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Untold lives blog

3 posts categorized "Music"

20 February 2018

‘Conceal yourself, your foes look for you’: revealing a secret message in a piece of music

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At the Battle of Worcester in 1651, Charles Stuart (later Charles II) unsuccessfully tried to reclaim the throne lost through the execution of his father Charles I. He was forced into retreat to avoid capture, and whilst on the run from Cromwell’s New Model Army he stopped at Boscobel House. When the patrols came looking for him, Charles concealed himself in the nearby woods by hiding in a tree, known today as The Royal Oak.

A manuscript newly acquired by the British Library claims to be a coded message passed to Charles at Boscobel by an unnamed lady, warning him of his imminent danger. A small sheet of music which, when folded correctly, reveals the message ‘Conceal yourself your foes look for you’ (Add MS 89288).

Add MS 89288 image 1
Add MS 89288

The manuscript ended up in the hands of John Port, who said he came into possession of it through his wife, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Charlotte, wife of George III. Port lived out his life in Portland, Dorset after losing the family fortune and left the manuscript in the hands of his landlord, William White.

Also in the British Library is a 19th-century copy of this message (Add MS 45850, f. 68). This manuscript names the author of the message as Jane Lane, who helped Charles escape England by disguising him as her servant.

Image 2 Add MS 45850 f 68
Add MS 45850, f. 68

However, this is not the only story of this code’s origin. Elsewhere, the same cryptograph is said to have been passed to other historical figures.

Walter William Rouse Ball, a mathematician at Trinity College, Cambridge, used a version of the message in his book ‘Mathematical Recreations and Essays’ as an example of a cryptograph.

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W. W. Rouse Ball, Mathematical Recreations and Essays, 4th Edition (MacMillan and Co., 1911), p. 403 ( 8507.e.35.)

He reports that this was a message to Prince Charles Edward (also known as The Young Pretender and Bonnie Prince Charlie) after the Battle of Culloden, although the author points out, ‘…of the truth of the anecdote I know nothing, and the desirability of concealing himself must have been so patent that it was hardly necessary to communicate it by a cryptograph’.

Another version of this code was apparently given to Napoleon Bonaparte ‘At a period when the Emperor was surrounded by Spies & pretended Friends who had combined with his enemies to betray him’.

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h.127.(1.)

Published in 1830, this facsimile purports to be reproduced from the original held by the Emperor’s son, the Duke of Reichstadt. It claims, when presented with the note, Napoleon ‘…with his usual penetration instantly solved the Enigma & carelessly remarking “Tis pretty Air to caper to” immediately removed to a place of safety’. Why a French soldier would present the French Emperor with a coded message in English we are not informed.

Whilst it may not be possible to verify the true origins of this message, all these items are now available to be viewed in the British Library Reading Rooms for you to make up your own minds.

Stephen Noble
Cataloguer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading:

Readers of this blog may be interested in this forthcoming publication, which discusses the cryptograph: Nadine Akkerman, Invisible Agents: Women and Espionage in Seventeenth-Century Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018)

21 December 2015

The Singing Bookbinder: Roger de Coverly

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The bookbinding career of Roger de Coverly (1831-1914) seems to be characterised by a desire to leave it!  His apprenticeship with the flourishing firm of Zaehnsdorf’s was so “colourless and humdrum” that he petitioned for time off to study the violin. His name recalls a 17th century English folk dance but his passion was for music, not dancing, and this sustained him throughout his life.

Coverly image1

The British Book Maker vol V, no 6 Feb 1892 p179 Noc

 

Roger completed his apprenticeship (but left early albeit with Zaehnsdorf’s agreement).   He decided to try bookselling and applied to Mr Lilley of Pall Mall who could not offer employment but strongly recommended that Roger stuck with binding!  After assisting in a stationer’s shop, Roger rededicated himself to his original trade.

His next employment at John and James Leighton’s of Brewer Street provided more fun.  His fellows there shared Roger’s love of chess, which they played during their lunch-break and at meetings of the Bookbinders’ Amateur Chess Club founded c1852. Music was not neglected and Roger’s solo performance for the Battersea Vocal Association was commended in the Music Times of 1 March 1861.

