Secrets to Break: Book Three

The Knights of Neustria sees new codes to crack!

‘The answer to Elgar’s code gave us the name of someone called Hans of Aachen.’ …

… ‘He lived way back in the 1500s,’ said Hunter.
‘And all the writing in the history books about Hans, called him an Orphan of the Flames,’ said Brodie. ‘It’s because his dad died trying to keep a book from being burnt. We were sure this book must be the code-book to MS 408.’
‘And we tracked it down,’ said Tusia proudly. ‘We found it hidden in a library basement in London. The book’s called Morte d’Arthur.’
‘It’s all about King Arthur,’ said Brodie. ‘Thomas Malory wrote it.’ She paused for a moment, checking she’d mentioned all she needed to.
‘You have to say about the glyphs,’ hissed Tusia.
‘What about the glyphs?’
‘Well, there’s these strange shapes in between the letters all through that copy of Morte d’Arthur.’
‘They look like the writing in MS 408,’ caught on Brodie. ‘So that made us sure MS 408 and Morte d’Arthur were connected. But we haven’t really worked out how yet.’

(Extract from Secret Breakers ‘The Knights of Neustria’) Show the full extract

You know by now that the plot of the ‘Secret Breakers’ series centres around one huge unbroken code. That code is the code of MS 408. Each book in the series though, explores other unbroken codes and so each book has a different code focus. In ‘Orphan of the Flames’ the team learnt lots from the codes of Elgar. You find yourself now in the part of the site where I will tell you all about the codes I based Book Three ‘The Knights of Neustria’ on. If you haven’t read Book Three yet you might want to come back to this page later as there are bound to be spoilers. Don’t forget then, you have been warned!

Codes connected to Shakespeare

Shakespeare is of course probably the most famous writer who ever lived. You can read all about him on the Who’s Who: Book Three page. In ‘The Knights of Neustria’ we make lots of connections to Shakespeare codes and mysteries so let’s have a look at some of them now.

“If you haven’t read Book Three yet you might want to come back to this page later as there are bound to be spoilers”

Amazing Anagrams

Many people believe that there was an anagram on the front page of the Shakespeare portfolio which hid a secret message. The words ‘O it was for gentler Shakespeare cut’ can be rearranged to say ‘seek sir for a true angle at Chepstow’. It was this clue that led Dr Owen to go digging in the River Wye. William and Elizebeth Friedman wrote a book which included information about the puzzle.

Anagrams are great fun! In fact William Friedman enjoyed them so much that when he stored his views about MS 408 with Zimansky for publication in a magazine, he wrote his thoughts in an anagram. I didn’t include the anagrams in the story of ‘The Knights of Neustria’ as they would have made foreign translations tricky but I’ll share them with you here as they make fun reading!

Here is Friedman's sentence printed in Zimansky's magazine

I put no trust in annagrammatic acrostic cyphers, for they are of little real value – a waste – and may prove nothing. – Finis


Here’s some of the ways the sentence could be rearranged to guess what Friedman thought about MS 408.

This is a trap, not a trot. Actually I can see no apt way of unravelling the rare Voynich manuscript. For me, defeat is grim.


To arrive at a solution to the Voynich manuscript, try these general tactics: a song, a punt, a prayer. William F Friedman.


The second one is my favourite as Team Veritas do make the connections from the Elgar song to the prayers of a hermit who sailed in a punt-like boat – so that’s a song, a punt and a prayer! Brilliant don’t you think!

The actual translation of the anagram that Friedman really meant people to find, was:

The Voynich MSS was an early attempt to construct an artificial or universal language of the a priori type. – Friedman.


If you like working with anagrams, check out one of the Secret Breakers Challenges at the bottom of this page!

If you want to know more about Friedman’s anagrams for Zimansky, then check out the brilliant book ‘The Voynich Manuscript’ by Gerry Kennedy and Rob Churchill where the story of how Friedman wrote his thoughts in an anagram is reported.

The Shakespeare Mangle

Dr Owen was convinced the work of Shakespeare was written by somebody else. He thought there were clues and messages written in the Shakespeare Portfolio to explain this and so he invented the Cipher Wheel…otherwise known as the Shakespeare Mangle… to try and prove his theory! The wheel consists of two large wooden cylinders. Dr Owen cut up pages from famous old books. These pages were glued to a long length of cloth (about a thousand feet long). This cloth was wound round the cylinders. Dr Owen would turn the handle making the cylinders spin and hope to find ‘guide words’ in the text that would reveal secret stories. Here are some notes on how to make your own form of cipher wheel.

The Shakespeare Mangle

How To Make a Secret Breakers Cipher Wheel

The Cipher Wheel, or Shakespeare Mangle, is vital for helping Team Veritas find out about the Knights of Neustria. Follow these simple instructions to make your own Secret Breakers Cipher Wheel that will make it quick and easy to send secret messages to your friends!

