Wilfrid’s spell-binder: footnotes to Pt.6

1. as typical example of the ‘Voynich phenomenon’ where Wilfrid’s imagination provides the whole basis for discussion: In the 1980s, a paper written by a professor of classical philosophy at Yale, Robert S. Bumbaugh, includes: “One of the manuscripts in the Beinecke Library … is MS 408, the “Roger Bacon” Voynich cipher. …. both the text and the labels of the illustrations are written in cipher. This suggests some secret content of considerable importance……. it had been bought in 1586, by the Emperor Rudolph II, who thought it was the work of “Roger Bacon, the Englishman.” … which would explain the high price (six hundred ducats) the letter says Rudolph paid.” Then ” … two English alchemists …John Dee and Edward Kelley. … Kelley … knighted at Rudolph’s court. … it seems likely that the persons who sold the Emperor this document were Dee and Kelley; no other even remotely likely candidates have been defended.” and so on and so forth.
Robert S. Brumbaugh, ‘The Voynich Cipher Manuscript: a Current Report’, The Yale University Library Gazette, Vol. 61, No. 3/4 (April 1987), pp. 92-95. Brumbaugh’s ideas are logical , but their ‘givens’ are basis in Wilfrid’s speculations.

2. This pillaging certainly occurred, although some recent writers have tried to minimise it. See for example the history of the Cotton collection, some items in which had been preserved in their monasteries for eight centuries, only then to be decimated by sequestration, neglect and fire. William Younger Fletcher, English Book Collectors edited by Alfred Pollard (1906) pp.62-6 Available online (Project Gutenberg). Also, Charles Isaac Elton, The Great Book Collectors London, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Ltd.; New York, Charles Scribners’s Sons, 1893. Available online (Internet archive).  The second had been published in America and contains the history of Guglielmo Libri’s activity abroad and in England. It is unlikely that any bibliophile on either side of the Atlantic had not heard of him.

3. I draw no inference from the fact, but simply for readers’ information note that one of the monasteries in the lands of the Duke of Northumberland had been a Premonstratensian convent (‘nunnery’), first emptied as is believed by the Plague, and so occupied by Augustinian monks until the dissolution. see M. R. V. Heale, ‘Dependent Priories and the Closure of Monasteries in Late Medieval England, 1400-1535′,  The English Historical Review,Vol. 119, No. 480 (Feb., 2004), pp. 1-26. (p.4. n.11).

4. Richard L. Greene, ‘Two Medieval Musical Manuscripts: Egerton 3307 and Some University of Chicago Fragments’,  Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Spring, 1954).

5. Anthony Wood (1632 – 1695), Athenae Oxonienses : an exact history of all the writers and bishops who have had their education in the University of Oxford : to which are added the Fasti, or Annals of the said University, London: Rivington 1813. The quotation is from its lengthy biography of Thomas Allen (cols. 542-546).( online).

6. Charlotte Fell-Smith, John Dee, Chapter 8 (online)

7.  I have the title for MS Digby 237 via William Howard Sherman, John Dee: The Politics of Reading and Writing in the English Renaissance, p.259, though  his bibliography offers a different spelling from the usual. I should dearly like to know acquisition details for this volume.

8. He spent time in  “southern Europe” and its castles. He has connection to Parma (mentioned in some accounts of Wilfrid’s discovering the manuscript)* and even to the Medici and Spain, for his cousin George Digby was involved when King Charles contemplated “an alliance with one of the Princesses of Parma, of the house of Medici, [related to] the King of Spain … [who] would give her the dower of a daughter of Spain”.**

* e.g.  Voynich said, in his talk to the Philadelphia College of Physicians in 1921: “my own impression is that Kircher left the manuscript … at the court of Parma … and it probably remained in the possession of a member of the Farnese family until, with other manuscripts, it was removed to the collection in which I found it.”  W.M. Voynich, ‘A Preliminary Sketch of the History of the Roger Bacon Cipher Manuscript”, Transactions of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia Vol. 43 (1921) pp. 415-430. (p.430).  In my copy of d’Imperio’s Elegant Enigma (p.4) there appears to be a mis-print, ‘1912’ for ‘1921’.

** As this matter might impact on our understanding of how the manuscript came to be in Fr. Beckx’ trunk, I add the following: Voynich’s description of the circumstances implies that the manuscript was (in his view) left by Kircher in Parma between c.1667 and Kircher’s death in 1680.  The Duke of Parma thoughout that period was Ranuccio II Farnese, whose title (from c.1560) was properly ‘of Parma and Piacenza’. His reign was troubled, though he was able to buy the principate of Bardi and Compiano in 1672.  The last  Duke of Parma and Piacenza was Roberto I, or formally Roberto I Carlo Luigi Maria di Borbone, Duca di Parma e Piacenza (1848 – 16 November 1907), who occupied the throne from 1854 until deposed in 1859. The Jesuits had been invited to Piacenza, where their  Palazzo del Collegio dei Gesuiti was completed in 1593; by the 1840s its library was said to have held thousands of volumes, including manuscripts, archives and books both sacred and secular.  For the last point, the reference cited (which I have not seen) was Nuovissima guida della città di Piacenza con alquanti cenni topografici, statistici, e storici, by Tipografia Domenico Tagliaferri, Piazza de’ Cavalli, #55, Piacenza (1842) ; Page 154-155 (p.158). The older Dukes of Parma, the Farnese, had acquired the castle of San Savino in 1319, along with  Ischia di Castro, and the castle of Sala. The additional title ‘… of Piacenza’ was added in the mid-sixteenth century when Ottavio Farnese (1547–86) married Margaret, the eldest illegitimate daughter of Charles V. The nobility of Piacenza resented the appointment, and Ottavio was obliged move to Parma with his large palace unfinished on the banks of the Po.  The reign of the Farnese dukes ended in 1731, after which the title ‘Parma and Piacenza’ passed to the House of Bourbon-Parma.

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