The following is from Cryptologia, "A quarterly journal devoted to Cryptology," July 1996:

Cryptology in the 16th and 17th Centuries

By Thomas (Penn) Leary

ADDRESS: 218 So. 95th St. Omaha NE 68114, Internet:

ABSTRACT: A brief survey of cryptology in Elizabethan and Jacobean times and to the Restoration with reference to previous cipher studies.

KEYWORDS: Elizabethan, Trithemius, Porta, Friedman, acrostics, Bacon, Biliterarie Alphabet, steganography, Shakespeare authorship, Walsingham, Wilkins.

Blaise De Vigenère (1523-1596) author of Traictè des Chiffres spoke philosophically about this subject [2]:

     All nature is merely a cipher and a secret writing. The great name and essence of God and His wonders -- the very deeds, projects, words, actions, and demeanor of mankind -- what are they, for the most part, but a cipher?

    Saphar meaning to number was the ancient Hebrew word for the English "cipher". The word was and still may be used as a term of derision to mock an unworthy ignorant person. Organ makers refer to the word as meaning a sound volunteered by a imperfect organ without pressing any key. It may be nothing; a naught, a zero, according to mathematicians.

    But we shall speak of it as indicating a method of secret communication. According to the comprehensive Oxford English Dictionary, these forms of the word cipher were also acceptable in the Seventeenth Century: sipher, cyfer, cifer, ciphre, sypher, ziphre, scypher, cyphar, cyphre, ciphar, zifer, cypher. Francis Bacon who wrote about it spelled it as ciphras in Latin.

    Perhaps the earliest allusion is in Homer's Iliad. Bellerophon was enticed (harassed we must say now) by Anteia the King's wife. When he refused her caresses she trumpeted rape. The King ordered him to Lycia to carry a sealed enciphered message to their King commanding his execution. But after that King deciphered the message for some reason he married him off to his own daughter. Afterward Bellerophon rode off on Pegasus and became a god. Nobody much believes this story now.

    Elizabethan cryptology owed a debt to the Greek Polybius. He was the first to use numbers to encipher letters as in the following:

  1 2 3 4 5
1 A B C D E
2 F G H I K
3 L M N O P
4 Q R S T U
5 V W X Y Z

Thus "dog" may be enciphered as 14 34 22 or alternately 41 43 22.

    Cryptography prospered during the Middle Ages, but most systems were elementary and based on the substitution of a different letter of the alphabet (a "Caesar") while others used numerals or invented symbols. Examples of these have been found in 9th and 10th Century manuscripts [9]. But with the European Renaissance and the later English revival of interest in arts and literature cryptology became a separate science at the same time that its practitioners searched for a new universal language.

    The mysteries of cryptology had been well guarded and kept in monasteries or in the secret archives of princes and kings; few of its methods were openly published. But the thirst for means of clandestine communication became stronger in England and on the Continent. War and politics demanded such tools.

    Wayne Shumaker, a master of old Latin and German [6], has discussed the copious writings of Johannes Trithemius (1462-1526) who was a German monk. Trithemius' book Polographiae libri sex (1518), written in Latin, was mostly concerned with history and theology but the author has been called the first theoretician of cryptography. His Steganographia was circulated while the manuscript was still in composition and John Dee, who owned the largest private library in England copied at least half of it in 1563.

    Steganography was the basis for most of Trithemius' schemes and a key, a hint, was customarily included in the ciphertext. Professor Shumaker explains one method (the alternate significant letters will be shown as underlined):


    Shumaker ably interprets:

     If we ignore the first and last words, which are nulls, that is, insignificant for the meaning and read only the alternate letters of the rest, we arrive at a key for the decoding of the following cryptogram: "Nym die ersten Bugstaben de omni uerbo," or Take the first letters of every word.

    Thus alternate letters of the plaintext may be made significant while the remainder are nulls. As a reward for such artifice the first printing of Trithemius' Steganographia (1606) was placed on the Vatican's prohibited Index and was characterized as "full of peril and superstition." [2]

    In Book V is found his contribution to polyalphabeticity as explained by David Kahn:

    The simplest tableau is one that uses the normal alphabet in various positions as the cipher alphabets. Each cipher alphabet produces a Caesar substitution. This is precisely Trithemius' tableau, which he called his "tabula recta." Its first and last few lines were:

a b c d e f g h i k l m n o p q r s t u x y z w
b c d e f g h i k l m n o p q r s t u x y z w a
c d e f g h i k l m n o p q r s t u x y z w a b
d e f g h i k l m n o p q r s t u x y z w a b c
e f g h i k l m n o p q r s t u x y z w a b c d
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
z w a b c d e f g h i k l m n o p q r s t u x y
w a b c d e f g h i k l m n o p q r s t u x y z

    Trithemius used this tableau for his polyalphabetic encipherment, and in the simplest manner possible. He enciphered the first letter with the first alphabet, the second with the second, and so on. (He gave no separate plaintext alphabet, but the normal alphabet at the top can serve.) Thus a plaintext beginning Hunc caveto virum ... became HXPF GFBMCZ FUEIB.... In this particular message, he switched to another alphabet after 24 letters, but in another example he followed the more normal procedure of repeating the alphabets over and over again in groups of 24....

