Episode 26

The Shugborough Inscription Part 5 – Your Father Smelt of Elderberries

Welcome to the Poison Room, a podcast where research just keeps happening.

I’m Silvie Kilgallon, and this episode is gonna be the final episode on the Shugborough Inscription - a subject on which I naively thought I wouldn’t even be able to write one episode. And it’s gonna be a long one because this is the longest script I’ve written, so let’s just get to it, and talk about a whole bunch of theories about what these ten letters mean. And if you don’t know what ten letters I’m talking about, then skip back a few episodes and find the first one on the Shugborough Inscription.

I’m gonna start with one from Margaret Countess of Lichfield, because it’s… short, not complicated, not related to the other theories in any way, and is absolutely not the right answer.

Her claim is that the inscription was added by George Anson after Lady’s Anson’s death, and is an initialism for the first line of a poem, of which she can only recall two verses:

Out Your Own Sweet Vale, Alicia, Vanishes Vanity.
Twixt deity and man thou, shepherdess, the way.

She related the story of how she came upon this idea to Andrew Baker in a letter:

The poem was told me as a child by the curate at my home Whittington in the valley of the Lune in Westmorland, Yorkshire and Lancashire. A quite lovely part of the world. Do you know it? I was astounded when the letters fitted even to the U for You. In those days (& before) lovers used to scratch on windows with a diamond ‘I L U’ that meant ‘I love you’. So the U is right, for it means ‘you’ in lovers language.

Now this Alicia story is a lovely story & a long one & belongs to the Latin & Greek scholars who knew how the Romans were weaned from worshipping their Gods and Goddesses to becoming Christians. In my youth the clergy were great scholars & this curate was no exception, in fact he was brilliant. He was a wonderful storyteller & kept us enthralled. He told us there are 7 hills outside Rome & on one of them was a Shepherdess called Alicia whose name means “the light of all happiness.” To follow her you had to give up all the vanities of the world & be simple, pure, tender & loving & guide & guard her flock from all evil. Selfless devotion was the service of this Shepherdess Alicia. Thus were the Christian virtues taught the Romans by turning their Gods and Goddesses into Christians by these means. No scholar ever agrees that my childlike story of Alicia can be the answer. Perhaps it is too good to be true and too simple. Who will ever know?

But I tell it to you. The V. V at the end of the line jogged my memory & Vanishes Vanity came to me & then the whole line & when each word fitted each letter I was astounded. I tell it you for what it is worth & make of it what you will.

In a longer and more detailed letter to another researcher, Paul Smith, Margaret explains that the curate had a little book that contained poems that matched the stories he was telling, which she suggested were Roman myths, or… myths surrounding Rome? In this letter, Margaret tells Smith that she thinks Alicia’s name means ‘Joy and Happiness’, as oppose to ‘light of all happiness’.

So, at best, the truth of this story is that her curate told her this story. In the form she remembers it, it cannot be a story from antiquity, because Alicia as a name is not old enough, and it also doesn’t mean ‘light of all happiness’ or ‘Joy and Happiness’. Alicia comes from the old German Adalheidis, which made it into French as Adelaide, and also gave us Alicia and Alice. So… Alicia is an old name, but not anywhere near old enough. And Adalheidis means ‘noble kind’ as in, ‘she’s a noble kind of person’ (Gidley 1977: 4).

Of course, it is possible that everything else is right and it’s just the name she got wrong. For instance, there’s a similar Hebrew name, Alisa, which means ‘great happiness’. But there are no myths or legends about a shepherdess with that name – or any name – dwelling on the hills of Rome, or anywhere converting people to Christianity, or even just behaving virtuously. Because I’m me, this is the kind of thing I could have spent days trying to figure out where various parts of this idea might have come from, but the fact that literally no one who’s heard her story has known of, or managed to find, any trace of this story, or a poem telling that story, is fairly damning in and of itself.

One more thing before we move on and… yes. I know this is ludicrously ironic: when I came to try and find a source for what Margaret thought the D and M stood for… I… couldn’t. So… either I read this somewhere and I can’t remember where, or I thought it up myself whilst looking at her theory, but… I think the D and M are the ‘deity’ and ‘man’ from the second line: ‘Twixt deity and man thou, shepherdess, the way.’ It would make sense, given that the positioning of the D and M frames the 8 letters above, and artistically, I really like that idea. Still doesn’t mean this is an actual contender, though.

