A Cipher of Henry of Navarre before Accession to the French Throne (1587)

Henry of Navarre's letter, dated 3 July and 8 August 1587, partly in figure cipher is printed in Recueil des lettres missives de Henri IV, vol.8 (Google), p.319. This is the only cipher known to me of Henry IV before his accession to the French throne. This cipher is interesting because it is one of the earliest figure ciphers in France, though there are other sporadic examples (see another article).

Reconstructed Cipher

The printed decipherment allows reconstruction of the cipher as follows.


The letter is addressed to Paul Choart de Buzenval [Buzanval]. He was from Paris, not Navarre. When he was in Flanders in the army of the Duke of Anjou, he already had connection with Walsingham, England's spymaster, and asked for a cipher.

... I have a favour to beg of you, which is to send me the copy of a cipher which M. de Maninville [Captain Cencio Manni, Strozzi's foster-brother (CSP Foreign, Elizabeth, vol.15 (BHO))] left you. He left me its fellow, but it was lost with some other baggage (hardes) a few days ago. It might serve me sometimes to impart to you things which I could not otherwise write. The lack of it is the reason why I could not understand all his letter, and am not filling this with what I should have liked....

Buzenval to Walsingham, Antwerp, 9 March 1582
CSP Elizabeth vol.15, pp.534-542 (BHO)

He had as a comrade Duplessis-Mornay, who represented Henry of Navarre in the Low Countries in 1581-1582 (Wikipedia). In 1583, Duplessis-Mornay called Buzenval into the service of Henry of Navarre. Buzenval was sent to England and the Low Countries. In 1586-1587, he was again sent to England. The king's letter was written during this mission.


The ciphertext with the decipherment according to the above reconstruction is presented below.

... Mandez-moy particulierement que 309<(not deciphered)> aura fait 17<a> 153<tou> 41<n> 54<t> 116<le> 141<re> 153<tou> 49<r> 91<de> 109<hu> 36<g> 156<ve> 142<ri> 25<e> 65<et> 235<que> 37<l/ls> 116<le> 18<a> 191<est> 26<e> 145<sa> 91<de> 131<pe> 52<s> 21<c> 106<he>. S'il a faict quelque effect, cela sera venu bien a propos. Je suis en deliberation d'aller joindre bientost le dict secours, encores

monsr de Montmorency a mesme fin. Lorsque nous arriverons a 57<u> 45<p> 141<re> 63<s> 94<de?> 315<Duc Casimir> 222<nous> 18<a> 158<vo> 42<n> 52<s>* 81<be> 148<so> 34<i> 41<n> 30<g?>* 186<de> 91<de> 127<ny[ni]> 25<e> 50<rs?> ; c est a quoy il vous fault travailler si desja vous ne l aves faict Soyez soigneux de 141<re> 116<le> 156<ve> 49<r> 263<vostre> 17<a> 23<d> 122<mi> 149(should be 140?)<ra>* 59<ul?> 151<te>. J'en escris a 329(Monsr. comte de Leicester). Nous avons affaire de mil ou douze cens harquebuses et fournimens. Je vous prie en faire marche avec quelque bon marchant de dela, pour les faire apporter en ceste ville. Cela servira pour armer un regiment ou deux qui se levent. Faictes en cela le meilleur mesnage que vous pourrez. Vous scavez qu'il faut des mousquetaires parmy les regimens, et par consequent des mousquets. Recherchez et trouvez les moyens de me mander plus souvent des nouvelles de la Royne et de ce qui se passe par dela, et faictes bailler a 272<le comte de Soissons> le moyen dont on l'a asseure 118<lo> 49<r> 52<s> 137<qui> 37<l/ls> 123<mo> 41<n> 151<te> 143<ro> 35<n> 54<t> 17<a> 21<c> 106<he> 155<va> 38<l> 107<hi> 51<s> 46<le?> 51<s> 54<t> 143<ro> 61<y> 52<s> 88<co> 58<u> 147<sy[si]> 42<n> 52<s> 92<di> 146<se> 42<n> 55<t> 137<qui> 38<l> 64<s> 96<fe?>* 143<ro> 41<n> 55<t> 178<bien> le temps est ....

*The printed transcription has "avons" instead of "aurons."
*This "g" is a conjecture from regularity, not in the transcription in print.
*149 seems to be a transcription error for 140, judging from the regularity of the cipher.
*The printed transcription has "seront", but the regularity indicates this should be "feront".

Buzenval's Other Ciphers

Another use of cipher in correspondence with Buzenval is found in Henry's letter to Buzenval, 9 January 1595. (The ciphertext is omitted in Lettres missives, vol.4, p.297.) Considering the elapse of time, the cipher may be different from the above.

A cipher used in 1602 between Buzenval, now in Holland, and Beaumont, ambassador in England, uses mainly arbitrary symbols (see another article).


De Puchesse, B. (1909), "Un ami et un ambassadeur de Henri IV Paul Choart de Buzenval (1551-1607)", Annuaire-Bulletin De La Société De L'histoire De France, 46(1), 109-118 (JSTOR)

See also my related articles:

S.Tomokiyo, French ciphers during the Reign of Henry III of France

S.Tomokiyo, French ciphers during the Reign of Henry IV of France

©2020 S.Tomokiyo
First posted on 16 September 2020. Last modified on 16 September 2020.
Articles on Historical Cryptography
inserted by FC2 system