    Trithemius' system is also the first instance of a progressive key in which all the available cipher alphabets are exhausted before any are repeated [2].

    Kahn also quotes Giovanni Battista della Porta (b. 1535) who published, in 1563, a famous cryptographic book, De Furtivis Literarum Notis:

     He urged the use of synonyms in plaintexts, noting that "It will also make for difficulty in the interpretation if we avoid the repetition of the same word." Like the Argentis [a famous family of Italian cryptanalysts], he suggested deliberate misspellings of plaintext words: "For it is better for a scribe to be thought ignorant than to pay the penalty for the detection of plans," he wrote.

    Porta described transposition, substitution, by symbol and substitution and by letters of another alphabet. His table consisted of thirteen key letters, accompanied by an alphabet which changed in its lower line one place to the right for every pair of capitals:

A B a b c d e f g h i j k l m
    n o p q r s t u v w x y z
C D a b c d e f g h i j k l m
    z n o p q r s t u v w x y
E F a b c d e f g h i j k l m
    y z n o p q r s t u v w x

(and so on)

    Della Porta's system was quite simple. Supposing that we wanted to encipher the letter "e" by using the key letter F, we merely have to look along the alphabet which F controls to discover that the letter p lies directly beneath the "e"; "p" then is the cipher letter. He also suggested the use of the "probable word" in cryptanalysis saying that the "interpreter can make a shrewd guess at the common words that concern the matter at hand...."

    According to W. T. Smedley [7] Porta's 1563 book was reprinted in England by one John Wolfe in 1591. It was falsely dated 1563 as if it were the first edition, and a "double A" ornament was added at the top of the dedication.

    This was the first use of this design. The general form was also printed as a heading in Shakespeare's Venus & Adonis, Lucrece, the Sonnets, most of the quartos, many times in the 1623 Folio edition of Shakespeare s works, and also in some others that Smedley attributes to Francis Bacon. It also appears in Napier's book on logarithms and in another dedicated to Anthony Bacon, Francis brother. The last use of the AA device was in an edition of Bacon's Essays published in 1720.

    Perhaps the most modest kind of cipher is the acrostic. The initial consecutive letters of a poem may be composed to form a word, a name or a sentence. The poets of the Italian Renaissance were fond of acrostics as was the English Sir John Davies (1569-1626). He wrote twenty-six elegant Hymns to Astraea each an acrostic upon "Elizabetha Regina" while Mary Fage in Fames Roule (1637) venerated in such verses 420 luminaries of her age. The British essayist and poet Joseph Addison 1672-1719 reported "I have seen some of them where the verses have not only been edged by a name at each extremity but have had the same name running down like a seam through the middle of the poem."

    A remarkable acrostic was devised in verse and attributed to the 4th Century sibyl of the Ionian city of Erythrae. The initial letters form words [Greek lettering] which translate as "Jesus Christ the Son of God the Savior." The initials of the shorter form of this again make up the word [Greek lettering] (fish) producing an acrostic of an acrostic to which a mystical meaning has been attached.

    William F. Friedman in his Shakespearean Ciphers Examined discusses an acrostic similar to what John Davies had performed [1]:

    We have already remarked that acrostics were popular in Elizabethan literature; it should also be stressed that spelling in those days was erratic. Sir John Salusbury, 1566-1612 who was as devoted to acrostics as he was to a lady called Dorothy Halsall, enfolded her name in poem after poem [citing Bryn Mawr College Monographs, vol. XIV, 1913]. One of them runs [with critical letters shown as underlined]:

Tormented heart in thrall, Yea thrall to love,
Respecting will, Heart-breaking gaine doth grow,
Ever DOLOBELIA, Time will so proue,
Binding distresse, O gem wilt thou allowe,
This fortune my will Repose-lesse of ease,
Vnlesse thou LEDA, Over-spread my heart,
Cutting all my ruth, dayne Disdaine to cease,
I yield to fate, and welcome endles Smart.