So that’s Margaret’s story. A friend of hers, the author Oliver Stonor, also had a theory on the meaning of the inscription. He suggested: Optimae Uxoris Optimae Sororis Viduus Amantissimus Vovit Virtutibus (Baker 2019: 175). This would… translate as… something like… ‘Best of wives, best of sisters, a most loving widower vows virtuously’. And if you noticed the veeery subtle reluctance in my tone, there, it would be because… well… it’s… it‘s the grammar. It doesn’t work. Uxoris and Sororis are the words for ‘wife’ and ‘sister’ respectively. Optimae is the word being translated as ‘best’. Optimae is an adjective – it accompanies a noun. ‘Wife’ is the noun, ‘best’ is the adjective but they don’t match in number or case. It’s hard to give an example of the problem in English, because Latin is an inflected language, and English is not. In English we can say ‘best wife’ or ‘best wives’ and either makes sense – we can switch between ‘wife’ as singular and plural without having to change anything at all about the word ‘best’. Not so in Latin. You’d need a different form of ‘best’ for singular and plural ‘wife’. You’d also have to match the case and gender. Point is, optimae does not match with Uxoris or Sororis. And taking the final two words – Vovit Virtutibus as ‘vows virtuously’ doesn’t really work either. It’d be, like… ‘vowed to, or on, or in, the virtues…’

Now, you could fix the grammar without changing any of the initial letters, but… I mean… why would you? Even with the corrected Latin, it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense on its own. Vowed virtuously to what? Add a self-fulfilling cryptic inscription to a monument we know was there during her lifetime? What did he do, and why did he need to make an inscription about it, and why did it need to be on this monument and why did he have to do it in such cryptic fashion?

The one thing I will give this theories – and the others that we’ll come to later that suggest it’s something to do with Elizabeth Anson – is that we do know Elizabeth Anson had an interest in Poussin’s paintings, and particularly the Arcadian Shepherd’s paintings. The relief at Shugborough is actually based on the second painting Poussin did of that scene. He’d done a prior version - same tomb, same ‘et in Arcadia Ego’, but the tomb is on the right of the painting, and taller – two young shepherds lean in to read the inscription but they don’t have to crouch to do so. Behind them the young woman also looks at the tomb, with sort of… mild interest. In the foreground an old man reclines with his back to the viewer, whilst pouring out water from a jar. Presumably some sort of metaphor for time slipping away.

Elizabeth Anson owned what appears to be a preparatory drawing for this first painting - though it may be a copy rather than the original sketch. There’s a portrait of her painted by Thomas Hudson in 1750 and in that painting she’s holding the drawing in her hand. She possibly also produced a copy of the painting herself (Harris 2016: 29). What’s a little bit weird is that… this earlier version is actually portrait, rather than landscape. If you wanted to pick a version that would look good on a relief that was, y’know, portrait, rather than landscape, then… why not pick this version? And in this one, it’d still be obvious that the thing was a tomb without having to add some sarcophagus thing on top. Because in this painting, there’s already something on top of the tomb: a skull. Almost makes you wonder if Scheemakers copied the wrong painting.

Anyway. Yes. Elizabeth Anson was interested in Poussin’s paintings on this theme, so it doesn’t seem all that out-there to suggest that she might have had some influence in the choice of the relief, which would then sort of explain why an inscription would be added to this particular monument in her memory. Having conceded that, there’s very little else that’s convincing about this theory. It’s essentially ‘hey, look, I’ve managed to construct a Latin sentence using these letters based on the idea that I want a sentence about death and Elizabeth Anson’. This ‘solution’ doesn’t explain at all what the widower vowed to do, or why it would be such a secret, and why Thomas Anson wouldn’t tell anyone.

So that’s two theories down. One that’s definitely wrong, and one that’s actually sort of reasonable, but still probably wrong. But at least neither of them are a headache-inducing mess of poor research, missing citations, and embarrassing mistakes. And speaking of poor research, it’s time to address the Magdalen in the room.

Now, as we’ve seen, Dave Ramsden thinks that the ‘solution’ to the inscription is that, once run through a decryption process for a Beaufort cipher, it spells ‘Magdalen’. But he doesn’t actually do anything with that info. He just… puts it out there, and leaves it at that. His main focus is on trying to establish that Anson was pretty dedicated to the ideas of syncretic traditions and renaissance Kabbalah. But it’s not unreasonable to suggest that the only reason this occurred to him as a sensible answer was that he was primed to see ‘Magdalen’ as a significant name. This is why he homed in on it without even acknowledging that Angerona would be an equally good fit. And it’s the same reason he didn’t notice Debranua wasn’t real. He had a pop-culture understanding of these figures. Which means he had no understanding at all of most of them. I’m not ruling out the possibility that Ramsden had decided the answer was Magdalen right from the get-go. I don’t see a reason to include all common English women’s names from a 300 year time period on your list of potential fits for a syncretic tradition unless that’s what you have to do to get the name you already think is the answer on your list of potential solutions. But even if that wasn’t the case, he was still primed to pick ‘Magdalene’ out of a list as significant. Why?

