Q&A continued.

You indicated that the Voynich manuscript was in London in the late 16th century but there appears to be no historical record of this. Can you tell us something about your evidence?

The Voynich manuscript is mainly a book about plants and, in 1597, an encyclopedia of plants (The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes) was published in London, financed in part by the Lord Burghley, the most powerful man in England. This is him depicted on the title page of that book:

English botany book: depiction of Lord Burghley

To this day, that encyclopedia remains the largest botany book ever published in the English language. This here is another snippet from the title page of that book:

English botany book: title page depiction of the 4-o glyph

Notice that, vertically, the number "4" is placed above the letter "o". Also note that the vertical line of the "4" extends off to the left to attach to the "o".

Voynich Manuscript: depictions of the 4-o glyph

This is a snippet from the Voynich manuscript. Notice that, though now horizontally, the "4o" (with which many words begin) is the most prominent glyph seen in the Voynich manuscript. Also note that the crossbar of the "4" typically moves across to attach to the "o" that follows, conceptually similar to the "4" and "o" in the Herball. All a coincidence? Possibly, but how else can you explain those glyphs on the cover of a botany book?

Do any of the plant drawings in The Herball or Generall Histories of Plantes match any of the plant drawings in the Voynich Manuscript?

Yes, of course. This here is the Barnakle Tree, the very LAST drawing to appear in Herball (page 1391):

English botany book: depiction of the Barnacle Tree

The Barnakle Tree (let's mention that this drawing was removed from the second edition of 1633 no doubt because such a tree does not exist) harbors seashells which, when they fall into the water below, magically transform themselves into geese. Take special notice of the depiction of geese in that drawing.

This here is the very FIRST drawing to appear in the Voynich Manuscript (folio 1r):

Voynich Manuscript depiction of the Barnacle Tree

Notice the geese-like figures over on the left-hand side. And like Herball, we see a scattering of "Barnakles" (colored light green). Needless to say, neither geese nor barnacles appear anywhere else in either book, just in the first drawing of the Voynich which surely inspired the last drawing of Herball.

The evidence, of course, extends far beyond the barnacles. For example, the Lord Burghley (portrayed on the cover of Herball) provided finance for Sir Walter Raleigh's expeditions to the northern coast of South America.

Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, alleged to have acquired the Voynich Manuscript from the Incas

In 1584, Raleigh captured Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, the historian who told us that a white man brought a book to the Incas in pre-Columbian times. Indeed, Sarmiento himself is the only realistic possibility for transport of the Voynich manuscript from Peru to England.

In 1596, one year before the publication of Herball, Raleigh sent one of his men (per Wikipedia) "to map the Orinoco, the Amerindian tribes and prepare geographical, geological and botanical reports of the country." So there you have it: a direct link between Herball (via Burghley) and the plants of Venezuela where we are claiming the Voynich was compiled!

Internally, Herball provides more evidence as it says things that we would never expect to find in a botany book, like

"Nostradami Salo-mensis Gallo-prouincie,"

And a Herball epigram begins with a reference to the Atlas Mountains,

"Define quae vastis pomeria montibus Atlas"

which turns out to be a term (along with its Berber name "Fez") used to link works written in the French, German, Latin and English languages. Note that publication date does not reflect redaction date:

In a translation of the original source (1590):

"Au poinct du iour au second chant du coq,
Ceux de Tunes, de Fez, & de Bugie:"

In the manifesto of a secret society (1614):

"Zu Fessa (oder Fasen, Fez) machet er kundschafft zu den (wie man sie zu nennen pflegt) Elementarischen Inwohnern"

In the title of a utopian dream (1633):

"Novus Atlas: opus imperfectum Latine conscriptum ab Illustri viro Francisco Bacone"

Shakespeare was evasive in referring to those mountains in his First Folio (1623):

"The demi-Atlas of this earth, the arm"

and elsewhere,

"That raught at mountains with outstretched arms,"

The "demi" suggests that "Altas" is only half the story (requires the word "mountains"), and the line-ending arms provide the link to pick up those mountains.

In 1597, when Herball was published, we were still in the early stages of the Shakespeare conspiracy. They were idealistic, naive, and foolish to the point of thinking it cute to drop cryptic hints and clues about their activities.

Are you insinuating that Shakespeare had something to do with The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes?

Yes, indeed. Along with Burghley, Shakespeare would have provided financing for the project, and surely he was also a contributing author even if only as ghost writer for the Dedications and Epigrams.

Amazon.com sells books with the following titles: Botanical Shakespeare: An Illustrated Compendium of All the Flowers, Fruits, Herbs, Trees, Seeds, and Grasses Cited by the World's Greatest Playwright; Shakespeare's Gardens; Shakespeare's Flowers; A Shakespearean Botanical; The Plant-Lore and Garden-Craft of Shakespeare; and The Quest for Shakespeare's Garden. Is it really hard to believe that Shakespeare had an interest in botany?

