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History of the Manuscript


The history of the Voynich MS is described in three parts, on three pages:

This page addresses the second part, the history of the manuscript, its whereabouts and its owners.

The first history of the Voynich MS was published by its discoverer Wilfrid Voynich in 1921 (1). His research was based on the following leads:

The letter from Marci has been the most important piece of evidence for the history of the Voynich MS until the year 2000, so to set the stage, the relevant parts of it are given first. They will be discussed in more detail below. This letter will henceforth be referred to as 'The Marci letter', even though other letters written by Marci will be mentioned as well.

This book, bequeathed to me by an intimate friend, I destined for you, my very dear Athanasius, as soon as it came into my possesion,
The former owner of this book once asked your opinion by letter, copying and sending you a portion of the book from which he believed you would be able to read the remainder
To its deciphering he devoted unflagging toil, as is apparent from attempts of his which I send you herewith, and he relinquished hope only with his life.
Dr. Raphael, tutor in the Bohemian language to Ferdinand III, then King of Bohemia, told me the said book had belonged to the Emperor Rudolph and that he presented the bearer who brought him the book 600 ducats. He believed the author was Roger Bacon, the Englishman. On this point I suspend judgment.

The appearance of the MS at Rudolf's court (in Prague) is the turning point between the still unknown and the relatively better known part of the MS history. Additional details to the information published by Voynich were given in 1931 by Manly (4). Since that time, our knowledge of the history of the MS has increased significantly, but there are still gaps in our knowledge. Biographical details of the many owners of the MS may be relevant and they are therefore presented on a separate page (5).

The earliest history of the MS

As presented in the previous page, the MS was created early in the 15th Century and shows both Italian and German influences, so possibly originates from the alpine region, while Northern Italy has been favoured in recent years.

The month names in the zodiac section were most probably added somewhat later, and these are written in a Romance language, most probably French or more specifically Northern French (6). (Nick Pelling has also argued that this is Occitan (7)). This possibly means that the MS travelled through N. France, or was owned at some point by a French speaker.

The road to Prague

The John Dee hypothesis

The next evidence relates to the appearance of the MS in Prague during the reign of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II of Habsburg, which lasted from 1576 to 1611. This means that there is a gap in our knowledge of around 150 years. The evidence for Rudolf's ownership is the quoted statement in the Marci letter, and it is supported by the appearance on the first page of the name of a trustee at Ruduolf's court (Jacobus de Tepenec). In older literature about the Voynich MS it is usually assumed that the MS was sold to Rudolf by John Dee and/or his associate Edward Kelley, but this assumption derives from a personal hypothesis of W.Voynich. This is discussed in some depth in an article that appeared in 2011 (8). The following is a summary of this discussion.

As a result of Voynich's hypothesis, the lives of Dee and Kelly have been scrutinised in order to find evidence for :

This scrutiny has resulted in the following pieces of circumstantial evidence:

Unfortunately, this has often been taken as good evidence, and publications simply state as probable fact that the Voynich MS was sold to Rudolf by John Dee himself (not neccessarily implying that it is a fake by Dee and/or Kelly). The above three points have been critically examined by R. Prinke, and the arguments he presents strongly point against a Dee ownership of the Voynich MS. The year 1586 is often quoted in literature as the year Rudolf bought the Voynich MS, but this is derived entirely from the "Dee hypothesis", and is therefore unsubstantiated.

One MS owned by Dee has also received special attention, namely his "Book of Soyga". He once wrote in his diary: 'Oh, if only I could read the tables of Soyga'. The combination of the fact that this book was lost, and that this quote refers to an undeciphered text, has led to some speculation that the "Book of Soyga" could be the Voynich MS. This speculation has, however, proved to be wrong. The book of Soyga has been found again in two copies by Prof. Harkness. Indeed, it includes diagrams consisting of tables of letters, and, surpassing Dee, Jim Reeds has been able to decipher these (11).

Who brought the MS to Prague?

The Marci letter indicates that the MS was bought by the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II of Bohemia for the sum of 600 ducats. The reliability of this information will be analysed below, but assuming that Rudolf did indeed buy the MS, it would be of great interest to know from whom, as this provides a trace further back in time. Voynich indicated in his presentation of its history that he had investigated the biographies of many of the known visitors to Rudolf's court, and that according to him the most likely candidate was John Dee (12). He also showed how it is possible to trace, through Dee, the path of the MS from 13th Century England to the court of Rudolf II. It should not be forgotten, however, that Voynich specifically wished to prove that the MS originated with Roger Bacon, so he had been looking especially for such a connection.

Summary ledgers of the accounts of the court of Rudolph are still being preserved in the Austrian National Archives in Vienna (13), though unfortunately the actual records are lost. A large part of these has been transcribed, and this has been searched for evidence of Rudolph buying books or manuscripts. In these, some 18 different sellers of books can be identified. In some cases, an author presented a book to Rudolph II with a dedication to him, and received a sum of money in compensation.

