Some German Ciphers: 1540-1815

The present article presents some German ciphers not described in another article: Habsburg Codes and Ciphers.

Table of Contents:

Bavaria (16th Century)

Brunswick (16-17th Century)

Thirty Years' War

Saxony (18th Century)

Bavaria (Napoleonic Age)

Bavaria (16th Century)

Bavarian (and Other) Ciphers from the 16th Century

Ciphers preserved in Bavaria are catalogued in Ludwig von Rockinger (1891), Ueber Geheimschriftenschlüssel der bayerischen Kanzlei im sechzehnten Jahrhundert (Google). Those mentioned include ciphers of Dukes Wilheml IV (William) (Wikipedia), Ludwig (Louis) (Wikipedia), and Ernst (Ernest) (?Wikipedia) for domestic correspondence among them (p.41/27 k)). The ciphers are not all Bavarian (or even German), and, for example, Latin and Italian ciphers are also included (p.42/28 q), r), s)).

Some of them are printed in the appendix. Vergerio's cipher (p.73/59 12)) and a cipher from Prague (1538) (p.52/66 4) and p.80 of pdf) have symbols with superscripts (see another article). A cipher of Anton Fugger (Wikipedia) (1537) (p.82 of pdf) is a monoalphabetic substitution plus nulls. Dated ciphers in the appendix include a cipher of Hildebrand Garner[?] (1535) (p.85 of pdf), a cipher of Heinrich von Schwihau (p.89 of pdf), ciphers of Bonakurs [von Grinn] from Rome (1547) and France (1531) (p.90-91 of pdf), a cipher of "kaiserlicher Kanzlei" (1535) (p.93 of pdf), all little more than monoalphabetic ciphers.

Ernst of Bavaria, Bishop of Liège [1583]

A cipher of Ernst of Bavaria, Bishop of Liège (Wikipedia), preserved in Biblioteca Ottoboniana in Rome, is printed in Meister (1906) p.271. Its dissimilarity to other Vatican ciphers at the time suggests this might have been a typical form of ciphers in Bavaria at the time. However, a note says a similar cipher was given to Fontana, apostolic collector in Portugal (Wikipedia), mutatis mutandis (probably referring to the alternatives given in parentheses in different ink). This suggests it was the Vatican who provided this cipher to Bavaria and the nuncio in Portugal. The Vatican may have considered this simple cipher was sufficient for Bavaria and Portugal, but apostolic collectors succeeding Fontana were given more typical numerical ciphers (Meister p.330, 365, 403). It remains to be seen whether this cipher was Bavarian or papal.

William, Duke of Bavaria

A cipher of his brother William, Duke of Bavaria from 1579 to 1597 (Wikipedia) is more extensive (Meister p.275), part of which is as follows.

Brunswick (16-17th Century)

Duke Henry of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel (1540s)

A cipher of Duke Henry of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel is reproduced in Gerhard F. Strasser, "Die Wissenschaft der Alphabete" in Geheime Post (2015) and Strasser, "Wolfenbüttel, a Minor German Duchy but a Major Center of Cryptology in the Early Modern Period" (2017) (pdf). It belongs to the hard times of the duke's career. The duke had been expelled from his territories in 1542 by Protestant forces and was taken prisoner in 1545. It was only after Emperor Charles V defeated the Protestant Schmalkaldic League in 1547 that he was reinstated (Wikipedia).

The cipher provides several symbols for the letters of the alphabet (three for vowels, one for "x", "y", two for the rest). Symbols for double letters ("Duplices"), nulls ("Errantes"), and some names are also provided. This is similar to ciphers used in the French court (and probably elsewhere) at the time.

A similar cipher may have been used in a wholly enciphered paragraph in the duke's letter to Johann von der Asseburg from the same time, reproduced in Strasser (2017) (Fig.12).

Augustus, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg

Augustus (August in German), Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg from 1635 (Wikipedia) authored Cryptomenytices et Cryptographiae (1624) under the pseudonym Gustavus Selenus, but the ciphers he used appear to be relatively simple ones. His "triplet" cipher, as I call, works by arranging the 24 letters of the alphabet in eight 3-letter groups and replacing a letter with the other two letters in the same group. See another article.

Two-Part Code (1683)

A two-part code (1683) issued to Chancellor, "Präsident von Heimburg", is reproduced in Strasser (2015), Fig.5 and Strasser (2017) Figs.8-10. It uses one to three-digit figures to represent letters and names. The letters are assigned one to ten figures. The number of entries appears to be about 200.


About the time of the succession crisis of Jülich-Cleves-Berg in 1609-1610, Maurice of Hesse-Cassel had a cipher with Henry IV of France. It employed figures with diacritics (see another article). This seems to be a style typical in French ciphers until the 1670s (see another article), though more evidence is needed to establish this hypothesis.