Because of an inconsequential little book called The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. The book was written by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln, and first published in 1982. If you somehow missed hearing about the theory this book proposes, here’s the tl;dr: Jesus and Mary Magdalen were married and had kids. After Jesus’ death Mary and their kiddos ended up in the south of France and intermarried with the Merovingians, the ruling family of the Franks during the early centuries of the common era in from the middle of the fifth century CE to 751 CE, when the Carolingian dynasty took over.

So the holy bloodline carried on and the ‘grail’ is actually both the bloodline itself and Mary Magdalen’s remains. This secret and the bloodline was protected by a group known as the Priory of Sion which had various grandmasters throughout the years and which was very much made up by a guy called Pierre Plantard in the 1960s. Through a mixture of imaginative flair and uncritical acceptance of hoax documents the authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail managed to convince themselves – or, at least, convince others – that Poussin’s painting was of a real place in France, and that the tomb depicted was also real. Because they are wholly unfamiliar with Latin and apparently never bothered to consult anyone even mildly competent in the language, they decided that it’s super odd that Poussin’s inscription, ‘et in arcadia ego’ doesn’t make full sense because it lacks a verb, and this lack of a verb, they think, is weird ((Baigent, Leigh & Lincoln 1982: 37). To break it down, ‘et’ is ‘and’, ‘in’ is… ‘in’, Arcadia is… still ‘Arcadia’ and ‘ego’ is ‘I’. So to translate it literally, you just get ‘and in Arcadia I’. You have to supply the verb ‘am’ to complete the sentence.

Poussin’s phrase is, as we know, not actually ancient Latin – it first appeared in a painting by Giovanni Francesco Guercino, which is where Poussin yoinked it from. But it’s perfectly intelligible. See, during most periods of the Roman Empire, the fields in which they grew their crops of the verb ‘to be’ were barren. They just hadn’t figured out the correct PH for the soil yet. So there frequently just wasn’t enough supply of ‘I am’s and ‘you are’s to fulfil all their sentence requirements. So they saved their short supply of the verb and rationed it carefully, and most of the time they just missed it out and assumed people’d be able to figure out what they were writing anyway. By which I mean: Romans loved missing out the verb ‘to be’ when they were writing. You have to supply it all the time. There’s nothing weird here. Anyway. They decide that ‘et in arcadia ego’ is actually an anagram of ‘I tego arcana dei’, which they present as meaning ‘Begone! I conceal the secrets of God’, and then… something something something holy bloodlines, giant conspiracy, blahblahblah.

So what’s this got to do with Shugborough? Well, obviously it’s gotta be involved somehow, because there’s a relief of that Poussin painting. But… the section that mentions Shugborough is only three paragraphs long. Here it is in its entirety:

Another and rather more mysterious piece of our jigsaw puzzle also surfaced in Britain - this time in Staffordshire, which had been a hotbed for Masonic activity in the early and mid-seventeenth century. When Charles Radclyffe, alleged Grand Master of Sion, escaped from Newgate Prison in 1714, he was aided by his cousin, the earl of Lichfield. Later in the century the earl of Lichfield's line became extinct and his title lapsed. It was bought in the early nineteenth century by descendants of the Anson family, who are the present earls of Lichfield.

The seat of the present earls of Lichfield is Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire. Formerly a bishop's residence, Shugborough was purchased by the Anson family in 1697. During the following century it was the residence of the brother of George Anson, the famous admiral who circumnavigated the globe. When George Anson died in 1762, an elegiac poem was read aloud in Parliament. One stanza of this poem reads:

Upon that storied marble cast thine eye. The scene commands a moralising sigh. E'en in Arcadia's bless'd Elysian plains, Amidst the laughing nymphs and sportive swains, See festal joy subside, with melting grace, And pity visit the half-smiling face; Where now the dance, the lute, the nuptial feast, The passion throbbing in the lover's breast, Life's emblem here, in youth and vernal bloom, But reason's finger pointing at the tomb!

This would seem to be an explicit allusion to Poussin's painting and the inscription 'Et in Arcadia Ego' - right down to the 'finger pointing at the tomb'. And in the grounds of Shugborough there is an imposing marble bas-relief, executed at the command of the Anson family between 1761 and 1767. This bas-relief comprises a reproduction - reversed, mirror-fashion - of Poussin's 'Les Bergers d'Arcadie'. And immediately below it, there is an enigmatic inscription, which no one has ever satisfactorily deciphered.’ (Baigent, Leigh & Lincoln 1982: 162-63)

That’s it. That’s the whole thing. It’s not exactly an ‘essential’ piece of their jigsaw. They don’t even suggest a solution. The only reason they mention it at all is because of the Poussin relief.

