Ciphers of Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon and his Rosicrucian fraternity made use of several different kinds and types of cipher, some of them to sign various published works issued outwardly under different names or pseudonyms, and some of them to give messages or teachings.

Francis himself was a secretive person both by choice and by necessity. He learnt the use of ciphers early in his youth when he was employed by Lord Burghley and Sir Francis Walsingham, on behalf of the Queen, on intelligence matters both at home and abroad. Francis’ brother Anthony likewise was employed on intelligence matters and was sent as an intelligencer to France and elsewhere for over twelve years. When Anthony finally returned to England in 1592 Francis ‘knit’ his services to Essex, by request of the Queen. Anthony thereafter acted as a virtual ‘Secretary of State’ to the Earl, running his own network of spies and, with the help of Francis, feeding both the Earl and the Queen with intelligence.

Francis Bacon not only used cipher but also invented several ciphers of his own, one of which he describes in Book VI of the 1623 Latin edition of his Advancement of Learning (the De Augmentis Scientiarum, first published in English translation in 1640). This particular cipher he calls the Biliteral Cipher, which he says he invented in his youth whilst in Paris (1576-9). From the principles of this cipher Morse Code was later developed and ultimately the binary system that computers use nowadays.

The simplest of the ciphers used by Francis Bacon and his Rosicrucian fraternity were numerical ones, wherein each letter of the alphabet has an equivalent numerical value. This is an ancient cabalistic cipher method, used in both the Hebraic Old Testament and the Greek New Testament for instance, but which has many possible variations. One which is recorded in Bacon’s time is the Latin Cabala, adopted in Italy in 1621 by a circle of literary ecclesiastics, who established it on the occasion of the left arm of the blessed Conrad—a famous hermit—being brought with ceremony from Netina to Piacenza. (The record of this is in a rare pamphlet entitled Anathemata B. Conrado, issued in Placentia in 1621.) There are two versions of this Latin Cabala described, one ‘Simple’ and the other ‘Ordinary’, the ‘Simple’ having twenty-two letters for its alphabet and the ‘Ordinary’ having twenty-three (the letter ‘K’ being added).

Bacon’s cabalistic ciphers are very similar to the Latin Cabala, but based on the twenty-four letters of the Elizabethan alphabet rather than the twenty-two or twenty-three of the Latin Cabala. Three main variations are used—the Simple Cipher, the Reverse Cipher and the Kay (i.e. the ‘K’ or Key) Cipher. There are two variations of the Kay Cipher and it is the second one which is the most important and used, for instance, in the Shakespeare Folio of plays.

The basic Simple Cipher (i.e. A = 1, B = 2, …Z = 24) is illustrated on page 141 in Gustavus Selenus’ great cipher book, Cryptomenitices et Cryptogaphiae, published in Germany in 1624. This Simple Cipher was developed by Francis Bacon into what he called a four-fold structure, in which the twenty-four letter alphabet is repeated four times so that the corresponding numbers continue to 96 (i.e. 4 x 24) and each of the numbers/letters in the four sets relates both to a Greek letter and word, and also to an element or celestial body. Francis left a record of this cipher for posterity, to be published eventually by ‘T.T.’ (who is usually assumed to be Archbishop Thomas Tenison) in his Baconiana of 1679 under the title of Abecedarium Naturae (‘The Alphabet of Nature’).

Kay Ciphers are first mentioned by Francis Bacon in his 1605 version of the Advancement of Learning, but not described. In his 1623 Latin edition (the De Augmentis Scientiarum) he refers to them as the ‘Ciphrae Clavis’ (Key Ciphers). The Baconian, Mr. W. E. Clifton, discovered the working of this cipher with the help of two particular volumes from his collection of 17th century books—Thomas Powell’s The Repertorie of Records (1631) and a special edition of Rawley’s Resuscitatio (1671) of Bacon’s works—which alerted him to the fact that the cipher uses the twenty-six characters of the old alphabet primers, in which the Ampersand (‘&’) followed by ‘et’ was added to the twenty-four letter alphabet, and that K (which starts the counting) equals 10. Since the numbers 25 and 26 (which correspond to the ‘&’ and ‘et’) are treated as nulls, then A equals 27, B equals 28, etc..

The Reverse Cipher is simply the Simple Cipher in reverse (i.e. A = 24, B = 23, …Z = 1), and its use seems to be as an occasional double-check to the veracity of cipher signatures in the other two main cabalistic ciphers.