One complication in the interpretation of these accounts is the confusion surrounding the monetary units in Bohemia around this time. The most frequently used coins were the silver taler (worth usually 70 kreuzer, but this varied with time), the gold florin (worth 60 kreuzer), and the gold ducat or Venetian ducat and the crown, both gold coins generally worth a bit more than a florin, but also with a variable exchange rate.

A comprensive list of these book sales cannot be presented here, but in the parts available to me no transaction could be identified that definitely referred to the Voynich MS. In addition, Dee or Kelly are not listed among the identified sellers. It is of interest to present a few examples of book sales to Rudolf.

One conclusions from this is that Rudolf spent very large sums of money on books, certainly also more than the 600 ducats quoted by Marci.

Did Rudolf II really own the Voynich MS?

The source of the acquisition by Rudolf is Dr. Raphael Mnisovsky, once teacher to the young Ferdinand III, who later also was emperor of the holy roman empire. Mnisovsky died in 1644, so this piece of information was more than 20 years old when Marci wrote his letter to Kircher. Furthermore, Mnisovsky was referring back to events that took place decades before he mentioned it to Marci. There are, however, good reasons to believe that both men would remember the essential details correctly. Mnisovsky was long interested in the manuscripts of Rudolf (14) and the Voynich MS was something that deeply interested Marci since many decades. Still, the amount of 600 ducats may posibly not be based on fact, but rather an exaggeration to increase Kircher's interest (15).

One thing (among many) that Emperor Rudolf has become famous for is his enormous collection of natural and cultural artefacts known as his Kunstkammer, essentially a vast private mueseum. The most detailed manuscript catalogue of it was found in Liechtenstein in the 1960's. It also includes a large section describing the books and manuscripts in this collection. There is a dedicated page at this site describing the catalogue. Obviously, if the Voynch MS could be identified in it, we would be certain that it once belonged to Rudolf, but apparently it isn't. This does not mean very much, however, as the books in the Kunstkammer are mostly books concerned with art. None of the many alchemical or magical books known to have belonged to Rudolf are listed in it. There is a large collection of these still preserved in Leiden, having passed through the hands of Queen Christina of Sweden and the humanist Isaac Vossius (16) .

The Bohemian period after Rudolf II of Habsburg

Jacobus Horcicky de Tepenec

The first positively identified owner of the Voynich MS is Jacobus Horcicky de Tepenec. He was born in a poor family, raised by the Jesuits and eventually became a successful and wealthy chemist, and a pharmacist at Rudolf's court (17). According to tradition, in 1608 he cured Rudolf from a grave disease and in return received the noble title 'de Tepenec'. This is the version of his name that was written on the Voynich MS, so it must have been written after 1608. In recent years, several books and manuscripts have been found bearing a similar Ex Libris (for which see a dedicated page). They are all accompanied by a number, and such a number may also be observed beneath his signature on folio 1r of the Voynich MS. We may assume that a catalogue of his books was made at some point in time, but this has not yet been found.

Exactly how Horcicky obtained the Voynich MS is not clear, and has given rise to some speculation. Did Rudolf give him the MS in the hope that he could study and understand it? When the emperor abdicated in 1611, and died the year after, he still owed Horcicky (and many, many others) a significant amount of money (18). Did Horcicky take the law in his own hands and did he take some of Rudolf's possessions with him (including the Voynich MS)? This very dangerous approach was followed by quite a few of his contemporaries with very serious consequences. Horcicky obtained the rule over the community of Melnik from Matthias, and lived in its castle as its Hauptmann (governor). When Horcicky died (1622), he left all his belongings to the Jesuits in Prague and Melnik by testament, but the Voynich MS seems to have escaped from their hands.

The next identified owner of the Voynich MS is the person indicated by Marci in his 1665 letter to Kircher. Marci wrote that he wanted to send it as soon as it came into his possession as the result of an inheritance from an intimate friend. This friend, who is not named, is further reported to have sent some transcribed portions of the manuscript to Kircher at an earlier date.

The identity of the benefactor of Marci was first guessed by Wilfrid Voynich himself, when he wrote in a letter to Prague, a copy of which is still preserved in the Beinecke library (19), that he would like to find out more about the identity of one Georg Barschius, who, some time after 1622, left his alchemical library as an inheritance to Marci. Voynich apparently did not receive a reply, and he did not include Barschius' name in his presentation of the history of the Voynich MS. This point was briefly taken up by Brumbaugh in the 1970's, but again forgotten after that.