    This, with occasional irregularities, conceals the name CUTBERT (Dorothy s husband) reading the initial letters upwards from the seventh line, and the two parts of the name DOROTHY HALSALL as the letters on either side of the break in the middle of each line; the initials I.S. (for Iohn Salusbury) appear as the first letter of the first word and the first letter of the last word in the final line. . .In all, Salusbury uses six different versions of his own name in various acrostic signatures; spells the name Francis as Fransis wherever it suits him; regards I and IE as interchangeable with Y; and replaces J's with I's or I's with J's according to whim.

    Thus Friedman does not insist upon accurate name spelling and permits occasional irregularities. The cipher does not read from top to bottom; it is reversed and the plaintext travels from bottom to top. Here, he writes,

is one of a number of instances which could be cited; but what makes it true that they, and the others, are genuine cases of cryptography is that the validity of the deciphered text and the inflexibility of the systems employed are obvious.... In each case, there is no room to doubt that they were put there by the deliberate intent of the author; the length of the hidden text, and the absolutely rigid order in which the letters appear, combine to make it enormously improbable that they just happened to be there by accident.

    Friedman may not have known that Shakespeare's Phoenix and the Turtle was dedicated to this same John Salusbury.

    Francis Bacon (1561-1626) the renowned English philosopher and statesman had a particular knowledge of cryptology. He mentions it cogently in one of his works. In the Advancement of Learning (1623) Bacon had this to say:

     The knowledge of Cyphering, hath drawne on with it a knowledge relative unto it, which is the knowledge of Discyphering, or of Discreting Cyphers, and the Capitulations of secrecy past between the Parties. Certainly it is an Art which requires great paines and a good witt and is (as the other was) consecrate to the Counsels of Princes: yet notwithstanding by diligent prevision it may be made unprofitable, though, as things are, it be of great use. For if good and faithfull Cyphers were invented & practised, many of them would delude and forestall all the Cunning of the Decypherer, which yet are very apt and easie to be read or written: but the rawnesse and unskilfulnesse of Secretaries, and Clarks in the Courts of Princes, is such that many times the greatest matters are Committed to futile and weake Cyphers.

    At another place Bacon continues on the same subject:

For CYPHARS; they are commonly in Letters or Alphabets, but may bee in Wordes. The kindes of CYPHARS, (besides the SIMPLE CYPHARS with Changes, and intermixtures of NVLLES, and NONSIGNIFICANTS) are many, according to the Nature or Rule of the infoulding: WHEELE-CYPHARS, KAY-CYPHARS, DOVBLES, &c. But the vertues of them, whereby they are to be preferred, are three; that they be not laborious to write and reade; that they bee impossible to discypher; and in some cases, that they bee without suspition. The highest Degree whereof, is to write OMNIA PER OMNIA; which is vndoubtedly possible, with a proportion Quintuple at most, of the writing infoulding, to the writing infoulded, and no other restrainte whatsoever. This Arte of Cypheringe, hath for Relatiue, an Art of Discypheringe; by supposition vnprofitable; but, as things are, of great vse. For suppose that Cyphars were well mannaged, there bee Multitudes of them which exclude the Discypherer. But in regarde of the rawnesse and vnskilfulnesse of the handes, through which they passe, the greatest Matters, are many times carryed in the weakest CYPHARS.

    By ciphers without suspition, Bacon meant steganography. This may be accomplished by the use of acrostics, whereby the first capitalized letter of each line in a poem may convey the message; the strategy included his own Biliterarie Cipher. Here the very existence of a cipher writing may never be noticed.

    In passing, Bacon's statement that "cyphars ... may be in words" has been generally understood to refer to codes by which a number or a word may designate another secret word or phrase. However it may also be interpreted to mean that an opentext word may itself encipher a different word or concealed name. For example the word "Bote-swaine" may be decrypted as "fs biacen " using a 21 letter alphabet and the fourth letter forward from each ciphertext letter. Francis Bacon abbreviated his first name as "Fs" in his signature while "biacen" is a phonetic spelling of his surname.

    It may be significant that "Bote-swaine" is the first word of dialogue on the first page of the first play of the first printing of "The Tempest" in the Shakespeare First Folio of 1623. Or as some have suggested this is merely a coincidence. And the spelling is wrong isn't it? (Heavens this is not even a proper acrostic). Hit here for a discussion of Bote-swaine.

    Bacon continues in Book VI of The Advancement of Learning with an example; it is, he writes "an other invention which in truth we devised in our youth when [1576] we were at Paris... It containeth the highest degree of Cypher...."

    Bacon explains, "by this Art ... a man may expresse the intentions of his minde at any distance ... by objects ... capable of a twofold difference onely; as by Bells by Trumpets by Lights and Torches ... and any instruments of like nature." He illustrates this with an example of a message printed in two different fonts of type as Manere te volo donec venero; here the underlined = "a" form and the roman = "b" form. The opentext means "Stay till I come for you." The plaintext is "Fuge " or "flee." The scheme is steganographic while the last three letters are "Nulloes or non-significant."