When Roger established his own workshop (in Leicester Square and later 6 St Martin’s Court and 91 Shaftsbury Avenue), there was little time for the extra- curricular activities he loved.  As a one man band, he had to ‘forward’ and ‘finish’ the bindings himself.  His wife Elisabeth contributed financially by opening a school for young ladies.  Slowly, however, the bindings business began to flourish.  It was patronised by aristocrats, noted writers (for example T E Lawrence) and artists.  His style was rather conservative and retrospective but the good quality materials used and his stated goal, to bind “excellently rather than cheaply” made up for lack of originality, for some at least.

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British Library c108d11 Noc

 

William Morris wrote to the poet Swinburne in April 1882; “I am sending you by parcels Delivery, the North's Plutarch I spoke of: it is a very pretty edition, I think the first. Item, the bookbinder I told you of really rejoices in the name (or says he does, which is the same for our purpose) of Roger de Coverly: his address is 6 St Martins Court. He is not a man of any taste … but is careful, & will do what you tell him, & is used to dealing with valuable books”. (Incidentally, birth records indicate that De Coverly was baptised Edward Roger.)

Despite this lukewarm opinion, Morris’s friend T. J. Cobden-Sanderson chose to serve a short apprenticeship there from 1883-4. He later became one of the most influential binders in England.

Fortunately, Roger’s sons Edward, Arthur and William proved adept at bookbinding and bookselling.  By 1892, Roger was able to confess in an interview that “he does not now give his whole attention to his binding business, having besides one or two hobbies; he is an enthusiastic amateur musician and collector of old music … ; he has founded  two or three glee and madrigal societies and loves above all to take part in orchestral concerts or string quartets, varied with glee singing. He is a member of the Royal Choral Society".

The connection between the name of de Coverly and bookbinding lasted into the 1960s when H[orace] A. de Coverly was known to have bound, taught and written about the subject.  An example of his work can be seen in the Library’s online image database of bookbindings.

P J M Marks
Curator, Bookbindings; Printed Historical Sources Cc-by

Further reading;
Richard Ovenden, ‘An edition binding by Roger de Coverly for Alfred de Rothschild’ in Book Collector 47:1  1998 pp.79-82
The British Book Maker vol V, no 6 Feb 1892 p179-80.

 

 

11 October 2015

The Coronation of George II and Queen Caroline

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On 11 October 1727 George II and his wife Caroline of Ansbach were crowned King and Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. The ceremony at Westminster Abbey was preceded by a magnificent procession.

GEOIIimage1-george II procession1

GEOIIimage2-george II procession2

  Part of an engraving of George II’s coronation procession, artist unknown, reproduced in Parliament Past and Present by A. Wright and P. Smith (London, 1902). 9502.dd.2. Noc

The leading composer of the day, George Frideric Handel, was commissioned to write four coronation anthems, including the mighty ‘Zadok the Priest’. 

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G.F. Handel: ‘Zadok the Priest’. R.M.20.h.5. Noc

The original manuscripts of all four coronation anthems are preserved in the British Library and can now be seen on our Digitised Manuscripts website.

‘Zadok the Priest’ has been sung at coronations ever since. Here is a vintage recording from the coronation of George VI  in 1937, courtesy of the CHARM project at King’s College London.

Another document in the British Library reveals a more personal aspect of the ceremony for George II and Queen Caroline.  This account describes the moment that the Queen was anointed with oil and crowned:

There is a little handkerchief which the bedchamber-woman in waiting gives to the mistress of the robes, to wipe of any Oyl that might fall on the face. The Queen retires into St Edwards Chapel to offer her Crown and then the Mistress of the Robes assisted by the Bedchamber women pin on the Fine Crown appointed for her Majesty.

GEOIIimage4-coronation of queen caroline

Account of Queen Caroline’s coronation. Add MS 22627. Noc

Sandra Tuppen

Lead Curator of Modern Archives and Manuscripts 1601-1850