Despite only being three paragraphs, there’s still several things to note here. Firstly, that first paragraph is worded either badly, or misleadingly, depending on how generous you’re feeling. They’ve made it sound like the Earl of Lichfield who was the cousin of the ‘Grand Master of the Priory’ is connected somehow to the Anson family who subsequently gained the Earl of Lichfield title and commissioned the Shepherd’s Monument. They’re not. The only thing connecting them is that they happened to have shared the same title. Sure, you could argue they’re just bad writers and this is just a segue from one point to the next, but it’s a segue that has the effect of implying a connection between these figures beyond ‘just so happened to hold the same title at different times’ – that the first Earl of Lichfield’s relation to a supposed grandmaster of the Priory is somehow related to Thomas Anson commissioned the Shepherd’s monument and the Poussin relief. There is not. But if you just go with the flow of the book, and don’t think about it, that’s what’s being tacitly implied by the wording. So the seed is there, but presented in such a way so that they don’t actually have to explain what the connection is. Because there is none.

The second paragraph introduces another questionable statement: that some verses from a certain poem were read out in parliament after George Anson’s death. Now, they do actually give a footnote in the text, at the end of the extract from the poem. One would assume, given that this is the only footnote, that it would include both the source of the poem, and of the claim that it was read at George Anson’s funeral. It does not. The reference is to a book by a man called Sampson Erdeswick published is 1844, that contains the whole poem. Their reference is just to the page number that that particular stanza appears on. The author of that book mentions that the poem was written for ‘Lord Anson’, and that it was written by the reverend Sneyd Davis. It does not mention this poem being read in parliament after George Anson’s death. In fact, I don’t know of any evidence that it has ever been read in parliament. Full disclosure: I did not spend that long trying to factcheck that claim. I checked the biography of George Anson written in 1839 by John Barrow, and he seems to have done some pretty thorough research, and doesn’t mention it at all, despite mentioning other tributes made to George after his death.

And another reason I didn’t spend too much time looking into it is because our old friend Andrew Baker had done some research about this poem, too. Turns out, the poem’s full title is ‘To Thomas Anson, Esq. of Shuckborrow’. Baker found a copy of it in the Staffordshire County Record Office. This copy appears to be a draft – there’s some minor tinkering with the wording between the two, and some added verses in the version Erdeswick reports. And this earlier version didn’t contain the stanza about the Shepherd’s monument. Everything else is there, just with slightly different wording. Which perhaps implies that this first draft of the poem was written before the Shepherd’s monument was there, or completed.

So what happened? Erdeswick’s source for the poem was George Hardinge, who wrote a biography of the poem’s author, Sneyd Davies, in 1816. Hardinge includes the poem in the biography, but records the title of the poem simply as ‘To Lord Anson’. Given that George was the more famous of the two, and achieved a higher rank and status in society, it’s easy to see how people assumed that the Anson the poem was written for was George. However. Shugborough was not George’s home. And throughout the rest of the poem, Davies references an awful lot of different places – places which, thanks to Andrew Baker’s diligent work, we know Thomas visited, and George did not.

Point is, this mention of the Shugborough inscription is just a three-paragraph tangent in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. They don’t suggest an answer to the inscription, it’s just ‘hey, this places has a relief of the Poussin painting on which we’re building our theory, so let’s mention it and also embellish it a bit to make it sound like this family had more to do with some of the figures we’ve decided were part of our made-up secret society than they actually did’. Also they got the date range for the monument’s construction wrong.

This book is the basis for contemporary interest in the Shugborough inscription. Because obviously if Poussin’s painting is something to do with the holy grail and all that jazz, then the inscription beneath the reproduction of it at Shugborough must also be something to do with the holy grail, right?

Now, as I said, The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail was written in 1982, but the contemporary interest in the Shugborough inscription didn’t kick off until 2004. So what happened in 2004?

Well, there was an event. And that event took place because of something that happened in 2003. And the thing that happened in 2003 was the publication of Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code. Brown’s novel doesn’t mention Shugborough at all, but it brought The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail to the attention of the mainstream public. And at this point, the book, and its minor reference to Shugborough came to the attention of someone who worked at Shugborough Hall: Richard Kemp.

Kemp was the General Manager of Shugborough Hall back then, and he got in touch with the Bletchley Park Museum and put together some sort of event. All the reporting on it is super vague, so I’m not entirely sure what The Event was. From the Bletchley Park Museum side, it appears to have been coordinated by two former employees from the Enigma-code cracking days – Sheila and Oliver Lawn. I think that they basically just spent a few months thinking about it, and reviewing theories sent in from members of the public and, supposedly, employees of other intelligence groups like the NSA.

