The Voynich manuscript – an alternate pet theory of mine

Going heavily away from my usual topics here, but hey, it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want!

If you’ve never heard of the Voynich manuscript then I suggest you stop reading now, otherwise you’ll just get confused.

The whole topic started when I got interested in some of the mathematical analysis that has been performed on the text of the Voynich manuscript. I started following and repeating some of the exercises, before getting distracted. For reference, I penned the following article which I published here.


When selecting a portion of the manuscript for study, my attention was drawn to folio 73 (r and v), (respectively, pages 134 & 135 of the Beinecke digital copy). This was due mainly to the fact that one of the very few clearly identifiable male figures from the whole manuscript is in a prominent position on 73v, the famous “crossbow figure”.

(You can download a pdf of the two folios under discussion here:  Voynich 73).

In brief, on both pages a central figure is drawn surrounded by two mechanically drawn rings containing images of naked, “matronly” females. In both cases, the rings are topped by four prominent, larger female figures. All females are carrying (either in their hand or with a line attached to) a star or flower. On one page the figures “dance” around a man holding a loaded crossbow, on the other they “dance” around a lizard or dragon.

Whilst both folios have the same central design, in 73r the star or flower is fully coloured gold, in 73v the flower has only a coloured centre.

On both folios, the use of colour is reserved for the flower, the cheeks of all figures and the colouring of the central figure. This has given me the idea that the sparse, yet strong, use of colouring in the folio is not by chance and indicates a strong clue as to the meaning of the images. (I am aware there is a case for the colouring having been carried out at a later time, but this looks original to me).

I start by assuming that the folios are not linked to the zodiac (although I am prepared to permit a certain astrological influence). There are no real pointers to the zodiac, other than the fact there are 12 pages of these diagrams. It is possible, as we know, that more of these images may have vanished – we are all aware that parts of the manuscript have been lost.

Note the colours in the print – all women are drawn in monotone except for their lips and cheeks. However, all central figures are brightly coloured.

The central man on 73v is wearing brightly coloured clothes, with the exception of his chaperon (the turban like hat), which has been left white. If we take this to mean that the colour of the hat is also white, then it is an important clue to the symbolism of the piece.

The chaperon fell out of use in the early 16th century, but at the end of the 15th century had become a fashion piece which often indicated political alignment.

Two examples:
In late 15th century Venice, the chaperon became associated with the Republican movement, as it gave the merchants a valid excuse not to raise their hat to a Royal. By the end of the century, the wearing of a hat versus chaperon was a major political issue.
In late 14th century Ghent, a major uprising against Duke Philip the Bold of Burgundy was characterised by the revolutionaries wearing white chaperons; again in disturbances in Paris in the early 15th. (More here:

Crossbow – loaded but not cocked (the string is less than halfway down the barrel). No visible winding mechanism. The man does not have his right hand on the crossbow, (indicating that he is not preparing to use it?). Is the man protecting the women? He is not in an aggressive stance. However, it is aimed at the only two women not carrying a rose on the page , is he looking for the traitor? (There is an article about the dating of the crossbow here which ties into my theory).

The star or flower – Let us assume it is a flower by the following process of deduction:
The shape is rather badly drawn – some have eight points, some seven. The important thing which is the same in every single case is that the centre is golden and the rest white. What if the artist (who, frankly, was no Leonardo da Vinci) is simply copying a well known political symbol of the era, and is more concerned with the colouring than the shape?
After all, the same symbol appears on the opposite page, but with a different colouring. If this is a political or religious symbol, the artist will assume that everyone will know the shape, but the colouring (which changes between the two folios, but is consistent on both) is the single most important thing which gives it its meaning?

OK, it’s a flower. White with a golden heart on 73r, fully coloured in with a golden colour on 73v. What political symbolism of the 14th century could this indicate?

Only one: The English War of the Cousins (known by common culture as the War of the Roses).