Thirty Years' War

Wallenstein's Simple Substitution Cipher (1626)

During the Thirty Years' War, Albrecht von Wallenstein (a.k.a. Waldstein) used a simple substitution cipher in writing to the Count of Tilly on 22 July 1626. It was some months after Wallenstein soundly defeated Danish Protestants at Dessau (Wikipedia) and was sometime before the Battle of Lutter (Wikipedia). At the time, Tilly was threatened by Danish forces and was calling for reinforcements from Wallenstein.

When the letter acquired by an autograph collector was posted on Klausis Krypto Kolumne in 2016, Nagra immediately responded with a solution.

The identified cipher is as follows.

A curve over a figure doubles the letter. Two dots above 35(=a) is an umlaut.

One undeciphered figure "252" may suggest that this cipher was accompanied with a nomenclature (a code representing names/words with three-digit figures).

Carl von Rabenhaupt (1646)

An undeciphered letter (1646) of Carl von Rabenhaupt (Wikipedia), a Bohemian who fought for the Protestants during the Thirty Years' War, to Amalie Elisabeth, regent of Hesse-Kassel (Wikipedia), is presented in Klausis Krypto Kolumne (2016) and Crypto-World (7-8/2013; 9-10/2013; 11-12/2013). The cipher consists of two- or three-digit figures and other symbols.

This was broken in 2020 by finding the key in the Hessian State Archives in Marburg, Germany (the letter was in the State Regional Archives in Pilsen, Czech Republic because it was intercepted and forwarded by the military commander to Maximilian von Trauttmansdorff, imperial envoy to the peace talks at Münster) (Eugen Antal, Pavol Zajac, Jakub Mírka, "Solving a Mystery From the Thirty Years' War" in HistoCrypt 2021, p.12, 19, 15).

The cipher turned out to be a good one, unlike many ciphers at the time that have regular assignment of figures and symbols. The substitution table has eight to eleven symbols for each letter of the alphabet. More importantly, different types of symbols are used for different parts of the cipher. For example, the substitution table employs not only Arabic figures, but also letters and other symbols. Letters and figures are also used as nulls. (Fig. 13, p.18)

Saxony-Poland (18th Century)

Codes and ciphers in Saxony-Poland in personal union under Augustus II (King of Poland, 1697-1706, 1709-1733) and Augustus III (King of Poland 1733-1763) are described in Anne-Simone Rous, "Informationssicherheit in der diplomatischen Korrespondenz der Frühen Neuzeit -- eine Einführung"; Mariusz W. Kaczka, "Polnische Diplomaten in Istanbul im ersten Viertel des 18. Jahrhunderts. Chronologischer Überblick, Gehimdiplomatie und -kommunikation"; and Holger Kürbis, "Vom Scheitern eines Gesandten -- oder 'Se. Mayt. accreditirt keine spions'. Die Gesandtschaft Johann Benedikt Wolters an den Gothaer Hof im Jahre 1702", all in Geheime Post (2015).

Cryptology in Saxony is said to have been improved after the personal union with Poland in 1697 (Rous p.19), while Augustus II is said to have used organizations of Saxony and Poland independently from each other (Kaczka p.251). The following examples indicate Saxon ciphers from 1738-1740 are similar to a Polish cipher used around 1712.

Johann Benedikt Wolters (1702)

When Saxe-Gotha was leaning towards France about the time of the onset of the War of the Spanish Succession, Saxony sent a legation led by Johann Benedikt Wolters to Gotha in 1702. The legation secretary sent ciphers to Chancellor of Poland-Saxony, Count Wolf Dietrich von Beichlingen (Wikipedia). It had a nomenclature (numerical code) (Fig.1) with three alphabets for letter substitution (Fig.2) (Kürbis). The substitution by letters is different from the numerical ciphers below. It is not known whether Wolters devised this cipher himself or modelled this after official ciphers at the time. Each set is headed by letters R, E, and X, which appears to have been intended for indicating the table to use.

Franz von Goltz (1712-1714)

When Franz von Goltz, Polish ambassador to Istanbul from 1712-1714 (mentioned as Franz Joachim von der Goltz in Wikipedia), reported to Chancellor Jan Szembek (Wikipedia), he used a numerical cipher with monoalphabetic substitution and a nomenclature for some names in French (e.g., "Roy de Suède"=82) only on rare occasions (Kaczka p.246, n.51).

Stanislaw Chomentowski (1712-1714)

Stanislaw Chomentowski (Wikipedia), again sent to Istanbul in 1712, regularly used ciphers in writing to the Chancellor. It was a numerical cipher with homophonic substitution (e.g., "a"=52, 53, 54, 49) and a nomenclature for some names in Polish (e.g., "król szwedzki" (Swedish King)=90) (Kaczka p.247, n.55).