The problem with this Bletchley park thing is that… the Museum didn’t put out their own report or anything. Nor did Shugborough. The only documents there seem to be about this conference gig are news reports. And those news reports are full of really bad journalism and a failure of basic fact-checking. For instance, the BBC article about it claims that ‘Poussin was believed to be a Grand Master of the Knights Templar, an order which captured Jerusalem during the Crusades and were known as the keepers of the Holy Grail.’

That’s one sentence and there are multiple things wrong with it. Firstly, even in conspiracy-land I can’t find anyone claiming that Poussin was a ‘Grand Master of the Knights Templar’, and the idea that they were ‘known as’ keepers of the grail is weird. ‘Known’ by whom? ‘Cause it wasn’t their contemporaries. This is not the time to get into the details now, but here’s the basics: you might think based on contemporary culture, that the idea of the ‘holy grail’ has been around for the last, say, 2,000 years. It has not. It’s an idea that emerged at the end of the 12th century CE, in a genre of poetry known as ‘grail romances’. You have these grail romances to thank for Monty Python and the Holy Grail, because these romances are the starting point of the legends of King Arthur and his knights seeking the grail.

The vast majority of the grail romances have nothing whatsoever to do with the Knights Templar, a group which was formed around 1120 CE (Barber 1994: 9). So the Templars are around for 70 odd years before the first story of knights of any sort seeking the holy grail emerges. Around 1205 a Baravian poet, Wolfram von Eschenbach produced his grail romance, the poem Parzival. This is the first grail romance that maybe mentions the Templars. And it’s a maybe because the word Eschenbach mentions for the group of knights who are protecting the grail is ‘templeise’, whereas the usual word for the Templars at the time was ‘Tempelherren’. Based on this, Richard Barber argues that even in this romance, the knights are not supposed to be the Knights Templar (Barber 2004: 179). Malcolm Barber, on the other hand, thinks it’s clear that the ‘templeise’ would still have brought the Templars to mind, and that the Templars are indeed the basis for Eschenbach’s protectors of the grail (Barber 1993?: 281) . I’m far from qualified to have an opinion on that, each Barber makes some interesting points, but my point is that, either way, this is not a huge connection between the Templars and the Grail. So at a time when grail romances were common, the Templars weren’t in the picture much, if at all. In fact, contemporary ideas of the Templars as a secret society protecting the grail can’t actually begin until the arrest and dissolution of the Templars at the start of the 14th century. To cut a long story short, The Holy Grail and The Holy Blood is basically the start point of the idea that the Templars were protecting the holy grail.

Point is: the Beeb is wrong. Poussin wasn’t believed to be a Grand Master of the Knights Templar, which was an ordered that was dissolved at the start of the 14th century, and who had very little to do with the holy grail until the 1980s. Also they didn’t ‘capture Jerusalem’ during the Crusades.

Back to cover of this Bletchley Park Museum… event. It wasn’t just the Beeb – the Guardian contributed this gem: ‘Books have been written, documentary films made and poems penned in an attempt to explain it, but the mystery contained in an 18th century monument in the grounds of Lord Lichfield's estate in Staffordshire has eluded interpretation’ (Laville 2004). This is was written in 2004. Precisely zero books have been written about it, I know of zero documentary films made about it, and I think we’ve covered all the poems that there are, and the only reference is ‘the mystic ciphers that conceal her name’. Which isn’t exactly at attempt to explain it.

CBS News proclaimed that ‘Legend says it reveals the location of the Holy Grail’ (Lawless 2004). There is no such legend. And the Independent wrote this: ‘Thomas Anson, an admiral in the British Navy attracted to codes by his seafaring days, commissioned the Shepherd's Monument to adorn the estate he built’ (Herbert 2004a).

Like, c’mon people. You’re talking about George. This particular detail is not hard to get right. The article in the Independent goes on to claim that it was ‘his’, wife who ‘provides the trail towards the Holy Grail’ (Herbert 2004a). Because apparently she was ‘believed to have had associations with the Knights Templar’. Which was new to me. No one else mentions it. Don’t know where that came from.

So my current working theory is that the letters are actually a curse that force anyone who tries to write about it to write some really stupid stuff. And speaking of having written stupid stuff, I have a correction of my own to make. Back in episode 22 I said that the first source I could find for the whole ‘Darwin, Dickens, Wedgewood’ tried to solve this’ idea was the Daily Telegraph. Writing this episode, I realised that basically every single one of these articles repeats that claim, and many of them were published before the article in the Telegraph. So… it’s still a totally unproven idea with no evidence provided anywhere to back it up, and which doesn’t seem to have existed before 2004; but it wasn’t the Telegraph that started it. My bad. But it is a claim that emerged with this particular event. So either someone at Shugborough suggested it, or all the other articles on the event copied it from the first news outlet that published on it. I don’t know why I didn’t find these sources before, it is embarrassing on my part and therefore there must clearly be a curse at play to explain this error.

