Another Path to Prague

The Queen of Bohemia

The Queen of Bohemia

One of the often recurring tenets of the ingrained Voynich Manuscript provenance is that the famous book was sold by John Dee, about 1586, for 600 ducats, to Rudolf II of Prague. The evidence used to support this is mostly found in the 1665 Marci to Kircher letter, combined with the interests and movements of Dee. Dee arrived in the court of Elizabeth in the late 16th century. Also, Dee’s son relates in later years how his father owned a book of heiroglyphics which he could not translate. And this has been the basis of much of the accepted provenance of the manuscript.

But there are problems. First of all, the Marci letter really amounts to hearsay and speculation. Marci did not know for certain the story of the Voynich, and was only relating the information as he had been told, years earlier,

“Dr. Raphael, tutor in the Bohemian language to Ferdinand III, then King of Bohemia, told me the said book had belonged to the Emperor Rudolph and that he presented the bearer who brought him the book 600 ducats. He believed the author was Roger Bacon, the Englishman.”

Ferdinand III was made King of Bohemia in 1627, so the information from this tutor must have come after this, a full 15 years after the coup, and death, of Rudolf. It is also 7 years after the fall of Frederick V at the Battle of White Mountain, when the collections and libraries of Prague were confiscated, partly destroyed, and scattered. And then almost four decades elapsed before Marci recorded this in his letter to Kircher. Of course the Voynich itself was described by Georg Baresch in 1639, and then by Marci in an earlier letter of 1640.

Jan Hurych, a Voynich provenance researcher, wrote, “All in all, the story told by Raphael simple cannot be confirmed- and let’s not forget that even Marci told Kircher to make his own mind about it. And so should we . . .”

And I agree. We should make up our own mind about it. So basically we are left with the faded name of De Tepencz on f1r of the Voynich, a name which, if a signature, only allows the existance of the Voynich as late as 1620. Considering the shaky provenance before that, made up of second-hand rumor and speculation, combined with the fact that the book and it’s attached stories would have had to remain intact through the coup of Rudolf, and the fall of Prague… not once, but twice… This should make us question what has been taken as gospel, and realize that this book may have made it to Prague in ways previously unexamined.

The Winter King, Frederick V

The Winter King, Frederick V

In my research into the lives of my circle of people, I have often come back to the pivotal historical couple, the Princess Elizabeth, daughter of James I, and Frederick V, elector Palantine. The wedding of this couple in 1613 was greatly anticipated by the Protestant interests in Britain and Germany, and by Europe as a whole. It is believed that Andreae’s Chymical Wedding alludes to the real couple. The Tempest was performed for the ceremony, while some scholars believe the wedding mask was added for this reason. Some have even suggested that Shakespeare may have played his semi-autobiographical Prospero at this event. The post-wedding celebrations stretched over months, from London to Heidelburg, where Frederick had prepared English rooms to make his bride feel at home.

Heidelberg Castle, 1620

Heidelberg Castle, 1620

Francis Bacon cared for, and respected Elizabeth. He was one of her mentors. So it is not surprising that he continued a correspondence with her while she was in Heidelburg, and it is known that he sent her an inscribed copy of his Henry VII. And Sir Walter Raleigh gave her a copy of his History of the World. But the influences may go further than the sharing of these works. From Francis Yates’ “The Rosicrucian Enlightenment”, page 160:

“The reign of a daughter of the King of Great Britain in the Palatinate made communications easy between England and that part of Germany and led to an influx of English influences, amongst which should be included an influence from Bacon’s “Advancement”. We may speculate on how the influence may have been imported. BothFrederick and Elizabethwere readers and interested in intellectual movements. That they had books from England with them is proved by the fact that they took a copy of Raleigh’s History of the World withthem to Prague, where it fell into the hands of the conquerors, but eventually found its way back to London and the British Museum, where it now reposes. They are therefore likely to have had works by Bacon withthem at Heidelberg. We know that in later life Elizabeth was interested in the works of Bacon; in her early life before her marriage she would have known Bacon in England; he composed one of the entertainments for her wedding. Perhaps another transmitter of Baconian influence might have been Michael Maierwho was in close contact withEngland during the reign of Frederick and Elizabeth in the Palatinate. Maier transmitted works by early English alchemical writers to the German alchemical movement, and he may well have also carried books by Bacon to Germany. Maier was deeply interested in philosophical interpretation of mythology and that side of Bacon’s thought, expressed in his philosophical interpretation of myth in The Wisdom of the Ancients (1609), may well have had a fascination for Maier and his school.”