Georgius Barschius

Fortunately, I was able to find out that one letter from a certain Baresch was preserved in the correspondence of Kircher. This collection (earlier bound into 12 volumes) is mentioned in the first published catalogue of Kircher's museum (20), but the volumes were lost since then until about 1930. Until a few years ago, this collection has only been available for study by scholars in piecemeal fashion (21). When a project was started to publish this correspondence (22) I was again fortunate in that I could obtain a copy of the letter from Baresch, which finally confirmed that he was the earlier owner of the Voynich MS, and the friend that Marci referred to in his letter.

The letters are now (bound into fourteen volumes) kept in the Archives of the Pontificia Università Gregoriana (APUG). Known as the Carteggio Kircheriano, it contains more than 2000 letters from over 750 different correspondents, which include emperors, (future) popes and Jesuit missionaries all over the world. Many letters are from scientists reporting on their discoveries. These letters have been bound together with other material (e.g. draft letters from Kircher), and are now freely available to the scientific community.

One of the fourteen volumes (APUG 557) bears a paper attachment saying: 'From the private library of P. Beckx' (23). This is the volume which contains 35 of 36 letters from Marci to Kircher, and many other letters from Prague and Bohemia (although the general organisation of the collection appears to be completely arbitrary). This same volume also contains the letter from M. Georgius Baresch (24). From this important letter it becomes certain that Baresch did indeed own the MS and sent Kircher a partial transcription of it, exactly confirming the details known from the 1665 Marci letter. Baresch was prompted to contact Kircher because of the appearance, more than two years earlier, of Kircher's work about Coptic, which began to establish Kircher's fame as someone who could decipher and read any language.

We do not know very much about Baresch. He was unknown to Czech historians until recently (25). Marci mentions him in his book 'Philosophia Vetus Restituta (1662), calling him a very good friend, indicating that they were friends for 40 years, and that Baresch left Marci his alchemical collection library in his will. This has clearly been the source for Wilfrid Voynich's information. Baresch is also mentioned in two letters from Marci to Kircher (26). We still don't know how the Voynich MS passed to Baresch, whether Tepenec knew Baresch or if anyone else owned the MS between Tepenec and Baresch.

Johannes Marcus Marci de Kronland

Marci was born in 1595, in the Bohemian town of Landskron (German: Kronland) and was initially raised to become a Jesuit. He did not, however, follow that path, but instead, after extensive medical studies, he became professor at the Prague Charles University. In 1638 or 1639 he undertook a journey to Rome and this is when he met Athanasius Kircher, marking the start of their long friendship. The two men corresponded for some 25 years and one of the last letters from Marci, written in August 1665, is the one accompanying the Voynich MS. (27).

Marci inherited the Voynich MS from Baresch between 1646 and 1662. He also discussed the Voynich MS with Mnisovsky before 1644, when Barschius was still alive, and still the owner of the MS. It is clear that the MS was a topic for discussion between various Bohemians.

Marci wrote to Kircher that he destined the MS for Kircher as soon as he got it, but in reality he kept it for a number of years before he actually sent it. Marci's eyesight deteriorated significantly towards the end of his life. Perhaps he decided to send the MS only after he could no longer see and study it himself. Certainly, the last two preserved letters from Marci to Kircher are no longer in his own hand but were written by a scribe. He just signed them in his own hand (28). Furthermore, after Marci sent the Voynich MS to Kircher, one of his Prague friends Godefrid Aloys Kinner (who was also one of Kircher's most prolific correspondents) asked Kircher once in 1666 and once again in 1667 on Marci's behalf whether Kircher had made any progress in deciphering the book that Marci had sent to him (29). Marci died in April 1667. His last will and testament had been made up on 31 December 1666, at which time he wasn't even capable of writing his own name anymore.

The Roman period

Athanasius Kircher and the Voynich MS

Athanasius Kircher was a contemporary of Marci, and while he was significantly more famous than Marci in his days, also he has left little impact on modern times. He was born in 1601 or 1602 (he himself did not know) in Geisa in Germany and after some quite adventurous travelling he arrived in Rome in 1635, where he was to stay, until his death, at the Roman College.

From 1638 onwards Kircher was professor in mathematics at the Roman College, but his interest covered 'everything under the sun'. When he was released from teaching duties after 8 years, he started publishing books, concentrating on a different subject every three to four years. He received visits or letters from scientists, royalty and clergy from all over Europe and beyond, together with a multitude of artefacts, curiosities of natural history and mechanical apparatus. This, together with his library, he later donated to a museum, which eventually became the famous 'museum of the Roman College' or the 'Museum Kircherianum'. This museum became one of the top attractions of Rome in the 17th century.

There is no indication what Kircher has done with the Voynich MS. It seems certain that he has indeed received the manuscript with the letter from Marci, because both Kircher's correspondence and the book collection bought by Voynich in 1911-1912 (including the Voynich MS) ended up in the private library of P. Beckx. It is also clear that Marci did send out the MS, from the above-mentioned letters by Godefrid Aloysius Kinner from Prague, inquiring about Kircher's success in deciphering the mysterious book. Furthermore, we know that Kircher responded to Barschius' first letter to him, as explained on another page.