SIMPLE CIPHER

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

H

I

K

L

M

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12


N

O

P

Q

R

S

T

V

W

X

Y

Z

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

 

REVERSE CIPHER

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

H

I

K

L

M

24

23

22

21

20

19

18

17

16

15

14

13


N

O

P

Q

R

S

T

V

W

X

Y

Z

12

11

10

9

8

7

6

5

4

3

2

1

 

KAY CIPHER (2)

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

H

I

K

L

M

27

28

29

30

31

32

33

34

35

10

11

12


N

O

P

Q

R

S

T

V

W

X

Y

Z

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

 

The principal cabalistic signatures used on monuments and in the various published works of Francis Bacon or ‘Shakespeare’, or the Rosicrucian fraternity in relationship to Bacon-Shakespeare, are as follows:-

BACONIAN CIPHER SIGNATURES

Signature

Simple

Kay

Reverse

Francis

67

171

108

Bacon

33

111

92

Francis Bacon

100

282

200

Fra. Rosi. Crosse

157

287

168

 

Fra. Rosi. Crosse stands for ‘Fratres Rosi Crosse’ (Brothers of the Rosy Cross) or ‘Frater Rosi Cross’ (Brother of the Rosy Cross). Other cabalistic signatures based on Francis Bacon’s titles are also used. See Francis Bacon’s Cipher Signatures by Frank Woodward (1923) for a detailed study.

The cipher signature method is unusual in that it often uses a count of letters per word per column (or page), or else of the number of words per column (or page), or both, to give the cipher signature. As Bacon stated in his Advancement of Learning (1605), ‘For Cyphars; they are commonly in Letters or Alphabets, but may be in Wordes’.

For instance, in Francis Bacon’s Advancement of Learning (1640) there are 287 letters on the Frontispiece page, 287 letters on the Dedication page, and 287 letters on page 215, which is falsely numbered and should in reality be page 287, just to make sure we get the message. Each of these key pages is therefore signed Fra. Rosi. Crosse in Kay Cipher.

Ben Jonson’s Portrait Poem on the first page of the 1623 Shakespeare Folio has 287 letters, the count of Fra. Rosi. Crosse in Kay Cipher. The title-page of the Folio, containing Shakespeare's portrait, has 157 letters in its words, the count of Fra. Rosi. Crosse in Simple Cipher. The first page of the Dedication in the Shakespeare Folio has 157 words in italic font, the count of Fra. Rosi. Crosse in Simple Cipher. The Catalogue of plays has exactly 100 Roman letters on the full page, and 100 complete italic words in its second column, the count of Francis Bacon in Simple Cipher. The page also has 111 capitals in italic font, the count of Francis Bacon in Kay Cipher. The first page of the Comedies, (i.e. the first page of The Tempest) in the Shakespeare Folio has 287 words in regular font in its second column, whilst its first column has 100 italic font letters (actors’ character names discounted) and 257 words in regular font. 100 = Francis Bacon (Simple Cipher), whilst 257 – 100 = 157 = Fra Rosi Crosse (Simple Cipher). That is to say, 257 = 100 + 157 = Francis Bacon, Fra Rosi Crosse.

The eight main lines of text on the inscription of the Shakespeare Monument at Stratford-upon-Avon has 287 letters (i.e. Fra. Rosi. Crosse in Kay Cipher) in its 50 complete words. 50 has a highly significant meaning in the cabalistic cipher system (see below), and at the same time is the number of the Argonauts, the symbolism of which Bacon uses to describe his seekers after truth—the Rosicrucian fraternity. (N.B. The ship Argo is prominently shown on several title-pages of his works.) Complementing this, the garbled quotation on the scroll of the Shakespeare Memorial in Westminster Abbey is made up of 33 complete words (i.e. Bacon in Simple Cipher) containing 157 letters (i.e. Fra Rosi Crosse in Simple Cipher), whereas the original six lines from The Tempest (Act 4, scene 1) in the Shakespeare Folio from which the Memorial quotation is derived are composed of 40 words containing 167 letters. The Westminster Abbey memorial was erected in 1741, but the project was launched in 1726— the centenary of Bacon's death.

Francis Bacon’s first name, Francis, means ‘Free’. He used this both as a teaching and as a cipher signature, for Free = 33 = Bacon (Simple), or Free = 67 = Francis (Reverse), or Free = 111 = Bacon (Kay). ‘Free’ also has the connotation of Master and was used in the Orphic Mysteries to hail the resurrected initiate as ‘Liber Bacchus!’ (‘Bacchus the Free!’) and in the Vedic teachings as the title of the Master (i.e. Jivanmukta, ‘the Free’). The English word ‘free’ is from the Sanskrit root pri, meaning ‘to love’, and so fundamentally Free = Love. (e.g. Freemason means ‘Builder of Love’ or ‘Loving Builder’). In both Simple and Reverse Cipher Love = 50, the number of the Argonauts. In the 1623 Shakespeare Folio Francis Bacon signs the very first play of the Folio, The Tempest, with this signature, for the text begins with ‘Master’ and ends with ‘Free’. It is especially meaningful as the play is all about attaining true mastery as a Master of love, a Master of compassion, with the help of Ariel, the spirit of love, which Prospero has set free.