An Example of a Bi-literarie Alphabet.

    The following is a table of the elementary Binary Scale, upon which the calculating ability of modern computers is based:


    The invention of the Binary Scale has traditionally been credited to Leibniz who devised a calculating machine in 1671 and found the binary useful for his purposes. The binary scale has been extended and continues as the ASCII "code" which is now used in most computers and telecommunication systems.

    Therefore Bacon in an earlier Latin edition of the Advancement of Learning (De Augmentis Scientarium published in 1623) and Leibniz in 1671 produced comparable tables; in Bacon's cipher version "0" = "a" and "1" = "b", and this is imitated in Leibniz' arithmetical notation. And John Napier, who invented logarithms, had illustrated the use of the binary scale in his Rabdologiae published in 1617.

    When he was a young man Francis Bacon said, "I take all knowledge to be my province." That statement has been criticized as being boastful. But in his day there existed very little knowledge of a precise character. He was speaking, I think, with a reverence for the mysteries of Nature and expressing a wish to discover her ways.

    In the Sixteenth Century, anyone looking for a reliable answer to a scientific question would be told to consult Aristotle who had a theory to explain every physical event. This Greek was often wrong but he was right often enough to be venerated in such glory that hardly anyone dared question his two thousand-year-old opinions. Not even the English Reformation had dented his prestige in the universities. In Spain the Inquisitors were still searching for those so foolish as to flout Aristotle's authority.

    Bacon, after two and a half years at Trinity College, Cambridge, quit in disgust. Forever after he protested against the "schoolmen" who taught almost nothing but ancient languages, literature, Euclid, Aristotle and religion. They had a contempt for science, as we understand the term. They believed only in deductive reasoning, thus attempting to leap over the physical evidence or tunnel under it or find a handy detour around it.

    The deducer travels from some premise, which he may have made up all by himself, to a conclusion. In the Sixteenth Century many religious dogmas embraced such premises; they were regarded as heresies by the Church of Rome. Before Bacon, science itself was influenced by superstition. Alchemy and astrology were then considered to be themselves sciences; nevertheless, such studies were actually the foundations for modern chemistry and astronomy.

    Before Bacon there was no organized way of thought, so as to permit the accidental discovery of some unknown phenomenon to be studied, communicated, replicated and refined. The scientific method was practiced, if at all, by only a few quiet and rare individualists working in private investigation. Bacon's invaluable contribution to wisdom was his advocacy of inductive reasoning, the common-sense way of finding a general rule from a number of experiences. This may not seem like much to us now, but in his day it was a revolution, a radical extravagance in thinking. Hardly anyone had then considered experimentation, or observation, or making improved instruments and recording readings, or simplifying arithmetical computation, or repeating someone else's experimental process precisely, or writing papers for journals, or communicating with others in the same field. That was hard work and required inspiration and time and professional devotion. It also took money and that was scarce. The need was not perceived by government or industry. Bacon believed that such labors would improve the condition of mankind. He wrote persuasively and he lectured and he published his views again and again. He wrote in a language then called "vulgar" (English) but he translated many of his works into Latin, the universal language of that age; they were read in that and many other languages to which they were retranslated.

    Ewen Macduff writing in the British journal Baconiana describes a famous acrostic:

    There is a history published anonymously in 1616 which can be shown to contain a simple and by definition a technically perfect cipher Rerum Anglicorum Henrico VIII, Eduardo VI et Maria Regnantibus Annales. Both the first and second editions of this work carry no author's name, a not unusual thing in those days where the writing of histories was concerned. The risk of offending powerful factions with dire consequences to the author was far too great. The author of this particular work, however, did decide to risk enciphering his name and identity in the two editions which appeared during his lifetime. After his death, a relative decided to publish an English translation, naming Bishop Francis Godwin as the original author. His cipher was the delightfully simple one mentioned earlier and certainly effective enough to escape detection during his lifetime, with as far as is known, just one exception the original owner of a second edition, 1628. This person detected it and inscribed his decipherment on the fly leaf of the book, along with a description of the exact method used to encipher the message which runs as follows:

I Franciscus Godwinus Landavensis Episcopus Hoc Conscripsit

    The letters appear in the above order (all being used) as the initial capital letters of each chapter. In view of this piece of authentic evidence that cipher did in fact exist in these early printed books, no one can say that it is unreasonable to think that, if one book printed in 1616 contained cipher, it would be perfectly feasible for another, published seven years later, also to contain cipher. This point is made to demonstrate to the skeptics that cipher in these 17th century books is a proven fact, and the probability of other contemporary books, particularly where histories are concerned, containing coded messages, is very real and certainly worthy of serious scientific study. [4]

    Macduff continues:

    Cryptography made its first impact in England during the reign of Henry VIII and became an effective arm of statecraft under Queen Elizabeth. The man chiefly responsible for this was Sir Francis Walsingham, who organised a secret service, which at one time employed fifty-three agents on the Continent. One of his most accomplished assistants was Anthony Bacon the brother of Francis but the best of his cryptanalysts was Thomas Phelippes, a widely-travelled educated man, who was capable of solving ciphers in five languages.

