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.
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?