As general background information, following is a summary timeline related to this period.

The Roman College and its Museum

1651 Museo Kircheriano moved from Kircher's private quarters to a large exhibit hall.
1665 Johannes Marcus Marci writes a letter and sends it with the Voynich MS to Athanasius Kircher. We do not know exactly when it reaches Rome.
1678 De Sepi publishes a catalogue of the Museo Kircheriano. It mentions twelve bound volumes of letters from all over the world, and books in many languages, but not specifically the Voynich MS.
1680 Death of Athanasius Kircher. His museum is gradually getting in disarray.
1698 Filippo Buonanni becomes the new custodian of the Museo Kircheriano. The museum is moved to a different area in the Collegium Romanum building.
1709 Buonanni publishes a more elaborate catalogue of Kircher's museum. It does not specifically list Kircher's books.
1725 Orazio Borgondio Bresciano custodian of the Museo Kircheriano.
1741 Cantuccio Contucci of Montpulciano is the new custodian of the Museo Kircheriano. He also publishes some kind of catalogue. It does not mention any books.
1754 - 7 Lazzari, the librarian of the Collegium Romanum, writes about some of the works contained in the Collegium Romanum library. It does not mention the Voynich MS or (apparently) any other item Voynich bought from the Jesuits in 1911-1912 (30).
1761 Anton Maria Ambrogi curator of the Museo Kircheriano.
1773 Giovanni Antonio Battara re-issues Buonanni's catalogue of the museum.

The vicissitudes of the Society of Jesus

The whereabouts of the Voynich MS after the death of Kircher could not yet be traced. During this time, though, the cover of the MS was most probably exchanged by the Jesuits. The present limp vellum cover is identical to the majority of covers of the collection in which it was found (31).

The Society of Jesus experienced two suppressions and many of their belongings have been confiscated. Still, the Voynich MS (and other Jesuit books such as the Carteggio Kircheriano) did remain in their possession. Therefore, in this and the following sections, especially the movements of libraries, archives and collections receive some attention. This is a highly complicated topic, and a complete study is outside the scope of this page. A first tentative overview is shown near the bottom of this page.

1773 The Society of Jesus suppressed in Rome. Lazzari, the librarian of the Roman College, joined cardinal Zelada (one of the main actors in the anti-Jesuit movement), who took some of the books and MSs from the Roman College to his library in Toledo. Other parts of the library were dispersed in Rome. The archives of the Society, kept to that time in the Casa Professa, were saved by Giuseppe Pignatelli S.J. during the Napoleonic era.
1814 End of the Napoleonic era. Restoration of the order.
1815 Pope Pius VII returns the Gesù with annexed house (Casa Professa) and the novitiate of S. Andrea to the Jesuits.
1824 Society of Jesus fully restored. Collegio Romano with the S. Ignazio, the Oratorio del Caravita, the museums, the library and the 'vecchia specola' (Astronomical Observatory) are returned to the Jesuits.
The 'Seminario Romano', previously located between the S.Ignazio and the Pantheon (via del Seminario), is moved to the Apollinare near Piazza Navona.
1853 The Collegio Germanico is moved to the palazzo Borromeo, also in via del Seminario.
P. Beckx S.J. becomes the general of the society after the death of Roothaan. IMAGE: Portrait of P. Beckx S.J.
1855 The Duchess of Sachsen, widow of Francesco Giovanni de Rossi, donates her late husbands extensive library to the Jesuits. The donation agreement is signed by P. Beckx. It is stored in the Casa Professa.
1865 Villa Mondragone is made available to Jesuits by its owner, Marcantonio di Borghese.

Second suppression of the society, 1870

On September 20, 1870, the troops of Vittorio Emanuele II captured the city of Rome. Initially, the indication was that the various religious orders would not be affected, but in June 1873 a law was issued that the Jesuit possessions would be confiscated on 20 October. One by one the Jesuit houses in the city were confiscated: the novitiate school of S. Andrea al Quirinale, the S. Eusebio, the church 'Il Gesù' and the neighbouring 'Casa Professa', which housed the Curia (central administrative entity) of the Jesuits, an important part of their library, and the library of the Duchess of Sachsen.

The Jesuits were eager to salvage their property, and had already moved the archives from the Curia to the Collegio Germanico in the Palazzo Borromeo (Via del Seminario 120, very close to the Collegio Romano). For their library, since the government had agreed that personal belongings could be kept while belongings of the society needed to be handed over, many books and manuscripts had been taken from the Collegium Romanum libaries to the casa professa, and labelled as belonging to the 'private library of P. Beckx'. The government was even about to confiscate this private library, but thanks to the personal intervention of King Vittorio Emanuele II, P. Beckx was allowed to keep it (32). The absence of detailed manuscript catalogues (33) aided the cause of salvaging these valuable documents by this ruse (34). The library of the Duchess of Sachsen is transferred into Austrian custody, in accordance with the donation agreement, and shipped to Austria at a later date.

