seems to be the recipient's son.

The code symbol "a:" is rendered as "Majesty" for convenience' sake. Other possibilities are "Highness", "Eminence", "Lordship", etc.

PLEIS YOUR Majesty *barred square* HES BEIN ERNIST ^ TO OBTEIN LICENCE
Please your Majesty, [the writer] has been earnest to obtain license
TO KIS YOUR Majesty HAND BOT CULD NOT OBTEIN PERMISSI
to kiss your Majesty's hand but could not obtain permission
ONE TO DO IT - MY ERAND IS TO HAYF PUBLICTLY E C R A U I T
to do it. My errand is to have publicly ecraved[?]
PARDONE AND HUMBLY OFFER IT MY FAYTHFUL SERVICE
pardon and humbly offer it. My faithful service
ONTO YOUR Majesty TO HAYF MOVIT UTHER IS TO HAIF DONE THE *:*
onto your Majesty to have moved other is to have done the *:*
Y LIKE *Pi* I THINK IN THE END YOUR GRETAST ENNEMEIS
... I think in the end your greatest ennemies
SAL BE FORCIT TO PERFORME - S E I N U I CANNOT H
shall be forced to perform seinu[?] I cannot
AYF ACCESS MYSELF I CANNOT FORBEIR TO LAT
have access myself. I cannot forbear to let
YOUR Majesty ONDERSTAND MY OPINIONE IN SUM MA
your Majesty understand my opinion. In sum,
TER IS THAT APPER IS TO ADUANCE YOUR Majesty S
matter is that appear is to advance your Majesty's
ERDICE - A NE PART OF YOUR ESPERANCE MOST
service. One part of your esperance must
NOU CONSIST IN YOUR SONE *1:* B U H O M E YOUE
now consist in your son. .... Your
ENNEMEIS SEKIS TO RETEIN IN CONTINUAL
ennemies seek to retain in continual
TROUBLE AND - DAINGEIR OF LYFE BE PROCUR
trouble and danger of life by procuring
ING OF ANE FACTIONE AND PARTYE AGAN IS
of one faction and party again is
HYM IN YOUR REALME ONDER COLLOUR OF RE
him in your realm under colour of
LIGION TO REDUCE HYM IN THAT STATE THAT THE
religion to reduce him in that state that they
SAL NEUDR BE ABLE TO HELPE YOUR Majesty NOR
shall never be able to helpe your Majesty nor
PRESERVE HYMSELF FROM EXTRIM DAINGE
preserve himself from extreme danger
IR OF HIS LYFE AND STATE - THE ONLY REME
of his life and state. The only remedy
IDE TO HELP THIS MATER APPER IS MAYBE
to help this matter appear is maybe
PERFORM IT IN THIS MANER - THAT AL THAT
perform it in this manner: that all that
AR ALREADYE BANNISCHIT AND AL THAT A
are already banished and all that are
R TO BE BANNYSCHIT OR THAT ONDER SUSPI
to be banished or that under suspicion
TIONE TO BE CORRUPTIT BE SUTTLE MEAN
to be corrupted by subtle means
IS OF YOUR ENNEMIE MAY BE THE TRAU
of your ennemy may be the travel
EL OF SUM ONE MAN BE GATHER IT TOGE
of sum one man be gather it together
THIR IN FRANCE B U H A R YOUR FRINDIS
in France B U H A R your friends
MAY BE *e* R T H A Y M GUD CONTENCE AND MAK PROM
may be ...good contence and make promise
ES THAT APONE THAYR HUMBLE S U T E THAY WYL
that apone[?] thayr humble .... that will
REBUEIST YOUR Majesty TO MAK THAYR APPOYNTE
request your Majesty to make their appointment