    Walsingham opened a secret cipher school in London and all of his agents had to take a course in cryptography before they were entrusted with service abroad. Of course, Walsingham's Secret Service was not solely concerned with foreign affairs, but was designed to protect the Queen from treasonable activities on her own doorstep as well. Naturally enough, its devious and subtle machinations aroused deep mistrust among honest Englishmen, who loved freedom of speech and hated "the corridors of darkness." Elizabeth's England was almost a totalitarian state.

    History shows that cryptography was one of Elizabeth's most valuable political assets. It was the decipherment of a secret message to Anthony Babington, that sent Mary, Queen of Scots, to the block. Having obtained this evidence, Walsingham sent his agent Gifford back to Fotheringay Castle to intercept and copy more of Mary's secret messages, with the result that all of the conspirators to depose Elizabeth, including Mary herself, were finally arrested. Walsingham later claimed that his agents had found the keys to about fifty different ciphers in Mary's apartments.

    Secret writing became a preoccupation of the English. A doctor called Timothy Bright wrote the first book on shorthand which was published in 1588 under the title, The Arte of Shorte, Swifte and Secret Writing.

    The reasons for writing in cipher were many and varied. The Duke of Monmouth used cipher in order to dethrone King James II; Samuel Pepys wrote his Diary in cipher for an entirely different motive.

    As a general rule, the use of cipher in the arts was related to the author's position in society. Innumerable sixteenth and seventeenth century books were either written anonymously, or signed with initials or a bogus name; some of them were secretly acknowledged.

    And yet on this subject, Shakespearean commentators and professors seem to have little knowledge, and are strangely reluctant to accept the possibility that there is a cipher in the plays of Shakespeare. [4]

    In 1624 Gustavus Selenus (a pseudonym for Duke Augustus II of Braunschweig Luneberg 1580-1666) published Cryptomenytices et Cryptographiae libri IX. This contained 500 pages and was the most thoroughly researched compendium to that time; it became the standard reference work of the century. It included summaries of the works of Trithemius, Vigenère, Porta, Cardano, Schwenter, and Kircher [8].

    His library at Wolfenbuttel became famous and contained 135,440 titles including books and manuscripts. He copied word for word Trithemius' third book of Steganographia though he admitted that he did not understand it. However he did explain very well the other cipher systems that he illustrated.

Our Legates are but Men and often may
Great State-Affairs unwillingly betray;
Caught by some sisting Spies or tell-tale Wine
Which dig up Secrets in the deepest Mine...
Nor are King's Writings safe: To guard their Fame
Like Scaevola they wish their Hand i'th Flame
Ink turns to Blood; they oft participate
By Wax and Quill sad Icarus his Fate.

    These lines are from Bishop John Wilkins MERCURY the Secret and Swift Messenger 1641. This was published during Cromwell's rebellion in England (1641-1666) as a warning to those who betrayed war plans in frail cipher systems. "The very existence of a science of cryptology was not taken seriously at least on the royalist side until very late. Hence even when a packet of royalist correspondence was seized in 1658 the authors did not think themselves in danger since 'every Person's Letter was written in a distinct Cypher and that contrived with great Thought.' Until someone showed them their own letters in a deciphered state the conspirators simply did not believe that it was possible for anyone to perform such a feat" [5].

    Wilkins, son of a goldsmith, joined the loyalists when the Civil War began and rose to become head of Trinity College Cambridge. He wrote a dozen books some religious one on a universal artificial language and others on mathematics. His first was quaintly entitled The Discovery of a New World; or A discourse tending to prove That ('tis probable) there may be another Habitable World in the Moon.

    Wilkins reported mostly the cryptological creations of others though he appears to have invented one of his own:

     Where the 5 Vowels are represented by the minnums on each of the five Lines being most of them placed according to their right Order and Consequence only the letters K. and Q. are left out because they may be otherwise expressed ... By this you may easily discern how two Musicians may discourse with one another by playing upon their Instruments of Musick as well as by talking with their Instruments of Speech.

    Perhaps he invented the touch-tone telephone. But, because of the expanding use of cryptanalysis, he urged the employment of steganographic systems such as secret inks.