Moreover, the Herball provides us with a picture of Shakespeare, the poet laureate, on its title page. This is him:

The Herball Depiction of Shakespeare

Let me clarify that I am not the first to identify this drawing as Shakespeare though I do so for different reasons. The first honors go to Mark Griffins, who claims to be a botanist and historian, but nonetheless his article drew my attention to this matter.

It does not look like Shakespeare to me. Are you sure that this is Shakespeare?

Yes, those references to "Nostradami" and "montibus Atlas" leave no doubt about it. As you may or may not be aware, some have challenged authorship by the man from Stratford and have proposed other candidates.

I myself, from my investigations, have concluded that William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby, was the primary writer for the Privy Council (of which he was a member) and therefore would be the true Shakespeare, though it seems another royal court insider provided the plots and characters for the comedies and tragedies. Other members of the Privy Council, and perhaps King James himself, may have contributed something if only technical information on war, seamanship or whatever.

They were members of the aforementioned secret society. Per their manifesto, anonymity, and the refusal to accept credit or reward for services rendered, was a fundamental precept of their brotherhood by which all members had sworn to abide. Consequently, it is hardly surprising that the Privy Council arranged for civil and historical records to be altered so as to attribute authorship to a deceased person from Stratford and away from themselves.

Derby had family ties to the theater, a great education, legal training, foreign travels, enough money to finance Herball and later his own Folios, and a lifespan (1561-1642) long enough to have made revisions for the First Folio of 1623 as well as for the Second Folio of 1632.

With a Jesuit spy complaining that Derby was too busy writing plays to join the Catholic cause, and with a Sonnet declaring "my name is Will" (he signed his name Will Derby), he was always a strong alternative to the man from Stratford. But many have rejected his candidacy only because he lived too long (no new plays appeared after publication of the First Folio), not realizing that the First Folio was itself the end objective of their endeavors.

Here's a picture of the Earl of Derby:

William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby

In higher resolution (I am looking at the cover of John Rollett's William Stanley as Shakespeare), we can see that several threads of his mustache twist out and upwards like in the Herball depiction. His medallion displays a white stallion on its hind legs, evidently being ridden by the goddess Minerva, right hand raised, holding and shaking the spear that she is pointing downwards: SHAKE – SPEAR.

Are you thankful to the Voynich Manuscript for helping to solve the mystery of Shakespeare authorship?

A great curiosity is that there appears to be no historical record of Derby playing any role in the fight against the Spanish Armada, hardly credible for a prominent English nobleman in time of crisis when all were assigned some task on land or at sea. By legend, after being sent back to Paris in 1585, Derby spent the years 1586, 1587, and 1588 preaching in Italy, hunting tigers in Egypt, romancing in Turkey, visiting Moscow, and whaling in Greenland.

Meanwhile, the whereabouts of the historian Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa for the years 1586, 1587, and 1588 likewise cannot be verified. By legend, after departing London for Paris in late 1585, he spent the next three years locked up in a Huguenot dungeon in southwestern France where he was routinely tortured.

In Love's Labour's Lost , the character Don Adriano de Armado (an unambiguous portrayal of Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa per descriptions provided in the play) tells us "I have promised to study three years with the Duke." Per my investigations, Sarmiento, Derby and a few others (Scaliger for certain, and possibly Montaigne in his wanderings) spent those three years (1586, 1587, 1588) in Nérac, decoding, translating and publishing a few dozen of the recipes found in the Voynich manuscript. The term "recipes" was coined by our contemporary scholars to refer to the text-only section at the end of the Voynich manuscript.

This leads us to a question you didn't ask: Why would anyone want to encrypt a harmless description of plants? Indeed, it shouldn't be necessary, so the answer has to be that it was all to protect the "recipes." From brief 12th-century descriptions (Prophetiae Merlini) of those recipes we calculate that the recipe section could have once consisted of more than a hundred pages of pure text whereas only twenty-three pages (covering the published passages) were conserved. I have one more thing to say: the Voynich manuscript was no cookbook.

Morten St. George maintains that Shakespeare and his colleagues successfully decoded, and then translated and published, parts of the Voynich manuscript in the late 16th century: the 161 red-star recipes exactly match the number of published verses known by other means. Moreover, source material for an introduction to that publication included the unpublished manuscript of Historia de los Incas, written in 1572 by Sarmiento who allegedly acquired the Voynich manuscript from the Incas. Essentially, this implies that a Rosetta Stone, of sorts, currently exists, which could facilitate a fresh decoding of the manuscript. If Morten makes any progress in this regard, a new page will added to this website. Meanwhile, many excerpts from Shakespeare's French-language translation of the Voynich manuscript, along with his English-language reflections on them, can be found on his webpage about Shakespeare.

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