The remainder of the Collegium Romanum library was confiscated on October 20, 1873, and the new government set up the new national library 'Vittorio Emanuele II' in the very building of the Collegio Romano. It included the holdings of a large number of other confiscated libraries.

The university activities also moved to the Palazzo Borromeo in the same street. The German college resided there only until 1886. From 4 December, the University would be known as the Pontificia Università Gregoriana del Collegio Romano. P. Beckx moved to Fiesole, where the new Curia was established, including the modern (i.e. post-1824) section of the archives of the Society.

A footnote in Beckx' biography explains that a personal friend of Fr. Beckx, Don Alessandro of Torlonia, rescued the above-mentioned novitiate of S. Andrea by moving it to his palace at Castel Gandolfo, and insisted that Fr. Beckx stay in this palace from time to time, which he did. No evidence has been found so far related to the movements of the manuscripts acquired by Voynich in 1911-1912, and the Villa Mondragone is not named anywhere in independent sources. The only hint that they may possibly have been taken to the Villa Mondragone is that the rector of the Jesuit college at the Mondragone at this time was father Alessandro Ponza di S.Martino S.J., who was the brother of count Gustavo Ponza di San Martino, one of the trustees of King Vittorio Emanuele II (35), who had already shown his support to P. Beckx.

During the period 1874-1875 some 400,000 volumes from over 60 libraries were transferred to the Vittorio Emanuele II library and it was officially inaugurated on 15 March 1876, still at the site of the former Collegio Romano. Kircher's museum was also confiscated. (Some of the material is now at the Museo Pigorini in the EUR). Only the famous astronomer Angelo Secchi and his observatory ('Vecchia Specola') were allowed to stay in the building of the Collegio Romano.

1877 A trap door is discovered in the now state-owned Collegium Romanum library, revealing a large collection of Jesuits books that had been hidden in a secret compartment, and subsequently forgotten. Most of these are moved to the state library, others stored in an attic of the same building (36).
1878 Catalogue of Kircher's museum edited by director prof. Ettore de Ruggiero
1882-1885 Henri Hyvernat, who later shows an interest in the Voynich MS and obtains a copy from Mrs. Voynich one year after Wilfrid's death, is teaching theology at the Gregorian University.
1884 Beckx abdicates and Anderledy becomes the new general of the society. Beckx returns to Rome and lives in the Belgian College at S.Andrea al Quirinale.
1886 Sommervogel, who is residing in Belgium and preparing the third issue of the bibliography of all Jesuit works (see also below), temporarily obtains access to some documents from the hidden library or archives of the Jesuits. They were stored somewhere in the Roman province (37).
1887 Death of P. Beckx at age 92.
1890 Issue of Sommervogel and De Backer, 1893 completed (third issue, first led by Sommervogel). It does not mention the Carteggio Kircheriano (which was mentioned in De Sepi) while it does describe many other less significant items of his correspondence now kept elsewhere. It is very likely that the complete carteggio was hidden together with the other manuscripts from the Collegio Romano, including also the Voynich MS.
1892 Death of Anderledy. Luis Martin becomes the new General of the society. He secretly moves the early archives of the Society from the Collegio Germanico to the German novitiate in castle Exaten in Baexem, Holland, for fear of further confiscations. The same ruse is used as by Beckx: the items are treated as the private library of the father general.
1893-4 Father General Luis Martin appoints a number of historians, giving rise to the birth of the Monumenta Historica Societatis Jesu. The first edition appears in 1894, while the monumenta were located in Madrid.
1895 Franz Ehrle becomes the new custodian (later prefect) of the vatican library. He will still be the prefect at the time that the library receives the collection from the Collegio Romano.
1896 Villa Mondragone bought by the Jesuits. The villa is badly in need of restoration.
1903 Pius X is the new pope. He is very supportive of the Jesuits and a good friend of General Luis Martin.
1906 Death of Luis Martin. Werntz becomes the new General of the Society. He is also on excellent terms with Pope Pius X.
1911 The book dealer Wilfrid Voynich enters the stage (38).

The English / American period

The Manuscript found by Wilfrid M. Voynich

The acquisition of the MS by Voynich has been clouded in mystery through the silence of Voynich about this event, so it is worth going to a bit more detail here.