    Thus if a Man write with Salt Armoniack dissolved in Water the Letters will not appear legible till the Paper be held by the Fire: This others affirm to be true also in the Juice of Onions Lemons with divers the like Acid and Corroding Moistures.

    And on the contrary those Letters that are written with dissolved Allum will not be discernable till the Paper be dipped in Water.

    That which is written with the Water of putrify'd Willow or the distilled Juice of Glowworms will not be visible but in the Dark; as Porta affirms from his own Experience.

    A Man may likewise write secretly with a raw Egg the Letters of which being thoroughly dried let the whole Paper be blacked over with Ink that it may appear without any Inscription; and when this Ink is also well dried if you do afterwards gently scrape it over with a Knife it will fall off from those Places where before the Words were written.

    Wilkins describes the string cipher as follows:

    To this purpose likewise is that other way of secret Information by divers Knots tied upon a String according to certain Distances by which a Man may as distinctly and yet as Secretly express his Meaning as by any other way of Discourse. For who would mistrust any private News of Treachery to lye hid in a Thread wherein there was nothing to be discerned but sundry confused Knots or other the like Marks?

    Where the String is supposed to be fasten'd by a Loop on the first Tooth towards the Letter A and afterwards to be drawn successively over all the rest. The Marks upon it do express the secret Meaning: Beware of this Bearer who is sent as a Spy over you.

    He devoted five pages to Francis Bacon's steganographic Biliterarie cipher but without attribution and went him one better with the following:

    All the Letters may be expressed by any five of them doubled. Suppose A B C D E:

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  K  L  M  N
aa ab ac ad ae ba bb bc bd be ca cb cc

O  P  Q  R  S  T  V  W  X  Y  Z  &
cd ce da db dc dd de ea eb ec ed ee

    According to which these Words I am betrayed may be thus described:

bd aacb abaedddbaaaecaead

    Wilkins also discussed secret ways of speaking such as by ambiguity or by the canting of beggars "who though they retain the common Particles yet have imposed new Names upon all such Matters as may happen to be of greatest Consequence and Secrecy." Our modern juvenile gangs use the same artifice.

    He also mentions a way of speaking that we might call Pig Latin:

     By Augmenting Words with the Addition of other Letters. Of which kind is that secret Way of Discoursing in ordinary Use by doubling the Vowels that make the Sylables and interposing G. or any other Consonant K. P. T. R. &c. or other Sylable ... Thus if I would say Our Plot is discovered it must be pronounced thus Ougour plogot igis digiscogovegereged. Which does not seem so obscure in Writing as it will in Speech and Pronunciation. And it is so easie to be learnt that I have known little Children almost as soon as they could speak discourse to one another as fast this Way as they could in their plainest English.

    Wilkins illustrated the railfence in the following manner:

    The Meaning of any written Message may be concealed by altering the Order both of the Letters and the Lines together. As if a Man should write each Letter in two several Lines thus:

T e o l i r a e l m s f m s e s p l v o w e u t e l
h s u d e s r a l o t a i h d u p y s r e m s y i d

    The Souldiers are allmost famished; Supply us or wee must yield.

    This way may be yet further obscured by placing them in four Lines and after any discontinuate Order. As suppose that the first Letter be in the Beginning of the first Line the second in the Beginning of the fourth Line the third in the End of the first the fourth in the End of the fourth the fifth in the Beginning of the third the seventh in the End of the second the eighth in the End of the third; and so the rest.

    This way of Secret Writing hath been also in use amongst the Ancient Romans; Thus Suetonius relates of Julius Caesar when he would convey any private Business he did usually write it per quartam Elementorum Literam; that is D for A E for B and so of the rest after this Order.

d e f g h i k l m n o p q r s t u w x y z a b c
a b c d e f g h i k l m n o p q r s t u w x y z

Hasten unto me
Ldwxhq yqxr ph.

    The next particular to be discussed is concerning the Ways of hiding any private Sense under more Letters than are required to the Words of it ... According unto this doth Plautus contrive the Names of his Comedies in the first Letters of their Arguments. But this Way is so ordinary in Practice that it needs not any further Explication ... Sometimes one Letter in each Word was only significant. By which Way of Secret Expression the Holy Ghost (say the Rabbies) hath purposely involved many sacred Mysteries in Scripture. When these significant Letters were at the Beginning of each Word the Cabalists in their Learning called such an implicit Writing Capita Dictionum. When they were at the latter End then was it stiled Fines dictionum.

    There is another way of hiding any secret Sense under an ordinary Epistle by having a Plate with certain Holes in it through which (being laid upon the Paper) a Man may write those Letters or Words that serve to express the inward Sense; the other Spaces being afterwards filled up with such other Words as in their Conjunction to these former shall contain some common unsuspected Business.