It is my contention that folios 73r and 73v are faction tables showing the alliances between the major families of the House of York and the House of Lancaster, the two opposing factions that shook England, and Europe, throughout the first half of the 14th century. The figures are females, because it indicates the major families, the political alignment of the great houses of England. This would mean that the text which accompanies each figure indicates the name of the Houses. The four female dominant figures at the top of each page could represent either the four most important families in each faction, or even (possible! Not probable, but possible!), eight actual people as in both Houses there were four dominant female figures: the wives (and in one case, the Mother) of the various Kings and pretenders put forward during the Wars. I shall return to this theory later.

The House of York (represented on 73v) was commonly identified by the White Rose (which is why the women all have a rose with a golden heart, which apes the common symbol which is clearly seen in prints from that era). The central figure wears a white hat, again standing for the symbolism of his political alignment. Two women in the circle carry no star, and the crossbow points straight at these two. Is the man protecting the House of York by force of arms, reminding these two aristocratic families that they must continue to pay him their dues?

The House of Lancaster (represented on 73r) is more difficult to identify, mainly because it requires the artist to be drawing at a particular point in time. However, if this is true, it does give more credence to the theory of the Rose.

Let me explain:
The House of Lancaster was never represented by a Red Rose until after its downfall. Which means the Voynich manuscript would have had to be penned after the arrival of Henry VII in 1485.

When Henry VII, the first of the Tudors, took the throne after the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, he was anxious to cement his claim to the throne. By killing his predecessor Richard III, he extinguished the Royal bloodline in the House of Lancaster and so ended any claim they had to the Throne of England. In order to prevent any future trouble, and put an end to the War of the Roses, he founded a new Royal bloodline (the Tudors) and married Elizabeth of York. He was able to claim ascendency from both York and Lancaster, and so created a new political symbol: the Tudor Rose, a red and white rose which he claimed was the union of the White Rose of York and the Red Rose of Lancaster. By Royal will, overnight the House of Lancaster became associated with the Red Rose (which, yes, had been used by them over the course of the century, but had never really been their major political symbol). Once he had done this, it became natural to think of the opposing coloured flowers as being the symbols of the opposing factions, and so the “War of the Cousins” became known overnight as the more poetic “War of the Roses”.

You know say, very interesting, but what about that lizard? The supposed page of the House of York has a central figure which is a man with a crossbow, this page a central figure which is a lizard?

Actually, it plays directly into my theory.

First look at the women surrounding the lizard. Every single one carries a fully coloured in rose. Unlike 73v, there are no women without roses. Every single one of them is loyal.

The “lizard” or “dragon” is the central figure of 73v. The animal is green. It has a long reptilian tail, with no pointed end (this may have been erased), which curves around. It appears to have some scales on its back, which could be folded wings. Its feet appear to be drawn with no particular care. Its head appears to be open and a line emerges to connect to the star (or rose) it is carrying.

Let us examine that rose. Looking closely at the better quality Beinecke digital scans, it is obvious that there is a human head inside the mouth of the lizard,  from whose scalp a line appears to the rose.

The personal symbol of the future King Henry VII was the green dragon of Wales, and it was under this banner that he fought and beat King Richard III, last of the Lancaster Kings.

The symbolism is clear: the new Welsh King Henry VII has swallowed the House of Lancaster. The families and factions of the defeated House of Lancaster surround the new King and pledge their allegiance to him (which they did in historical fact). Opposite, the House of York wait, still united, but with factions wavering and being held loyal only by the force of arms.

Underneath the dragon is a heavily scored word which could be the Latin word unita(s) : unity. It’s mixed in with the feet of the dragon and so is unclear.

At the top of each house, the four dominant figures watch. For fun, let us assume they are the wives (or in one case, the Mother) of the four Kings and Pretenders put forward by both Houses during the Wars. I have indicated the name of the King or Pretender in capitals, and then their spouse(s) or wives who could be represented at the top of each faction chart. Dates in brackets are dates of reign.