Yates was correct, Bacon did not only give Elizabeth a copy, but dedicated Henry VII to her brother. And from the letter included with the copy he sent her, this:

“Having written the reign of your majesty’s ancestor, King Henry VII, and it having passed the file of his majesty’s judgment, and been graciously also accepted of the Prince, your brother, to whom it is dedicate, I could not forget my duty so far to your excellent Majesty (to whom, for what I know and have heard, I have been at all times so much bounden as you are ever present with me in affection and admiration) as not to make unto you in all humbleness a present thereof, as now being able to give you tribute of any service. If King Henry VII were alive again, I hope verily he could not be so angry with me for not flattering his as well-pleased in seeing himself so truly in colours that will last and be believed.”

And these books exist, today. They found theirway from London to Heidelberg, then to Prague with Elizabeth. They were left behind withthe vast estates of the royal couple in their hasty retreat. From the 1938 “Elizabeth of Bohemia”, page 178:

“Before eight in the morning most of the luggage had been loaded upon a hundred and fifty-three waggons. Some of it was very heavy. Both the Majesties were great readers. A folio first edition of poor Sir Walter Raleigh’s History of the World was going to Prague. Another weighty coffer held all their gold plate…”

The footnote explains that this book was left behind in Prague, by the king and queen, when this wagon train was abandoned. Also in left behind was Frederick’s Order of the Garter, given him by his father in law. Frederick was later sometimes represented with a hanging sock by his enemies, representing his embarrassing loss. But the copy of the History of the World was returned to the family after Prague’s recapture in 1648. Likewise, the remaining book collections in Heidelberg (the famous Bibliotheca Palatina) were pillaged, and sent to Rome:

“The Palatinate suffered heavily in the Thirty Years War, and in 1622 Heidelberg was sacked by the Catholic League, whose leader Count von Tilly was in the employ of Maximilian of Bavaria. Although many books were torn or “dispersed among private hands” during the sack, Maximilian found it prudent to confiscate the remaining manuscripts and present them to Pope Gregory XV as “a sign of his loyalty and esteem”. The books were transported across the Alps to Rome on 200 mules under the supervision of scholar Leo Allatius.”

So there is no question that some books followed Elizabeth on her tragic path through history, and these and many others were left in Heidelberg and Prague. Keeping this in mind, and the fact that Bacon may have written his first drafts of The New Atlantis about this time, I wondered if he might have shared the concepts of this new work with Elizabeth. No such evidence, of course, yet exists that this is the case. I wrote to one of the editors of the upcoming work, Letters of a Stuart Princess. This book will attempt to coalesce all the correspondence of our Queen of Hearts in one place, and will take years to finish. I wrote to editor Nadine Akkerman, and asked if she had come across any any evidence, in the letters between Bacon and the Queen, of any discussion of the New Atlantis. She had not, as they were working on letters from later dates. But she did muse that,

“It indeed seems not unlikely that Bacon would have sent a manuscript version of the New Atlantis to Elizabeth.”

Ms. Akkerman means, of course, “if” such a thing as a manuscript existed, which we do not now know.

Since we know that Bacon and Raleigh shared interests, and books, with the young queen, I do also wonder if Bacon, or someone from his circle, may have given the Voynich to her. This could then be a path for the Voynich, from London to Prague. What would the victorious Catholic forces then make of it? They probably would never have thought of Elizabeth, and the retreating Protestants, as a possible source for such a bizarre and enigmatic work. Under the circumstances, it could be expected that Dr. Raphael and others would assume that the book must have belonged to Rudolf II, as it was just the sort of work he was known to delve in. Actually, just as most of the Voynich  investigations do to this day.

This speculative scenario would account for the confusion over the Voynichever since 1620… because while Elizabeth, now in exile in the Hague, would know what it was, and what it was for… the new regime in Prague would not have a clue. And they had no one left to ask. H. Rich SantaColoma

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2 Responses to “Another Path to Prague”

  1. Diane Says:

    A small point, but since a considerable number of the books in which Voynich dealt were monastic texts, and he believed the Vms by Roger Bacon, the 13thC English Franciscan, I’d be interested in your views on whether think that Elizabeth, or Francis, perhaps also brought books by Roger to the Palatine library – or whether you believe the Vms actually composed in the late 16th – early 17th centuries?

    • proto57 Says:

      Diane: I really woudn’t have an answer to any of those questions. I don’t believe the VMs is by Roger Bacon, though. I do think it is post-1530. Whenever the book was composed, though, I’ve no doubt… from what I have learnt about Elizabeth… that the Voynich would have interested her a great deal. Apparently she loved romances and fantasies. I would go this far… if Elizabeth were given the Voynich Manuscript while in England, I would expect her to have taken it with her to Heidelburg, and that she would have then taken it to Prague… and if this is correct, it’s ending up just where it did… in Tepencz’s lap… would have been no different than any of the other scenarios for it having arrived there. Thanks for the comment.

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