Moving on. From reading all the different news reports, I get the definite impression that Richard Kemp was the driving force behind a lot of this, and particularly ramped up the nonsense ‘grail connection’ theory. If you remember the grumpy A. J. Morton from the first episode, you can kinda’ see why he was annoyed about this. From a publicity perspective, it was a pretty effective idea. From an ‘actually caring about the solution and/or actual history’ perspective, it was not. But at least at the beginning of the event, Kemp did actually say this: ‘They could of course be a family secret, which everyone in the family knows about and which is of little consequence. But it's like Everest, you climb it because it's there. There's a code here, so everyone wants to unravel it.’ But that was a solitary comment that came right at the end of one of the articles. And who cares about that after the damn grail has been mentioned?

The organisers of the event don’t seem to have released a formal report, as far as I can tell. But, at the end of the event, there was no one theory that had convinced both Sheila and Oliver Lawn that it was the answer. Sheila favoured the suggestion first put forward by Oliver Stonor, whilst Oliver Lawn, according to most reports, favoured some drivelly grail nonsense. The best explanation of the theory Oliver Lawn supported is given by Steven Morris, writing for the Guardian:

According to the codebreaking centre in Buckinghamshire, the most compelling theory comes from an American defence expert based in the UK who has asked Bletchley Park to keep his identity secret.

He tried using a "decryption matrix", a common device in codebreaking, to find out whether a message was hidden in the letters on the monument and in the phrase "Et in Arcadia Ego".

After painstakingly drawing up 82 matrices, the letters "SEJ" popped out. He realised that if these letters were reversed they spell: "JES". Reversing the letters was just what a member of the Prieure de Sion might have done. From this he hazarded the guess that "JESUS" was a keyword which would help him crack the code.

The man drew up another type of code-breaking chart, a flag grid. Using the keyword Jesus he came upon another phrase: "Jesus H Defy". The codebreaker believes - though he has not said why - the H stands for the Greek letter X which has the meaning of "messiah".

He thinks the phrase can be translated as: "Jesus (as a deity) defy." A jumble to the modern ear, perhaps, but it might have made sense to a member of the Prieure de Sion, which believed that Jesus was an earthly rather than a heavenly king.

The codebreaker's next job was to try to prove he was right to use Jesus as his keyword. Employing a very complex technique, he turned crucial letters into numbers. The sequence 1,2 2,3 appeared.

He spent a day in the archives at Shugborough trying to find out the significance of the numbers. He found nothing, but just before leaving went for another look at the monument and says he spotted the sequence faintly scratched around the sides of it. (Morris 2004)

Gosh. He spent one whole day in some archives. A whole day, guys. One. Whole. Day.

So, obviously, there’s a chance that Morris’s reporting has… simplified things too much? Or just skipped over crucial details, but going from ‘oh look here are the letters SEJ and if I reverse those based on the practices of a non-existent group I get JES which is not even the word JESUS but let’s pretend it is’. Is… something else. And then apparently he just carried on and went ‘Okay I know this letter is a H, and in Greek that would represent an Eta, but let’s pretend that it represents a Chi, which is usually represented by the letter X’. It’s hard to believe an actual professional code-breaker looked at that and went ‘yup. Seems legit!’ And that’s even without the added bonus of ‘also it gave me some numbers and I couldn’t figure out what they were but I just checked on the monument again and even though no one else has ever reported seeing these numbers and I didn’t take a photo of them or tell anyone exactly where they were so they could go verify them, they totally definitely actually exist’.

And even putting all that side. ‘Jesus H defy’?? Seriously?? Of all the things you could encode that would represent that same idea, why the hell would you word it in such a clunky, ridiculous way?

Now, having said all that, in an article in the Independent, Lawn’s thoughts on this theory are phrased far more cautiously. Apparently he said he was ‘not sure’ that this idea was ‘conclusive’ (Herbert 2004b). Lawn acknowledged that the anonymous American had made guesses, but added that he’d followed up the historical context ‘more thoroughly’ than others. Which, of course, is really not saying a lot. And being grail-related, this is, of course, also the theory that Richard Kemp, the general manager at Shugborough at the time, thought was the answer, stating that he thought this was proof of a ‘grail connection’. Which it wasn’t.

Apparently – according to the report in the Guardian, the anonymous American was last seen ‘heading back to Staffordshire to test his theory that the alignment of other monuments built by George Anson on the estate might point to the grail's position’ (Morris 2004). My personal headcanon here is that whoever this guy was, he was hoping to become part of the mystery by disappearing never to be seen again, and he’s probably super disappointed no one seemed to care that he didn’t reappear at all, with or without the grail.