For York:

EDWARD IV (1442 – 1483)| Elizabeth  Woodville (Wydeville or Widvile) poss fig 1 (prettiest     youngest figure of all, Elizabeth was a noted beauty)

EDMUND (EARL RUTLAND) | Died unmarried, but pushy mother: Cecily Neville (poss fig 2, hair up in regal position? All others have hair down. Also older woman). Cecily appears time and time again in the wars as a major eminence grise.

GEORGE PLANTAGENET (1st Duke Clarence) | Isabelle Neville

RICHARD III | Anne Neville (poss fig 3? Only one with long hair and Anne is always depicted with flowing locks).

For Lancaster:
HENRY IV | married twice:
Mary de Bohun (died before he became king but was a major factor). Is she pulling Joanna along, as she helped Henry become King? (fig 4) This fig has unadorned hair, unlike fig 3, which appears to have either embroidered hair or a small crown.
Joanna of Navarre (Fig 3 by deduction from above) Possibly wearing a crown (as she was the appointed Queen of the two spouses).

HENRY V  |    Catherine of Valois. No crown. Catherine was a quiet Queen with no influence.

HENRY VI |    Margaret of Anjou (fig 1? This figure appears to have a crown or embroidered hair, and Margaret was heavily involved in running the country).

If these are the eight figures at the top of the two faction charts, it would correspond to historical fact – both factions appear to have been heavily influenced by the female head of the respective houses, who worked and charmed and were often politically acute, all in order to ensure their succession to the Throne of England.

Now we come to a section of pure conjuncture and theory:

Who could be interested in this, but a political spy? If these charts are faction charts, then it is reasonable to assume the rest of this section is the same – charts and memory aids to the major players of the complicated factions claiming the Throne of England. The labels next to each figure would be house names, the circular lines text more names, more data.

The whole of Europe was interested in, and actively involved, in the War of the Cousins. The Iberian powers of Castille and Aragon sent wives, money and troops, as did the French and Italian powers. And once Henry VII bought stability to England towards the end of the century, no doubt the European powers continued to have their spies in the diplomatic courts, looking for any angle to exert power.

Hence, great parts of the book can be explained as follows:

Imagine a spy in, say, the diplomatic court of Castille (Spain) in London. He sends reports back to his masters in Iberia, keeping them up to date on what is going on in London, the political, scientific and cultural scene. And, meanwhile, he has a book he keeps up to date in his quarters with interesting things. Manuscripts lent to him. Overheard conversations. Anything that falls within his remit to steal: information.

So he hastily -and inaccurately- copies out pictures of plants from some interesting herbal tome he is lent (or purloins before replacing) over the weekend. He carefully draws out the political alignment of different families at court, for future reference on who can be approached for his masters plans, and who should be avoided. He copies out lists of alchemical information that comes his way. He is no scribe, but he is educated, and if show a plan, or a tome that cannot be taken, he can copy out the most important information for later reference. Women are shown bathing in, say, the Roman Spa in Bath (78v) whilst important information about their political plans is recorded.

The strange and unreadable text? Who else would be more interested in hiding the text than a spy? But, personally, I don’t think the text is heavily encoded. I feel it more likely to be a shorthand version of some linguistic variation of Occitan (old Catalan), the lingue d’oc of the south of Europe, which an educated man who is not necessarily of the aristocracy of the time would know and may even be his native tongue.

I make no pretence of having decoded the text, but I have an intuitive feeling that some of the “symbols” are actually diacritics running together. Looking at the text, it seems that for both e and é appearing; a and á; o and ó, c and ç. The more interesting symbols could be shorthand for common prefixes and suffixes that appear in Romance languages. This approach appears to have been overlooked by earlier transcribers, who often appear to have worked off badly photocopied editions.