Since 1908 Voynich operated an antiquarian book store in Florence. From 1903 to 1911 the Jesuit father Joseph Strickland, ex alumnus of the 'nobile collegio Mondragone' and still associated with the college, was also working in Florence (39). How the two came into contact with each other is not known, but by Voynich's account, in 1911 or 1912 (40), he obtained the opportunity to acquire a number of valuable manuscripts from the Jesuits through Joseph Strickland as intermediary, upon Fr. Strickland's recommendation and under promise of absolute secrecy. Voynich himself claims in several separate events that he discovered this collection himself (41), but a letter kept in the Beinecke rather suggests that he was offered them for sale. It is, however, not certain that this letter refers to the same collection. It could be another set of books instead (42).

What is certain is that a set of books and MSS that originated from the Jesuit Collegium Romanum library, which had been completely hidden from sight until that time, became available for sale by the Jesuits (43). The majority of these MSS were acquired by pope Pius X, who donated them to the Vatican library. This group is described in a catalogue issued by Mgr. J. Ruysschaert in 1959 (44), who also indicates that Voynich had acquired approximately 30 of them. This set of 30 MSS, which included the Voynich MS, can largely be reconstructed, and it is described in more detail in a dedicated page. The location of the entire collection prior to this sale has not been recorded by Ruysschaert (45).

From about half of these approximately 30 MSS paper slips, previously attacheded to their inside front cover, have been preserved in the Beinecke library. These provide a handwritten description of the MS, and many of them have a typescript note: "Ex Bibliotheca privata P.Petri Beckx" glued on top of them (for which see also here). It is clear that Voynich removed these from the MSS in order to fulfil his promise to the Jesuits not to divulge the details of the sale.

Some last words about the secret location where the MSS were hidden by P.Beckx: it is generally believed (and stated in all literature related to the Voynich MS) that this was the Villa Mondragone, but there is no proof for this. The question is critially reviewed in a separate page, showing that there is reason to believe that they were actually hidden (and discovered) in Austria.

After the discovery

In 1912 Voynich was still operating from London, and showed his new valuable MSS to interested potential buyers (46). At least six of them he had left in Florence, where they were sold through colleague rare book dealer T. De Marinis. They appear in the latter's 1913 catalogue, while two of the most valuable items were already sold in July 1912 to John Pierpont Morgan (Sr.) (47). Also the Voynich MS itself appears to have been in the hands of another colleague book dealer: Baer from Frankfurt (who also had a presence in London), some time in or after 1911 (48).

When the first World War broke out, he decided to move to the US and start a new business there. From this time onward, he endeavoured to establish that the Voynich MS was a major document in the history of science. He was convinced that it was written by Roger Bacon. His first public exhibition of several of the MSS he bought from the Jesuits, and in other places in Europe, was in October 1915 at the Art Institute of Chicago, which was accompanied by a short publication (49). One of the main attractions at this event was the Voynich MS. Immediately following that event, starting 3 November 1915, he had two exhibitions in Michigan (50), and during these events, he divulged the information that he had discovered the MSS in a castle in Austria, where they had been hidden, unknown to the owners of the castle. He discovered them by tracking down some correspondence related to hidden MSS (51).

Two years later (1917), in a letter to Wilkins, he provides other details, such as a list of previous owners of the MSS, and all those mentioned there can be attested in the tentative list of 30 MSS (52).

Supported by two scientists who thought that they could read the MS, Voynich presented it in 1921 at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The presentations are published in their proceedings. The paper by Voynich is the presentation which was mentioned at the top of this page. Voynich still stuck to his promise not to tell where he acquired the MSS and explained that he was keeping this location a secret because he was hoping to return there to buy more MSS (which was actually true, as seen from a later letter from Strickland) (53). The only person whom he appears to have told (also in confidence) what really happened was his wife.

From the notebooks now kept at the Beinecke library, it is evident that Voynich did all he could to find out the truth about this MS, as reported in some detail here.

After the death of Wilfrid Voynich

Voynich died in 1930, and Ethel Voynich, his widow, inherited the MS. Voynich had told her in confidence where and from whom he had acquired the Voynich MS. About one year later she took photostats of the MS to the Catholic University in Washington, to show it to Prof. Henri Hyvernat. Both he and his assistant Theodore Petersen were immediately intrigued by it, but there is no indication that Hyvernat saw the MS before (e.g. when he was in Rome) or even knew about it. Petersen kept the copy for a while, and made a complete hand transcription of it.

Also in 1930 the new Pontificia Universita Gregoriana was opened at its current address in Piazza della Pilotta. The archives of the University received a very large collection of Jesuit manuscripts that were equally saved by P. Beckx, and adorned with his typescript 'Ex Libris'. As far as can be judged, their number is between 1000 and 2000, and they are all relevant for the history of the Society of Jesus, or the catholic church in general. It includes, besides the already mentioned correspondence of Kircher, other autograph MSS of Kircher, and MSS by many famous Jesuits. The new Curia was opened in the Borgo, near the Vatican, including the new archives (ARSI). The Jesuit curia and archive material, previously dispersed over Exaten, the German college, and the Italian state archives, were graudally moved to this location.

