Scholar Sees Defiant Message in 16th-Century Cipher

Catherine of Aragon appears to have commissioned it after Henry VIII left her
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 12, 2022 3:19 PM CDT
'Early Modern Wordle' May Be Queen's Secret Message
Catherine of Aragon.   (Getty/

After Henry VIII left her for Anne Boleyn in 1531, queen Catherine of Aragon refused to consent to a divorce—and insisted she was Henry's wife until her death five years later. Now a scholar suggests that Catherine left behind a secret message of defiance in a pendant design she commissioned, reports Smithsonian. Vanessa Braganza, a PhD candidate in English at Harvard, says she decoded a cipher in the design that includes the words "Henricvs Rex" (meaning "Henry the king") and "Katherine" (an alternate spelling of her name). Braganza describes this as an "early modern Wordle" in a tweet that includes an image of the design and describes her process of decoding it.

The pendant was created around 1532—after Henry left. "It's a gateway into her thinking," Braganza tells the New York Times. "It's just sitting there, daring you to see it." She tells Smithsonian that the message is "a sign of her conviction of her own enduring legitimacy [and] a sign of stubbornness in refusing to concede that legitimacy." The Times sees the discovery—which is still awaiting confirmation by outside experts—as part of a trend in which the voices of women from history are being heard for the first time in centuries. "What's especially compelling, and often moving, is the fact that Vanessa is focusing on voices that would've been otherwise silenced or caricatured," James Simpson, one of Braganza’s dissertation advisers at Harvard, tells the newspaper. (Read more King Henry VIII stories.)

We use cookies. By Clicking "OK" or any content on this site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. Read more in our privacy policy.
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.