The Bible, the Bishops and the Bard

Robin Browne

‘Before you judge be pleased to understand’

Sonnet 59

In 2011 we celebrated the 400th anniversay of the publication of The King James Bible, and in 2016 we celebrated the 400th anniversary of the Bard’ death, on St George’s Day. In the space of just a years the two greatest books in the English language, Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623) and the newly translated Bible were bestowed upon the World. The beauty of the language found in each book has never been overlooked, and for much of that we have William Tyndale to thank, his writing brought a richness and a freshness to our native tongue. The celebrations for these two events four hundred years later saw an out-pouring of books, articles, and television programmes, and a growing interest in how the King James Bible may be linked to the works of Shakespeare.

Shakespeare Monument
Shakespeare Monument in
Holy Trinity Church,
Stratford upon Avon

What better place to start than Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon where Christians have worshiped for centuries and where the town’s most celebrated citizen was baptized. It remains today the most visited church in Britain, and has many famous connections to Shakespeare, amongst them the Shakespeare Monument, and an encased 1611 copy of The King James Bible which lays open at Psalm 46, wherein the words, ‘SHAKE’ and ‘SPEARE’ appear equally spaced. The forty-sixth word from the beginning is shake and spear is the forty-sixth word from the end. It was not till around 1900 that the clever positioning of these two words was discussed in ‘The Publishers Circular’. Not in the Geneva Bible not in ay previous English translations of the Old Testament are the words spear and shake so consciously placed.

Lancelot Andrewes, then Bishop of Winchester, was amongst the most senior clergy and translators responsible for the planning and the execution of the King James Bible. He was in a great position to have arranged the wording of Psalm 46 and to collaborated with a close friend, someone who could have enriched the English translation and influenced printing of the 1611 edition. The coincidence is too great to accept, it was not by pure chance that these two words now occupy their present position.

Towards the latter part of the seventeenth century, Archbishop Thomas Tenison came into the possession of some valuable papers to which he added his translation before publishing them in a small book of ‘Physiological Remains’. The original Latin manuscript had been written almost sixty years earlier, and was given to Bishop Rawley for its safe keeping, with instructions that it be published after some time had passed; it was never intended that so many years would elapse before these pages saw the light of day. They may never have been printed other than the fact they fell into the enthusiastic hands of Archbishop Tenison, but yet it was another 320 years before a retired actor, Donald Strachan, whose work on early ciphers is unparalleled, discovered the true value of what this book contained. The work was entitled ‘ABECEDARIUM NATURAE’ and displayed a valuable set of keys which states the Three-fold “T” (TAU) is 67, and concerns the Earth. The three-fold “U” is 68 and concerns Water. The three-fold “W” is 69 and concerns Air and the three-fold ‘X” is 70 and concerns Fire. Of importance, Three-fold letter “I” (the personal pronoun) is 57. With the triple alphabet A = 49, B = 50, C = 51 and Z = 72.

There was a time before the works of Shakespeare appeared and into the seventeenth century when the English alphabet contained only twenty-four letters. The single alphabet is when numbers also relate to letters so that: A = 1, B = 2, C = 3, and Z = 24, and when applied to Psalm 46 produces some interesting numbers.

P S A L M           F R A B A C O N (FRA Bacon his signature)
15+ 18+ 1+ 11+ 12=57           6+ 17+ 1 2+ 1+ 3+ 14+ 13= 57 Three-fold “I”=57

   F R A N C I S    B A C O N
P   S   A   L   M   +4 +6 =67     6+ 17 +1 +13 +3 +9 +18 =67  2+ 1 3+ 14+ 13= 33 Two-fold “I”=33

   S H A K E S P E A R E  
P   S   A   L   M   +46 =103     18+ 8+ 1+ 10+ 5+ 18+ 15+ 5+ 1+ 17+ 5=103

It has often been argued that there were no ciphers in early books, but to the contrary Archbishop Godwin wrote a history of the Tudor Royal Family, something extremely dangerous in Elizabethan times. His book was published anonymously, no author ascribed to these histories yet the beginning letter of each chapter spelt out his identity. Likewise, the early history plays attributed to Shakespeare were all published anonymously yet the author‘s identity was cleverly encrypted in some of the plays. Donald Strachan applied the triple alphabet to the Dedication in the First Folio and discovered some remarkable secrets and hidden history.1 Many scholars responsible for translating and writing the Authorized Version, along with its editor, have also remained anonymous. Once the translation was completed the manuscript was entrusted to Thomas Bilson, Bishop of Winchester, and the future Bishop of Gloucester, Dr. Miles Smith, for its final revision, but neither of these two men had the creative command of the English language to have delivered the Bible we have today. The final draft MSS was rewritten by the only man who had the ability to write such a lyrical and memorable masterpiece.

Venus and Adonis title page

The intentional placing of the words, ‘shake’ and ‘spear’ in Psalm 46, also occurs in the Shakespeare plays when a count from the beginning of a scene and a count from the end of the scene identify the author. There is a subtle connection, described by William Smedley2 in his 1905 book, when the identical decorative printer’s design used in the Octavo edition of the 1612 Bible is repeated from the 1593 edition of Shakespeare’s ‘Venus and Adonis’. Another connection is a decorative printer’s design found above ‘To the Christian Reader’ in the King James Bible, with the same design employed in both Shakespeare’s First Folio of 1623 and Lord Bacon’s ‘Instauratio Magna’ of 16203.

Holy Trinity Church will forever attract worshippers and tourists but few will know that three years after Shakespeare died the town‘s people of Stratford-upon-Avon complained about the crumbling chancel which had been neglected for a long time. In 1619, Francis Bacon appointed a new vicar (minister), repairs to the fabric began, and the idolatry of the Bard was to follow. In 1955, The Folger Shakespeare Library Prize was awarded to Colonel William Friedman, who had been cryptologist for the US Department of Defense during WW2 when he cracked the Japanese Diplomatic code. He was an eminent cryptographer who’s research for The Folger Library, a Stratfordian Institution, was published under the title ‘The Shakespeare Ciphers Examined’. The title itself suggests there are ciphers in the works of Shakespeare but Friedmans’s book concludes that there are no ciphers. Yet in response to Donald Strachan’s correspondence he writes:

If these messages come to light as the direct result of the precise instructions as to where to look, and if a key book, of some sort is used in connection with another book, then I should say one would be warranted in calling the system a cipher. We shall be glad to hear from you whenever you are ready to send your book to some publisher. It may well contain valuable historical information.

The key book to which Friedman refers was that which Archbishop Tenison published in 1679 from the manuscript written by Francis Bacon a few years before his death.

  1. Donald Strachan published a book explaining how the Triple Alphabet was applied to the Dedication and the plays in Shakespeare’s Firsts Folio, as well as to the Sonnets. His book was published anonymously.
  2. William Smedley ‘The Mystery of Francis bacon’ 1905.
  3. Decorative design used for Venus & Adonis, the KJB and also for Lord Bacon’s, INSTAURATIO MAGNA 1620, Part two:
    “But such is the infelicity and unhappy disposition of the Human mind in the course of invention that is first distrusts and then despises itself. First will not believe that any such thing can be found out; and when it is found out cannot understand how the world should have missed it for so long.”

Ed: From time to time, the TSJ will publish esoterica, and in the current issue we include a striking example by Robin Browne, who discusses the Tyndale/Shakespeare connection. There are mysteries to ponder here, and pending further discoveries by sleuths and historians inside our Society and beyond, certain historical truths must remain unknowable.