Following is a summary of the various moves of libraries to the extent that I have been able to find out. A similar figure can be drawn for the various Jesuit archive moves. In this illustration, blue boxes refer to Jesuit collections, and red boxes other. Orange arrows are 'involuntary' moves e.g. confiscations. The box with the question mark is traditionally assumed to be the Villa Mondragone. The path of the Voynich MS can be traced from Kircher to Voynich.

In 1937, the first issue of De Ricci's "Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada" appears. As part of "The Estate of Wilfrid M. Voynich", the Voynich MS is listed (item 8 on pp.1846-1847), showing that it originated from the Collegio Romano in Rome.

Anne M. Nill, Voynich's secretary, remained a close friend of Ethel Voynich and upon Ethel's death, she inherited the Voynich MS. Since Ethel had realised that she was the only one who knew the details about the sale of the MSS, she had written a letter, only to be opened after her death (54), giving the details she remembered. It was Anne Nill who openened that letter, to find out that the mysterious castle where Voynich found the MS was located in Frascati, and about the fact that Voynich had to promise absolute secrecy about this. Kraus subsequently announced that the Voynich MS came from the Villa Mondragone. He had never met Voynich himself, but must have taken this from Ethel's letter.

Anne Nill looked for a buyer of the MS. Wilfrid Voynich had stipulated before his death that a buyer would have to be agreed by a committee of 5 persons: his wife, Anne Nill, Manly, Bishop and James Westfall Thompson. It is not certain whether this rule was applied, but when the buyer, Hans P. Kraus, was found, Anne Nill started sending out letters to all those people who had received copies of the MS to please return them, because the potential buyer wanted to buy only on the condition of exclusive rights to the publications about the MS. Evidently, he also thought (or at least hoped) that the MS was of major scientific importance. Some owners of the copies returned these (e.g. Petersen, and the N.Y. Public Library). Most of the others simply responded that they wouldn't make further copies for others, or publish anything about it without first asking the new owner.

Kraus bought the MS on 12 July 1961. He valued it very highly and tried to sell it for $160,000 (equivalent with the amount Voynich had asked for it before), but he did not succeed. He had promised that a large part of the profit he could make would be given to Anne Nill, but she died only three months later, on 24 September 1961. The MS spent most of this part of its history in a bank vault in New York.

There is an odd anecdote in Kraus' autobiography, which states that he visited Mgr. Ruysschaert in Rome in 1963. Ruysschaert, as seen above, had published the catalogue of the Latin manuscripts which the Vatican library acquired in 1912 from the Collegio Romano. Kraus asked him about the Voynich MS. Ruysschaert apparently thought that the Vatican library owned it, a surprising mistake (55).

In 1969, Kraus finally donated the Voynich MS to the Beinecke Rare Book and MS library of Yale University, where it is still kept today, together with other material related to the MS, such as the Marci letter, and Voynich's notebooks and the many letters he sent and received. These have still not been studied in all detail.

In November 2014 the >>MS will be on public display for the first time since many decades, as part of an >>exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC.