The full signature, Francis Bacon, counts to 100, divided neatly into thirds by Francis (33) and Bacon (67), providing a fundamental (1:1), an octave (1:2) and a fifth (2:3) in music. 100 is the cabalistic number of universality, used for instance as the overall measure of the Globe Theatre, which is 100 feet in diameter. 33 is the number of the personal master (e.g. Jesus was said to be 33 years old at his crucifixion and resurrection)—the first stage of universal mastership. 100 is the number of the universal master, the fully ascended soul of love, enthroned in heaven.

33 is also represented by the initials ‘T.T.’ (i.e. Thirty-Three). As such it is used to represent the Thirty-Third Degree of Initiation, and thus is used as a sign or signature of the master. Like the initials ‘B.I.’—which sign the Shakespeare Folio’s Portrait poem and represent the names of Solomon’s Pillars, Boaz and Jachin, as well as being the initials of Ben Jonson—‘T.T.’ also signifies the Twin Pillars that stand before the porch of Solomon’s Temple, the Temple of Light. ‘T.T.’ forms the capital letters of The Tempest, the introductory play of the Shakespeare Folio. The Dedication in Shake-speare's Sonnets (1609) is signed ‘T.T.’ (which, like ‘B.I’ in the Folio, is also associated with an appropriate person—in this case, Thomas Thorpe). The signature of ‘T.T.’ is carved into the base of the Shakespeare Memorial in Westminster Abbey, at Shakespeare's feet. The collection of Bacon’s previously unpublished writings that were published in 1679 under the title of Baconiana, in which the keys to Bacon’s cabalistic cipher are given, is signed ‘T.T.’, which initials are generally assumed to be those of Archbishop Thomas Tennison, the ‘appropriate person’ as editor or front man for those responsible for preserving and publishing Bacon’s manuscripts.

‘AA’ is likewise an important signature of the Rosicrucian fraternity, used since the time of the Ancient Egyptians. It represents the polarity of all life—the Creator and Created, as well as the Alpha and Omega. Moreover, Apollo and Athena, the two Spear-Shakers, also stand for this Double A sign, or the Double A sign stands for them. The Double A was used as a headpiece in several books of the Rosicrucian fraternity, mostly during Bacon’s time. It is used, for instance, to head certain pages in the Shakespeare Folio, as also in Bacon’s philosophical works.

The ‘AA’ headpiece used in the Shakespeare Folio has within it two conies (rabbits) squatting back to back, giving the rebus signature of back-cony. ‘Baconi’ is one of the ways in which Bacon’s name was used in Latin editions of his acknowledged works: for instance, the very first work of his published in Latin, De Sapientia Veterum (1609), has ‘Francisci Baconi’ on its title-page (meaning ‘of’ or ‘by Francis Bacon’), as also his Latin Opera (1638) and Opuscula Varia Posthuma (1658). Its cabalistic cipher is used frequently, Fra Baconi counting to 66 in Simple Cipher and 222 in Kay Cipher, exactly double the values of Bacon in Simple and Kay respectively.

The boar, a symbol of Apollo, the divine swineherd, is said to imprint the ground with the sign of ‘AA’. The boar is Bacon’s heraldic animal, referred to cryptically in Mistress Quickly’s line in The Merry Wives of Windsor (iv, i.), ‘Hang-hog is latten for Bacon, I warrant you’. This ‘parable’ is from a story told about Sir Nicholas Bacon, Francis Bacon’s father, which Francis records in his Apophthegm 10, published in Resuscitatio (1671): ‘….Hog is not Bacon until it be well hanged.’

This is a sample of straight-forward Baconian ciphers, cabalistic and symbolic, which provide the signatures of Francis Bacon and the Rosicrucian fraternity, of which he was the President. Some other Baconian ciphers have also been discovered and are in the process of being researched, such as those which are based on the Cardano Grille, a cipher method invented by Geronimo Cardano (1501-1576) and adapted by Francis Bacon, Caesar ciphers, a logarithmic cipher, and others.

© Peter Dawkins, FBRT, 1999, 2012

Recommended reading:

Frank Woodward, Francis Bacon’s Cipher Signatures (London: Grafton, 1923).
Ewen MacDuff, The Sixty-Seventh Inquisition (Shoreham, England: Eric-Faulkner-Little, 1973).
Ewen MacDuff, The Dancing Horse Will Tell You (Shoreham, England: Eric-Faulkner-Little, 1974).
Peter Dawkins, Arcadia (England: FBRT, 1988).
Peter Dawkins, ‘AI and the Boar’, The Master, Pt 2 (England: FBRT, 1993).
Peter Dawkins, The Shakespeare Enigma (Polair Publishing, 2004).

The Francis Bacon Research Trust