Sheila Lawn, by the way, favoured Oliver Stoner’s Latin-with-bad-grammar theory of vowing virtuously to the best wife and sister.

So there’s another theory we’re throwing out. That’s five down and some unfathomable amount left to go. Let’s just get to the next one already - another Latin solution. This one is provided courtesy of Duncan Fishwick. Now, I had a bit more hope for this one, because it was published in an actual academic journal by someone who actually had some expertise in Roman history and could actually form a grammatically correct Latin phrase. Buuuut Fishwick starts with the same uncited summary of claims about Darwin and Dickens and blahblahblah (Fishwick 2011: 87). He then claims George Anson retired to Shugborough – he did not. He credits George for renovating the house and purchasing more land for the estate. He did not. And then… weirdly states that Thomas only started commissioning a series of 9 sculptures or monuments for Shugborough after George had died (Fishwick 2011: 84-85). Which… is contrary to all evidence of several of the monuments existing before, because Elizabeth Anson, who died before George literally writes about them in some of her letters (Baker 2019: 139-40).

Fishwick also claims that Thomas commissioned James Stuart to build nine monuments in the park, but several of these were very probably built by James Wright. And he talks about the Priory of Sion like it’s a real thing with real actual evidence to support it and real actual research done by people who know what they’re doing. He cites their claim that Sneyd Davis’ poem was read out in parliament after the death of George Anson (Fishwick 2011: 94). It’s such a mess I’m not gonna bother telling you everything that’s wrong, but like, we’re two pages into this article and already I’ve gone from ‘okay, actual researcher publishing in a peer reviewed journal’ to ‘oh. Curse of the Monument strikes again’. I did not ever expect to read an actual academic article citing The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail as if it was a work of serious academic merit which could be trusted for accuracy.

Actually… Yeah, okay. I’m not gonna tell you about all the mistakes, but there is one that I have to mention. Because… it was just… one of those things that made me stare at my screen in disbelief and… I just. There are no evens with which I can. This is not a thing that should have been written by an actual academic writing in an actual academic journal that was actually peer reviewed by other actual academics and given the o-kay.

The offensive statement is in a footnote, which states: ‘Among the monumnets [sic] still surviving, “The Lanthorn (= lantern) of Dementhoses”, is incomprehensible. As the name Dementhoses is not recorded in W. Pape and G. E. the word would appear to be fictitious and the monument a folly… Conceivably the first two syllables echo the word demented / dementia, to which Thomas Anson, who was reputedly fond of practical jokes, has added two syllables to create a Greek-sounding name’ (Fishwick 2011: 85n. 6).

So. Soooooo. So. What’s wrong with this, you ask? What is it that’s blown my mind? Well. Fishwick has dedicated enough time to trying to figure out where this ‘Dementhoses’ name came from, consulting colleagues and books and coming up with an explanation. And… y’know what the real explanation is? Y’know why he can’t find the name anywhere?

It’s because he’s got the name wrong. It’s not called the ‘Lanthorn of Dementhoses’, it’s called the ‘Lanthorn of Demosthenes’. This is another name for the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens. I did not have time to research how it came to also be called the Lanthorn of Demosthenes, but it was. And Demosthenes is a perfectly comprehensible Greek name, and there’s a fairly well-known Athenian statesman by that name. Well. Well-known if you’re a classicist or ancient historian, I guess. Somewhere along the way, I guess, someone made a typo when they were writing down the name of this stupid monument and instead of double-checking or realising it was an error…. Fishwick came up with an entire explanation for what the name might mean.

Okay, so, setting all that aside, what is Fishwick’s actual theory? Well. He thinks it’s not a code, it’s just an inscription that follows all the rules of Latin inscription writing, and comprises almost entirely common abbreviations. Let’s start with the familiar ground – Fishwick thinks the D and M stand for Dis Manibus. Fair enough. No objection from me on that one. It’s a reasonable guess, given the evidence.

We don’t need to run through the details of how Fishwick gets to his solution – he basically presents the options for what each letter, or group of letters, might stand for based on what it stands for in actual Roman inscriptions. Sometimes there are multiple options, so he’s making calls based on which seems most likely for the context, and the solution he ultimately reaches is ‘O(ptimae) U(xoris) O(ssa) S(ita) V(ices) A(gens) V(t) V(overat) or V(otum) A(nimo) V(t) V(overat) (Fishwick 2011: 92). So to give him some credit, Fishwick acknowledges that there are two options for the last four letters, and both are, in his eyes, viable, and there’s no information to give preference to one over the other.

