Clarendon's Correspondence Decoded by John Wallis (c.1669) and Re-decoded by His Grandson

Lambeth Palace Library preserves an undated decoded letter accusing the Lord Keeper (MS 930, no.8). It appears to be addressed to Edward Hyde, first Earl of Clarendon, living in exile after his dismissal from Lord Chancellor and Keeper of the Great Seal. The government had his correspondence decoded by John Wallis, a professor of mathematics at Oxford (see another article). On the other hand, it appears the original copy reached Clarendon and, thirty years later, was re-decoded by William Blencowe, the official decipherer and Wallis' grandson.

The code (THE=607) is more or less similar to those used by the royalists T. Kingston in 1658 and General Massey in 1660 (see another article). It assigns low numbers to single letters alphabetically. Higher numbers are for syllables and words arranged alphabetically.

The letter accuses the Lord Keeper in office (probably Sir Orlando Bridgeman, who had succeeded Clarendon in 1667) and expresses a hearty wish for "E. Clarendon again." The letter goes on to report names of serjeants-at-law.

There is a passage "... Atkines too old to ride. Sir Robert Atkines lately marry'ed his sone to Sir George Carteret's daughter." This coincides with the fact that the only son of Sir Robert Atkines (Wikipedia) married in 1669 Louisa-Margaret Cartert, daughter of Sir George Carteret. (Although the son is also Sir Robert Atkyns, the younger Sir Robert had no issue.)

Two Copies

The letter is headed as "Slede to Clarendon" and the manuscript at Lambeth Palace Library is endorsed by Archbishop Tenison "Feb. 1701 [i.e., 1702 (The library's catalog annotation "Decyphered letter [from John Blencowe, judge, to Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon, February 1702], attacking the Lord Keeper [Sir Nathan Wright], and naming seventeen persons to be called next term as Serjeants at Law." needs correction but I thought there is no reason to doubt the year. At the time, the beginning of the year was Lady Day, 25 March.)] Judge Blencowe the cypherer of Ld. Clarendon decyphered by his sonn." "Judge Blencowe" refers to John Blencowe (The History of Parliament), son of John Wallis, and his son, William Blencowe, was the official decipherer of the government. Probably, the coded letter was preserved in the family of Clarendon and Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon, living in the country after 1691 (Wikipedia), consulted Judge Blencowe about the letter in code and the letter was eventually deciphered by William Blencowe.

On the other hand, another copy was preserved in Wallis' family and the plaintext was published in The Monthly Magazine, vol.13, the 1 June 1802 issue, p.446 (Google).

It appears that Blencowe decoded what his grandfather had decoded thirty years before. The plaintext printed in The Monthly Magazine is as follows. (The phrase in plaintext "lately marry'ed" is rendered as "hapely married" in The Monthly Magazine.)

I HAVE received yoar's of the 27th of July, and give you thanks for your kindness, and I hope you will be so kind as to continue this friendship to me. L. Keeper is a poore and pitiful spirited man; he is despised and publicly smiled at by every bodie. I am told he will be charged with bribery, through his lady's hands, she being L. Keeper, and darke lanthorne to her husbande; in a word, few speak kindely or civilie of him, but very heartily wish for E. Clarendon again. There is a call off seaventeen serjeants at law against near tearme (viz). In Gray's Inn: Math. Turner, Wm. Ellis, Mr. VVillet, the Makards, Thomas Flint, Sir Wm. Scroggs; in Lyncolne's Inn, Sir john Howell, Recorder, Mr. Gaddard, Mr. Powis, Mr. Jones; Mydd. Temple, Mr. Turner, Francis Bramstone, Mr. Barton, Sir Henry Pellham; Inner Temple, Sir Richard Hopkins, Mr. Goodfellow, Jamm Baldwin. Such of these as have not formerly read, do it now, except Sjr Wm. Scroggs, who is the last in the list, and who, having received his writ before the time, insisted upon his privilege of being now exempted from it, though otherwise he should have done it, as being his turn. Serjeant Brome and -- supply two judges places for the summer-circuit, a baron's place being voide and Atkines too old to ride. Sir Robert Atkines hapely married his sone to Sir George Carteret's daughter. I am told by a man of skill, that the serjeants pay L. Kecper well for their call. L. Keeper has promised to them that they should not put themselves to that great charge as formerly was done in like cases; but only each of them to make a good dinner of twenty pounds; and the overplus of expences on like occasions to be spent on the building their inn. L. Keeper is to be keeper of this money, and, as is beleaved, to his own accompt nothing is more talked of

©2016 S.Tomokiyo
First posted on 19 June 2016. Last modified on 19 June 2016.
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