MENT *pi* *1:* *Pi* BE AND PERFORM IT BE YOUR MEANIS
... [your son?] ... perform it by your means
WYL PRODUCE TWO GRIET GUD EFFECTIS THE
will produce two great good effects: the
ONE IT VALD REMOUE THE CRAFTIE POLIC
one: it would remove the crafty policy
EY OF YOUR ENNEMEIS THAT TRAVELIS
of your ennemies that travels
BE ALMOYEN POSSIBLE TO CAUS YOUR *1:*
by all means[?] possible to cause your [son?]
B *Lambda* TO ENTER I N F O R D A R B L O U D E *pi* HYS -
... to enter .... his
(verso)
SUBJECTIS TO MAK THE MATER IRRECONSILI
subjects to make the matter irreconcilable
ABLE B E I U Y S T H Y M AND THAYR POSTERITIE
by .... and their posterity
T *#* A THE THAYRBY MAY REMAYNE IN CON
.... thereby may remain in continual
TINEUAL TROUBLE AND DAYNGEIR AND BE
trouble and danger and be
CONSEBUENT UNHABLE TO HELPE YOUR
consequent unable to help your
CAUSE - THE UTHYR IT WIL D L A T YOUR EN
cause. The other: it will [delay?] your ennemies
NEMEIS ONDERSTAND THAT YE VALD NOT
understand that you would not
LONG REMAYNE DESTITUTE OF FREINDIS
long remain destitute of friends
THAT BOYTH VALD AND SUL I CRAVE RE
that both would and shall[?] icrave[?] reason
ASONE FOR YOUR Majesty - IT APPERIS THAT NO
for your Majesty. It appears that nothing
THYNG SAL BE SO ABLE TO HELPE YOUR C
shall be so able to help your cause
ADSE AS GYF YOUR UNFREYNDIS M Y C/U T H
as giv[ing] your unfriends ...
ONDERSTAND GYF R E S S O N E V A R NOT DONE
understand give ... not done
TO YOUR Majesty TO *delta* S REALME M Y U T H BE BRO
to your Majesty to ...'s realm ... brought
UHT TO UNBUIETNES BE MEANIS OF YOUR
to unquietness by means of your
SONE THAT BE HELPE OF HYS FREIND IS A N R
son that by help of his friend is ...
SUBJECT IS VAR ABLE TO DO IT - THIS I T I K
subject is ... able to do it. This I take
TO BE THE NEAREST WIY TO PERFORME
to be the nearest way to perform
GUD EFFECTIS U Y C T H O U T ONY GRIT DAYNGE
good effects which[?] thought[?] any great danger
IR YOUE Majesty MAY PERSAUE THAT OFFERIS
your Majesty may persue[?] that offers
AR LYK TO PRODUCE NO BETTER EFFECTIS
are like to produce no better effects.
NOR YE HAYF PROVIT ALREADY - IN THIS
Nor you have proved already in this
SERVICE OR ONY UTHYR THAT YE SAL CON
service or any other that you shal command
MAND *barred squared* OFFERIS HIS BODY READY TO SERV
[the writer] offers his body ready to serve
E SO LONG AS HE SAL LEYF AND HOPYS TO
so long as he shall live and hopes to
DO GUD SERVICE HEIRIN *barred square* HES INFORMI
do good service herein. [The writer] has informed
T *inverted female* OF THE STAITE OF *1:* AND YOUR CUNTRIE
[someone] of the state of [your son?] and your country.
B U H O HES PROMYSIT TO LAT YOUR Majesty KNAU
... has promised to let your Majesty know
IT - Y GOD PRESERVE YOUE Majesty URYTING
it. ... God preserve your Majesty. Writing
IN HAYST THIS TWENTYE OF APRILE *barred square*
in haste this twenty of April. [the writer's signature]

Historical Context

The historical background of this letter is unknown.

Probably, it was written in the 1520s. (Dated letters in the same volume are from 1526-1537, with one from 1546.)

F.2 of the same volume is another ciphertext signed Hieronimo Ranzo in a much more complex cipher, not deciphered yet (see another article). Although catalog information treats f.1 and f.2 as one item, it seems clear that they are two separate pieces. I wondered whether one is an enclosure of the other. But the above decipherment of f.1 does not appear to mention an enclosure.

F.4-6 of the same volume is a letter of Nicolas Raince, dated Rome, 25 December 1526. Raince was a secretary at the French embassy in Rome from ca. 1521 to 1537 and acted like an ambassador (see another article).

The recipient may be identified from internal evidence. "Majesty" is adopted in the above decipherment because references to "your realm" may suggest that the recipient is some monarch. An obvious candidate is Henry VIII, and if so, "your son" must refer to Henry FitzRoy (1519-1536) (Wikipedia). Before the final break with Rome, legitimizing FitzRoy (Wikipedia) to secure a male heir or marrying FitzRoy to Princess Mary (daughter of Catherine of Aragon) (Wikipedia) were contemplated. Both required negotiation with the Pope. Historians' help is needed to see whether Henry VIII and FitzRoy match the context of the decipherment (esp. references to danger of life), or some other candidate should be sought.



©2021 S.Tomokiyo
First posted on 24 March 2021. Last modified on 27 March 2021.
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