How did the VM come to Rudolph attention? A consideration….

It is commonly stated (see here for a discussion on this topic) that Emperor Rudolph II of Bohemia, who fancied himself to be a learned man of letters, purchased the VM for 600 ducats. The only source we have for this, it seems, is a reference from a 17th century letter, after Rudolph II had died and his court had been dissolved. But how could Rudolph have acquired the book?

We assume the VM is “real”, ie, whoever wrote it was convinced they were transmitting information of some type.

Now, if Rudolph got his grubby little hands on our book after 1576 we can assume some of three things:

1) The original writer was dead
2) The identity of the original owner was not communicated to Rudolph.
3) Rudolph never spent 600 ducats on the thing.
I expand.
on 1): If the original owner was still alive, and the VM contained such important information that he invented such a code to enclose encrypted information, why sell it to Rudolph without communicating the information? More likely the old boy passed on and the son of the family, rooting through his belongings, finds the mad old boys secret MS and sells it for a few coppers to some wily trader. From there it makes its way to the Emperor through several book sellers. One does not simply walk into court and sell the Emperor a book…
on 2) If this Emperor of learning had a secret tome of information in his possession and knew who had written it, he would surely have summoned the writer to court and demanded to know what was going on. No indication that this happened.
on 3) Why spend a vast amount on a secret book and then throw it into a cupboard when you have wise men of learning lounging around the place getting in the way? There is no indication that anyone was interested in the thing until someone (Kircher?) stumbled across it later on, in the 17th century.
So we find ourselves in a situation where one of the following applies:
a) Rudolph spends a vast amount on a secret tome then throws it into a cupboard and forgets about it. Hey, he’s an Emperor, he can if he wants to. Except that he’s an inquisitive man of learning, so if he were aware of it, he’d surely make a fuss over it?
b) Rudolph bought this as part of a job lot of books and the 600 ducat thing refers to the whole batch of books he bought.
c) The book was presented to Rudolph… but then someone ensured that it was quietly filed away to avoid any of the aforementioned idle men of learning (rivals at court?) from getting hold of it. (My “currying favour” theory).
d) Rudolph never owned the book and the rumour is false.

so… a,b, c or d?

4 thoughts to “How did the VM come to Rudolph attention? A consideration….”

  1. There was a great unrest in the Holy Roman Empire in the early 16th century – the Bauernkrieg, which falls between the moment when MS was created and the moment when Rudolph II (allegedly) purchased it. Many abbeys and estates were devastated, and surely there must have been great helter-skelter with property during that uprising. Given those circumstances, anything may have been. E.g. the author’s successor having the MS in possession was killed, his books then sold out or stolen. The new possessor, unaware of the MS history, would naturally consider it as some foreign or ancient work in a language unknown to him.

    In Rudolph’s time it would already be natural to value this strange MS for its (alleged) antiquarian value, not for the unknown lore contained therein. 600 ducats (if 600 they were indeed) is a great sum. One ducat was 3.5g of gold and stood for 50 kg of meat. A battle horse was worth 30 ducats. So Rudolph must have been convinced that the VMS was some great antique.

    Your point 3) is reasonable. One explanation could be that Rudolph II was convinced by the seller that the language of the MS is dead or of some far away nation (those with dog’s heads or something). If one is sure that the language can not be read, he won’t make effort to read it.

  2. we don’t know whether the story of Rudolf’s owning the manuscript is true, or simply mistaken, or an outright lie.

    Efforts to fill in such gaps will inevitably range, in the absence of solid information, between sensible shrugs, historically appropriate conjectures, or off-the-air story lines better suited to movie-making than contributing to our understanding of a fifteenth-century artefact and its antecedents.

  3. The persons who inscribed the book are highly unlikely to be the first composers of its visual or inscriptional content. If one compares *all* the earliest comments, and all the earliest (20thC) appraisals of the manuscript, you’ll find that it was most often taken for a thirteenth century manuscript. The copy is made so good as that – but then professional copyists were expected to take accuracy so seriously.

  4. 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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