When Wilfrid Voynich bought his (now eponymous) manuscript in 1912, it was accompanied by a 1665 letter from Johannes Marcus Marci to Athanasius Kircher. In that, Marci noted three things that Raphael Mnishovsky (King Ferdinand III’s Czech language tutor) had told him about the strange artefact:-
- “that the said book belonged to Emperor Rudolf“
- “that [Rudolf II] presented 600 ducats to the messenger who brought him the book“
- that Raphael “thought that the author was Roger Bacon the Englishman“
Voynich, perhaps seduced by a private ambition to sell a Roger Bacon manuscript, subsequently insisted that everyone should call it “The Roger Bacon Cipher Manuscript”, and even went to the trouble of reconstructing a (probably completely wrong) Anglo-centric provenance based around John Dee’s selling a Roger Bacon manuscript to Emperor Rudolph II. However, since Voynich’s death, the whole notion that Roger Bacon was connected with the VMs has slipped ever further into the background, to the point that no Voynich researcher has considered Bacon a viable possibility for years (if not decades), basically because we all thought 1450 was the earliest workable date for it.
However, with the recent Austrian documentary vellum dating (1405-1438 @ 95% confidence), it seems we may all have been wrong about that. OK, not necessarily by much, but enough to be a tad annoying. Which is why I decided to revisit the whole Roger Bacon / VMs claimed linkage: might there actually be something in it, however tangential?
The first issue to consider is Raphael Mnishovsky’s idea that the VMs had anything to do with Roger Bacon. When did Mnishovsky form or conceive this opinion? There seem to be five main scenarios to consider:
- Mnishovsky had seen the VMs pre-1612 at court and had formed that opinion on his own
- Mnishovksy had seen the VMs in Jacobus de Tepenecz’s possession
- Mnishovksy had seen the VMs in Baresch’s possession
- Mnishovsky had seen the VMs in Marci’s possession and had formed that opinion only then
- Mnishovsky had not seen the VMs, and was passing on a second-hand opinion
The problem with Scenario #1 is that I don’t think Mnishovsky was quite old enough to have been at Rudolph’s court. Similarly for #2, my understanding is that Mnishovsky was essentially a post-1612 courtier, and de Tepenecz was never close to court after Rudolph II’s death. The problem with #3 is that Baresch doesn’t mention any link with Roger Bacon in his 1637 letter to Kircher: while the problem with #4 is that it seems inconsistent with Marci’s letter (unless I’m subtly misreading it).
Which leads me to point my stick of historical judgment at Scenario #5: and to assert that the manuscript was probably linked to Roger Bacon while still at Rudolph II’s court (though Baresch probably knew nothing of this). Might the VMs have been sold to Rudolph as having been composed by Roger Bacon?
Given that Roger Bacon (genuinely) constructed his own computus and that the first manuscript copies of the famous “Mirror of Alchemy” (Speculum Alchemiae) ascribed (falsely) to him appeared in the fifteenth century, the suggestion that the (early-to-mid-fifteenth century) VMs could also have been (falsely) ascribed to Roger Bacon is hardly that far-fetched. Yes, I agree the claim is false – but where and when did that claim originate?
I wonder… is there a list anywhere of lost (genuine or ascribed) Roger Bacon works? Perhaps there are references to a Roger Bacon herbal in correspondence close to the Imperial court 1600-1612 that might have been overlooked. Something to think about, anyway. 🙂
PS: here’s a 1928 article on Newbold’s claims that recently popped up in JSTOR. Enjoy (the first page, at least)! 🙂