Chomentowski and Goltz succeeded in obtaining confirmation of the Peace of Karlowitz (1699) from the Porte in April 1714 (Kaczka p.251;Reddaway et al., The Cambridge History of Poland (Internet Archive) p.11). Chomentowski also worked for the return of Swedish King Charles XII to Sweden, who had been living in exile after his defeat in the Battle of Poltava in 1706. The issue became moot when the King returned by himself in October-November 1714 with only two companions (Russophobia on the Bosphorus).

Adam Mikolaj Sieniawski (ca.1712)

The cipher used by Chomentowski in writing to Adam Mikolaj Sieniawski (Wikipedia) provided figures for syllables, though the letter substitution was monoalphabetic (Kaczka p.247, n.56).

The cipher used by Constantin Brancoveanu, Prince of Wallachia (Wikipedia), employed monoalphabetic substitution with a nomenclature (Kaczka p.248, n.59; an example from 1713 in Fig.1).

The cipher used in reports received from an agent Constantin Turculet was a simple monoalphabetic substitution (Kaczka p.248, n.60; an example from ca.1709 in Fig.2).

Count von Brühl (1738, 1740)

The following are two ciphers of Count von Brühl (1700-1763) (Wikipedia) found from Rous (2015). There are said to be more than 1300 cipher keys in the archives in Dresden (Rous p.15). These ciphers are similar to the Polish cipher used between Adam Mikolaj Sieniawski and Stanislaw Chomentowski around 1713.

Brühl was a confidant of Augustus III (Elector of Saxony and King of Poland) and was virtually sole minister after 1738. During the 1740s, he succeeded in spying on the Prussian embassy in Saxony (Rous p.21). On the other hand, his indiscretion often caused his plans against the King of Prussia to be discovered (Wikipedia).

The following is a transcript of part of a letter of 25 July 1738, showing alignment of cipher and plaintext.

C'est aussy 41 66 17 39 13 11 17 37 63 69 24 21 31 32 33 74
            ce m   a  n que d  a  r  g en t  qui la o  b  l

71 63 01 03 11 34 06  37 03 62 24 01 37 66 01 62 17 62 27 76 74 34 63 62 36 04 37 07
i  g  e de d  on ne  r  de  s t   e r  m  e  s   a s  se  z l  on  g  s p  ou  r le

62 36 17 73 01 66 69 62 17 49 12 23 64 77 71 39 41 62 27 62 23 01 19 07 62 13 74 07
s   p  a y  e  m  en  s a fai re au  x Pr  i  n ce  s se s  av  e  c le  s que l le

62 26 27 67 17 19 5 19 32 66 66 32 03  Il est osay qu'il ne faut 02 29 39
s  il se st a  c     c  o  m  m  o de.                           qu' u  n

17 39 03 36 17 71 64 Car aussytot que 5 07 62 03 36 69 27 62 36 04 37 31
a  n  de p  a  i  x                     le  s de  p en se  s  p ou r  la

63 29 01 37 12 41 62 27 39 24 8 07 62 19 32 16 12 62 03 62 17 66 17 09 67 01 71 66 46 71
 g  u  e  r re ce  s se  n  t   le  s  c  o ff re  s de s  a   M  a je st  e i  m  per i

17 07 27 12 66 36 74 71 62 27 39 24
a  le se re  m p   l  i  s se  n  t

Bavaria (Napoleonic Age)

Diplomatic Codebook when Bavaria took sides with Napoleon

A photo of a codebook used in 1805-1807 by Karl Ernst von Gravenreuth (Wikipedia) is available on a website for France-Bavaria cooperation.

The year 1805 was a turning point for Bavaria. It was becoming difficult to maintain neutrality between Napoleon and Austria. France won a secret alliance with Bavaria in August, while Austrian troops occupied southern Bavaria. When the French crossed the Rhine, Bavaria showed its colors and joined the French army to take back Munich in October. Napoleon occupied Vienna in November and defeated the allied forces of Austria and Russia in the Battle of Austerlitz in December. (谷口健治『バイエルン王国の誕生』(in Japanese) p.117-122) In the treaty of Brno after the battle, Bavaria secured territorial gains and was elevated to a kingdom, effective on 1 January 1806.

Gravenreuth was involved in gathering an army in Franconia and also in the treaty of Brno. Thereafter, he was a special envoy to the headquarters of Napoleon.

Return of Cipher Upon Defection

The King of Bavaria shared a code with the French. When he defected to the allied side in 1813, he returned the code, saying a copy was not taken. (See another article)

©2018 S.Tomokiyo
First posted on 14 September 2018. Last modified on 16 August 2021.
Cryptiana: Articles on Historical Cryptography
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