    Here John Wilkins indicates his preference for steganography:

     All the Ways of Secresy by more Letters already specified do make the Writing appear under some other Sense than what is intended and so consequently are more free from Suspicion....

    He continues:

    As the Sense may be obscured by writing it with more Letters than are required to the Words of it likewise by fewer. Abbreviations have been anciently used in all the Learned Languages especially in common Forms and Phrases of frequent Use ... As this Way of short Writing by the first Letters was of ancient use amongst the Jews so likewise amongst the Romans which appears from many of their Contractions yet remaining as S. P. D, Salutem plurimam dicit. S Pq. R. Senatus populusque Romanus. C. R. Civis Romanus. U. C. Urbs condita. These single Letters were called Syglaie per Syncopen. They were usually inscribed in their Coins Statues Arms Monuments and Publick Records. You may see them largely treated of by Valerius Probus where he affirms the Study of them to be very necessary for one that would understand the Roman Affairs.

    But because of those many Ambiguities which this contracted Way of Writing was liable unto and the great Inconveniences that might happen thereupon in the Misinterpretation of Laws; therefore the Emperor Justinian did afterward severely forbid any further Use of them as it were calling in all those Law-Books that were so written. The chief Purpose of these Ancient Abbreviations amongst the Romans was properly for their speed. But it is easie to apprehend how by Compact they may be contrived also for Secresy.

    Bishop Wilkins explained the basic elements of "unfolding" (cryptanalyzing) a cipher:

    Endeavour to distinguish betwixt the Vowels and Consonants. The Vowels may be known by their Frequency there being no Word without some of them. If there be any single Character in English it must be one of these three Vowels a i o.

    Search after the several Powers of the Letters: For the understanding of this you must mark which of them are most common and which more seldom used. (This the Printers in any Language can easily inform you of who do accordingly provide their Sets of Letters ) Which of them may be doubled and which not as H Q X Y. And then for the Number of Vowels or Consonants in the Beginning Middle or End of Words a Man must provide several Tables whence he may readily guess at any Word from the Number and Nature of the Letters that make it: As what Words consist only of Vowels; what have one Vowel and one Consonant; whether the Vowel be first as in these Words Am an as if in is it of on or us; or last as in these Words Be he me by dy ly my ty do to so &c. And so for all other Words according to their several Quantities and Natures.

    The common Rules of unfolding being once known a Man may the better tell how to delude them; whether by leaving out those Letters that are of less Use as H K Q X Y; and putting other Characters instead of them that shall signify the Vowels: So that the Number of this invented Alphabet will be perfect; and the Vowels by reason of their double Character less distinguishable.

    Or a Man may likewise delude the Rules of Discovery by writing continuately without any Distinction betwixt the Words or with a false Distinction or by inserting Nulls and Non-significants &c ... The Particulars of this kind may be of such great Variety as cannot be distinctly recited: But it is the grand Inconvenience of all these Ways of Secresy by invented Characters that they are not without Suspicion.

    In discussing shorthand as a style of cipher Wilkins says that a form of it was practiced by Roman Magistrates and that there was a dictionary of shorthand characters published by Janus Gruterus; "Cicero himself writ a Treatise on this Subject." In Elizabethan and Jacobean times "This Short-hand Writing is now so ordinary in Practice (it being usual for any common Mechanick both to write and invent it) that I shall not need to set down any particular Example of it."

    He goes on to discuss communication by gestures. "The particular Ways of Discoursing by Gestures are not to be numbred as being almost of infinite Variety." Sign languages for the deaf existed as did lip reading. A Roman "by an unheard-of Art taught the Deaf to speak ... First learning them to write the Name of anything he should point to; and afterwards provoking them to such Motions of the Tongue as might answer the several Words ... an ancient Doctor ... could understand any Word by the meer Motion of the Lips without any Utterance.

    The good Bishop suggested the invention of a telegraph:

    Let there be two Needles provided of an equal Length and Bigness being both of them touched with the same Loadstone: Let the Letters of the Alphabet be placed in the Circles on which they are moved as the Points of the Compass under the Needle of the Mariners Chart. Let the Friend that is to travel take one of them with him first agreeing upon the Days and Hours wherein they should confer together: At which times if one of them move the Needle of his Instrument to any Letter of the Alphabet the other Needle by a Sympathy will move unto the same Letter in the other Instrument though they be never so far distant ... But this Invention is altogether imaginary having no Foundation in any real Experiment.

   Not till Sam Morse came along.

   In his conclusion Wilkins refuses to apologize for exposing his cryptological secrets:

     If it be feared that this Discourse may unhappily advantage others in such unlawful Courses; 'tis considerable that it does not only teach how to deceive but consequently also how to discover Delusions. However it will not follow that everything must be supprest which may be abused ... If all those useful Inventions that are liable to abuse should therefore be concealed there is not any Art or Science which might be lawfully profest.