Taking at random 116r (page 206) certain diacritics are obvious, for example éreg appears several time with a clear distinction between the ´ and the e in the first few lines. (Which could mean  étag(e), floor or storey. In which case, an argument could be made for the first word of the next few paragraphs, all followed by this word, to mean first, second, third, etc). Anyhow. This could go on for ages.

In summary: Was the Voynich manuscript at least in part the work of a spy, recording the entangled loyalties of the now stabilised court of England under Henry VII? Is it the work of a Castillian spy acting under the orders of the Catholic Kings?

6 Replies to “The Voynich manuscript – an alternate pet theory of mine”

  1. You say
    you’ve never heard of the Voynich manuscript then I suggest you stop reading now, otherwise you’ll just get confused.

    Sooo true! 😆

  2. Hi David,

    Interesting idea, especially with the spy angle. I like a good story. I am looking forward to see your future work in proving your theory and convincing the others.

    All the best! Ellie

  3. I like your argument about the chaperon. Thing is, I doubt if it the hat was meant to be seen as a chaparon.
    As in so many cases, when people adduce the Voynich imagery in support of another all-Latin European theory, the theory informs a tacit premise which then makes any argument circular. No criticism of you; just a comment on the longstanding habits in this field. Thus:

    tacit premise: [If the manuscript is depicting only Latin European figures from the medieval/renaissance period, then]..

    … the hat closest to what we see would be a chaparon. If it were a chaparon, then the figure must be a Latin European of the medieval/renaissance period.

    But is it?

    How does that idea fit with all the plainly non-Latin customs in other imagery, or with the general recognition among the first appraisers that the work presents as thirteenth-century European. Steele speaks for them when he notes that it is “curious that the draughtsman escaped all [Latin] medieval and renaissance influences”.

    So if we address the hat as an open question: Where did this hat come from? we find that hats of the “chaparon’ sort were introduced to Latin Europe from non-European precedents, being attested (as I’ve illustrated in another place) from the 8thC BC onwards, without a break.

    They first occur in lower Mesopotamia (8thC BC), then become standard for representations of the Persian, and finally appear during Renaissance Europe’s fashionable ‘oriental-look’ period.

    So even if it were a ‘chaparon’ style, it wouldn’t prove the image originated in Europe’s mainstream Latin culture.

    I don’t think it’s meant for a chaparon at all, but for a kind of hat or cap with a turned-back brim, the dangling scarf a sign of status. Such hats and caps are seen in medieval imagery too, where they normally represent the non-Latin, either Syrians or Egyptians or early Spaniards or southern Jews.

    Always a good idea to first establish the validity of those things ‘everyone says’. In Voynich studies, a surprising number were never established by preliminary research. I look forward to reading more of your work, though. Keep it up.

  4. Well, it is an old argument from a long time ago Diane.
    Notwithstanding that, I’d point out that the imagery makes perfect sense if you place the illustrator in a later time period attempting to recreate the look of a Middle Ages manuscript – the generally blobby female figures can be linked to medieval illustrations.

  5. Good day!
    My name is Nikolai.
    To a question about the key to the Voynich manuscript.
    Today, I have to add on this matter following.
    The manuscript was written no letters, and signs for the letters of the alphabet of one of the ancient languages. Moreover, in the text there are 2 more levels of encryption to virtually eliminate the possibility of computer-assisted translation, even after replacing the signs letters.
    I pick up the key by which the first section I was able to read the following words: hemp, hemp clothing; food, food (sheet of 20 numbering on the Internet); cleaned (intestines), knowledge may wish to drink a sugary drink (nectar), maturation (maturity), to consider, to think (sheet 107); drink; six; flourishing; growing; rich; peas; sweet drink nectar and others. It is only a short word, mark 2-3. To translate words consisting of more than 2.3 characters is necessary to know this ancient language.
    If you are interested, I am ready to send more detailed information, including scans of pages indicating the translated words.
    Sincerely, Nicholas.

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