See Voynich (1921>
Text and English translation of this letter are available here. IMAGE: a photograph of the letter.
This is discussed in more detail in the section about the more recent history of the Voynich MS, also on this page.
See Manly (1931).
And a portrait gallery is provided as well.
Seargio Toresella, quoted in an E-mail to the Voynich MS mailing list, suggests French. A detailed analysis presented >>here strongly suggests Northern French.
In "The Curse of the Voynich", pp. 21-23.
Unfortunately only in Czech, in the book "Alchemy in Rudolphine Prague" (2011). See also the >> analysis by R.Prinke
According to A.G. Watson
Arthur Dee is quoted by Sir Thomas Browne. The full quote is replicated at another page at this site.
See Jim Reeds' article
For more details, see here, in particular the footnote.
I am very grateful to Manfred Staudinger for making it possible for me to visit these archives.
As witnessed by his 1630 letter to Ferdinand II, reported in Evans (p.361)
This is explored in more detail in Zandbergen and Prinke, 2011 (unfortunately only available in Czech).
This is discussed in signifciant detail at a >>web page of Philip Neal.
For more details see the biographies page
From Podlaha (1896), also discussed in Zandbergen and Prinke (2011).
This is reported rather inaccurately by Brumbaugh (1978), as he confuses the sender and receiver. The letter was seen by Claudio Antonini in November 2000 and it has been transcribed here at this site.
In De Sepi (1678), p.65.
See e.g. Fletcher (1969), Fletcher (1972) and Fletcher (1988).
The Kircher correspondence project by Michael John Gorman and Nick Wilding (>> New site, >> Original site).
See Fletcher (1988).
APUG 557, fol.353, from Fletcher ( 1972). This letter is reproduced at this site
R. Prinke has uncovered most of the information. See the biography of Baresch for details and references.
APUG 557, fol.127r, and fol.64r, see also here.
For more details see his biography.
See >>web site of Philip Neal (scroll down about one page).
The letters are translated by Philip Neal. See link here.
In Lazzari (1754,1757), cited by Ruysschaert (1959)
In the Beinecke library catalogue the cover is dated to after the time it was sent to Kircher. It is also similar to other MSs acquired by Voynich from the Jesuits, and those now preserved in the Vatican, as visible from on-line images of some of these, (and Chr.Grafinger, priv.comm.). The rebinding of many items in this collection is also mentioned by Ruysschaert (see here).
Information provided by Michele Smith, from Ghiron (1882)
Catalogues of printed books have been preserved and are now listed as Ant.Cat.21 and Ant.Cat.23 in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Rome.
From letters written by Jesuits witnessing these activities, found by Xavier Ceccaldi and shown at his web site
As found by Xavier Ceccaldi and shown at his web site
The so-called Ripostiglio.
This refers to bibliographical notes about the Collegium Romanum library made by S. Beorchia. The Roman province included the city of Rome, Frascati, but also Florence/Fiesole. Ref: Danieluk S.J., La Bibliotheque de Carlos Sommervogel: le sommet de l'oeuvre bibliographique de la compagnie de Jesus (1890-1932), 2006.
See his biography.
See the biography of Strickland.
The year 1912 comes from Voynich (1921), but 1911 is attested in ELV's letter to be opened after her death and in Voynich's letter to Wilkins.
In Voynich (1921), ("...had lain buried in the chests in which I found them...") and in his letter to Wilkins ("...As far as I know, from that period until discovered by me, they were not disturbed, and not seen by anyone..."), and also during his exhibitions in 1915.
See the letter from Pometta.
It is speculated that they needed the money to be able to perform restaurations of the Villa Mondragone.
In Ruysschaert (1959). The relevant part is transcribed here.
In Batllori (1962), the Jesuit historian Miquel Batllori declares that he has not been able to find any detail about the sale of the MS's to the Vatican library, despite searching for it in the Roman Archives of the Society (ARSI).
See Millicent Sowerby (1967)
Two Corvinus MSS that used to be in the Collegium Romanum library (and were seen there by Hungarian historians) were passed by Voynich to De Marinis, and by De Marinis to Alexandre Imbert of Rome. The latter travelled to Hungary in order to give them an opportunity to acquire these two MSS of national interest, but they could not raise the requested price. The invoice from Imbert to Morgan is dated 29 July 1912. This further shows that Voynich must have acquired the MSS at the very latest in early 1912.
From a letter preserved in the Grolier Club and seen by Rich SantaColoma >>see a blog entry about this, it is apperent that Charles Singer was shown the Voynich MS by "Baer of Frankfurt". If this was in the latter's shop in Frankfurt, Singer must have been there after spring 1911 (when he first became interested in the history of science and medicine) and before August 1914 (when he had to flee because of WW I). As from 1911, one member of the Baer family was based in London.
See Bulletin of the Art Institute (1915).
The first in the Alumni Memorial Hall of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and the second in Detroit..
As reported in a Kansas City newspaper. The question about the Villa Mondragone vs. the Austrian castle is analysed here.
See the letter to Wilkins: "... part of the Malatesta library, part of the Matthias Corvinus library, and part of the Libraries of the Dukes of Parma, Modena and Ferrara, part of the collection of Borso, Alfonso D’Arragonia, and several others". See here.
In a letter dated 25 Nov. 1913, Strickland uses the following veiled language: "For various reasons, the 200 items you heard of, are no more at the disposal of our friends. Something else may turn up later on, but not for the present."
The letter is discussed here.
From Kraus (1963). A letter from Kraus to Friedman in 1962 gives further details. Both are quoted here.


Valuable contributions were gratefully received from the following persons, in alphabetical order:
Claudio Antonini (USA), Monica Blanchard (Catholic Univ. of America), Marcela Budíková (Brno, Chech Republic), Stefano Casotto (Univ. of Padova), Xavier Ceccaldi (USA), Noel Golvers (Leuven, Belgium), Michael John Gorman (Stanford Univ, USA), Jan Bedrich Hurych (Ontario, Canada), Gabriel Landini (Birmingham Univ., UK) Joseph McDonnell S.J. (Fairfield Univ), Philip Neal (UK), Rafal Prinke (Poznan, Poland), Jim Reeds (USA), Rich SantaColoma (USA), Josef Smolka (Prague), Jorge Stolfi (University of Campinas, Brazil), Elitsa Velinska (USA), Felix Villarreal S.J. (Sogang Univ., S.Korea).

They have been reflected either on this page, the page about the origin of the Voynich MS, or the biographies page.

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