    While Wilkins's book was restricted to elementary cipher methods there then existed far more sophisticated systems. Giovani Batista Belaso in 1553 had invented a polyalphabetic cipher similar to that of Trithemius to be employed in conjunction with a key word or phrase. This was embellished by Porta and refined by Cardano in 1550 by the autokey. By this he used the plaintext itself as the key to encipher the ciphertext. And Vigenère in 1585 had nearly perfected an insoluble polyalphabetic which remained unbroken until Kerckhoff in 1883 published a method of interpretation [2].

    In concluding this paper I will ask why it is so unpopular in academic literary chambers to question the authorship of certain Elizabethan works, particularly Shakespeare?
    Robert Burton wrote as Democritus Junior,
    Sir Walter Scott anonymously,
    Rev. C. L. Dodgson as Lewis Carroll,
    Jean Francois Marie Arouet as Voltaire,
    Samuel Langhorne Clemens as Mark Twain,
    Jean-Baptiste Poquelin wrote under the pseudonym of Molière,
    Richard Harris Barham as Thomas Ingoldsby,
    Amandine Lucile Dudevant as George Sand, and
    the three Bronte sisters, James Bridie and George Eliot used noms de plume.
Books even have been written on the subject, such as The Bibliographical History of Anonyms and Pseudonyms, by A. Taylor and F. J. Mosher (1951). Voltaire is reported to have used 137 and Benjamin Franklin 57 pseudonyms.

    The answer to my question is "Everybody knows Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare." It is Not Politically Correct to disagree. However:

    Using a Caesar system and a 21 letter alphabet (no J U W X or Z) while selecting the fourth letter forward consider the following:

    In Shakespeare's Works the word Cipher is often a clue, as in "The History of Sir John Oldcastle" (1664 Shakespeare Folio, p. 46, col. 1, line 37). The same play title-paged to William Shakespeare in a 1619 quarto, was certainly not by him, say the knowing critics. One says it was written by Munday, Drayton, Wilson and Hathaway; another claims it was composed by Kyd, but rewritten by Peele, Greene and Marlowe. The critics doubts about the authorship may be correct but not for the same reasons. Here are some lines:

And sit within the Throne, but for a Cipher
Time was, good Subjects would not make known their grief,
And pray amendment, not enforce the same,
Unlesse their King were tyrant, which I hope

      Following Cipher, we may read the next six capital letters in the familiar acrostic fashion of the times:

Ciphertext is:

Plaintext, +4 is:

    In the previous 1600 edition of this play, the word Subjects was not capitalized. The plaintext result is then B E C O N, and this is how one of Francis Bacon's relations once spelled his name [3].

    [The foregoing is from my book The Second Cryptographic Shakespeare and is accompanied by 113 other examples of Bacon's enciphered name. It contains 313 pages 16 photo illustrations an index and a bibliography (Westchester House, 1990) 218 So. 95, Omaha NE 68114. $15 ppd.]


    1. Friedman, William F. and Elizebeth. The Shakespearean Ciphers Examined. New York: Cambridge, 1957.

    2. Kahn, David. The Codebreakers: The Story of Secret Writing. New York: Macmillan, 1967.

    3. Leary, Penn. The Second Cryptographic Shakespeare. Omaha: Westchester House, 1990.

    4. Macduff, Ewen. "The Unspeakable Word." Baconiana 1969.

    5. Potter, Lois. Secret Rites and Secret Writing Royalist Literature 1641-1660. Cambridge: 1989

    6. Shumaker, Wayne. Renaissance Curiosa. New York: S U N Y. Press, 1982.

    7. Smedley, William T. The Mystery of Francis Bacon. San Francisco: John Howell, 1910.

    8. Strasser, Gerhard F. Cryptologia July 1983.

    9. Wilkins, John. Mercury: Or the Secret and Swift Messenger. 1641. Reprinted from the third edition (facsimile). Philadelphia: John Benjamin, 1984.


    Penn Leary has been a trial lawyer in his native city of Omaha, Nebraska since 1947. During WW II he was a bomber test pilot assigned to Wright Field and later to O.S.S. He is a writer in the fields of law, electronics, weather and aeronautics. His hobbies include photography, printing, machine shop work, electronics, Elizabethan history, computers and cryptography. He is the author of The Cryptographic Shakespeare, Westchester House, 1990, 16 Illustrations, Index, Bibliography, 313 pp. (Available from the author, 218 So. 95th St., Omaha NE 68114, $15.00 postpaid anywhere.)

Penn Leary, 1943