  • 1. Trace or scan the two letter wheels below.
  • 2. Cut them out and fix the smaller one inside the larger one, securing it with a paper fastener. You should be able to spin the smaller wheel inside the larger one. Notice how each letter finds a ‘partner’ in the larger wheel.
  • 3. Decide on the message you want to send in code.
  • 4. This coding device uses something called the CAESAR SHIFT method to work. Match the letter A on the outer wheel with the letter F on the inner wheel. This is a CAESAR SHIFT 5!
  • 5. Find the letters for your message on the inner wheel. Use its ‘partner’ on the outer wheel to write it in code. (The pairings will change each time you move the inner wheel.)
  • 6. To decode the message your friends must find each letter in the outer wheel and write down its ‘partner’ in the inner wheel.

This Secret Breakers Cipher Wheel is easy to use and a tiny turn forwards or backwards will give you a totally new way of encoding a message.

Brodie has encoded the following message for you:

Avwpgjpn nzxmzo wmzvfdib!


Decode it by aligning the outer A with the inner F.

A tip from Tusia : Of course, you don’t have to use letters at a ll for the inner wheel. You could use glyphs or pictures or emoticons – just make sure you draw them care fully so they can be repeated by you or anyone else who wants to use the secret Breakers Cipher Wheel to send you messages back!
A tip from Hunter : And of course, you can use numbers, or roman numerals on the inner wheel.
A tip from Sheldon : Or music notes, time signatures or clefs. The choice for the code is yours!

Bacon’s Bilateral Cipher

You can find out lots about Sir Francis Bacon on the ‘Who’s Who: Book Three’ page including details about how many people thought he was really Shakespeare. I don’t think he had time to be as he was always writing his own stories, carrying out experiments, or inventing codes! If he was Shakespeare as well, he would have been shattered!

Bacon’s most famous code is called the Baconian Bilateral Cipher…but it isn’t really a cipher at all. It is a way of hiding secret messages just in the way letters are arranged. Bacon would make certain letters look different from others by putting them in bold font. Each group of five letters would be equal to a letter of the alphabet. It’s a tricky cipher to read and to write! Hunter likes it because it involves lots of counting and of course Tusia likes it because it’s to do with how things look. The chart below will show you how this cipher works!

I found this great video which gives you even more information about Shakespeare and Bacon and the secrets surrounding their coded messages and the work the Friedmans did to try and solve the mysteries! Check it out to see how everything connects…and how sometimes code-crackers hide what they discover if they don’t like the answers they find!

This cipher is a form of "Steganography" where a secret message is hidden in plain sight because of how the letters are written.

KEY
* Means the letter is written in normal font
B means the letter is written in bold

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a secret message hiding for you somewhere in a copy of ‘The Knights of Neustria’ written in Bacon’s Bilateral Cipher? Do you think there is one? Have you looked carefully through the whole book? I’d love to know if you found anything…and if you did you could let me know by sending me a message on the website…. or by writing to H.L. Dennis c/o Hodder Children’s Books, 338 Euston Road, London NW1 3BH

‘Secret Breakers’ Challenges

I have two challenges for you now that the series is moving on a bit! See if you can complete either of the tasks below! They are both quite difficult so you might want to check out the Code and Cipher Lessons on the Team Veritas page before you attempt them, to make sure you are up to speed!

The Anagram challenge

Here’s a phrase for you written about the speakers of the language of MS 408. It talks about how they may well have worried about who they could trust! See if you can rearrange the anagram to give you information about who they may have shared their secrets with…and why!

‘Thankful native speaker agonises’


What do you think the message can be rearranged to mean?

If you work out an answer, using all the letters, then send your ‘translation’ of the anagram to H.L. Dennis c/o Hodder Children’s Books, 338 Euston Road, London NW1 3BH. We’ll try and send bookmarks to successful anagram solvers (while stocks last)!

The Bilateral Cipher Challenge:

You would have to be an amazing Secret Breaker to do this… but it’s worth having a go if you can! Can you write a message in Bacon’s Bilateral Cipher? You’ll have to work out which letters to make bold after you have grouped your ‘disinformation’ (remember that phrase from ‘The Power of Three’?) into groups of five letters!

Here’s some tips on how to do it!

  • Write a short message (this is your disinformation!)
  • Count the letters
  • Try and make the number of letters a multiple of five eg: 60 letters
  • Write out the message this time grouping the letters into blocks of five
  • Think of a short secret phrase to hide
  • Count the letters in this secret phrase
  • This number should be a factor of the total letters in your original message eg: 12 if you had 60 letters
  • Go through each block of five letters making some bold to show each coded letter in your secret phrase
  • Write out the original message again now you know which letters need to be bold, and your secret phrase will be hidden in plain sight!

Look at how much maths you are using for this code! Hunter would be proud… and I’m guessing your teachers would be too if you can show them you found a real use for factors and multiples!

If you can write a message in the cipher then send it, along with a translation, so I know you understand what you have written, to H.L. Dennis c/o Hodder Children’s Books, 338 Euston Road, London NW1 3BH. If you prove yourself to be a super duper cipher writer then we’ll try and send you a ‘Secret Breakers’ bookmark (while stocks last)!

When you’ve learnt all you can about the codes covered in Book Three, click the link below to take you to explore the next secret in the series!

Secrets to Break: Book Four