His translation of these possibilities, into decent English are: “To the Shades of the Departed. Her husband has laid to rest the bones of his excellent wife, discharging his duty as he had vowed”. Or: “To the Shades of the Departed. In keeping with the vow he had made to her spirit, her husband has laid to rest the bones of his excellent wife” (Fishwick 2011: 92).

I have problems with this potential solution. In fact, I have several problems with just one part of this solution: it requires you to accept that Anson deviated from Roman inscription writing to use a ‘U’ for Uxoris. So this is way out of line with Fishwick’s claim that this monument is based completely on rules following Latin inscription writing. His justification for this deviation is that, were the U instead a V, then it could also stand for vir - a word meaning ‘man’, or ‘husband’. Or, indeed, a whole bunch of other words. So using the U makes it certain that uxor is intended. And he finishes this explanation by commenting that ‘The Shugborough text is, of course, an eighteenth century document not a Roman’ (Fishwick 2011: 92).

The problem with this is that at the end of the inscription, Fishwick wants to render the ‘V V’ as ut voverat, which requires one of those Vs to represent a U. This is the standard way it works in Latin inscriptions – both V and U are represented by a V. So Fishwick wants us to accept that Anson deviated from tradition for the U at the start of the inscription, because, after all, it’s an eighteenth century text, not a Roman inscription, but at the end ‘ut’ is rendered with a V, because that’s how Latin inscriptions work. This seems rather like wanting to have your cake and eat it too. Especially since at another point he suggests that the reason this inscription is solely single-letter abbreviations is because ‘the author was intent on displaying his familiarity with and expertise in the finer points of Latin inscriptions’ (Fishwick 2011: 91).

So in Fishwick’s solution the inscription was added by Thomas Anson after both George and Elizabeth had died, simply to state that George buried his wife, as he vowed. And again, we are left asking: why would this be something of note? Like, this is what you expect people to do. It’s not as if the standard practice at the time was to load dead bodies into a canon and fire them off into a lake. Why would burying her be something that needed recording, and why is it something Thomas would refuse to explain to people? I guess it could just be because he was a private person. Ultimately, this is certainly the most sensible of the solutions we’ve encountered so far, though definitely not without its faults. The biggest being that there really does seem to be no good justification for taking both a V and a U to represent words beginning with a U, especially if one is insisting that the author wanted to show off how familiar they were with Latin inscriptions.

Despite this, Fishwick finishes his paper on an irritating note: he suggests that, basically, the entire landscaping and design of the garden is about Elizabeth Anson, and then goes off the rail completely: ‘the total of ten monuments at Shugborough points to a vast park of recollection built partly at least in her memory. There is nothing explicit to link the Ansons with Free Masonry but the pattern of monuments across the parkland, magical symbols on the Doric columns framing the Shepherd’s Monument, perhaps even deliberate changes in the reverse etching of Poussin’s painting —mysterious though all remain—strongly suggest that the rumours of their involvement in secret societies did have a basis in fact’ (Fishwick 2011: 98).

If you’re wondering where this sudden talk of magic symbols on the columns comes from: me too. This is the first time he’s mentioned them. In the final damn sentence of his article. No explanation provided! No photo! No nothing! This is the first and only time I’ve seen this idea mentioned. And I have spent a lot of time looking at photos of these columns and I cannot see any magic symbols. I strongly suspect that this idea, too, might have come from Kemp, since he does seem to have been the source of an awful lot of the mystic nonsense about this monument, and the supposed “rumours” of their involvement in secret societies started only with the publication of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and only took off in 2004, after Kemp launched his publicity campaign. So yeah. Once again, someone has managed to write about this inscription and include a whole lot of nonsense, but in the middle of all the rubbish is at least a sensible theory about what it could mean. But it does still have problems, and I’m not particularly convinced by it. Though perhaps I would have been more convinced by it had it not been surrounded by so much nonsense. And… speaking of nonsense, here’s one final bit. Much like Dave Ramsden, Fishwick also refers to the ‘ossuary’ on top of the tomb, and “pyramid” resting on top of it. In fact, calling it an ossuary is part of his justification for translating the ‘O’ as ossa, meaning ‘bones’. No, Fishwick does not offer any reason for declaring it an ossuary, either.

So why am I bringing this up? Last episode I mentioned that it clearly could be other things – like a Roman cinerary urn. But… it looked a lot like one of the elements on some of the funerary monuments I’d seen in various churches in the UK. But I couldn’t remember any specific names, or find any pictures of what I was thinking of. So, not having any evidence to support that claim, I left it. Then I came across an article by Eileen Harris, which is a rather sensible discussion of the use of Poussin’s works in funerary monuments at this time, but which I didn’t get a chance to fully discuss here fully because she doesn’t actually propose a solution herself, but if you want to read one thing from the bibliography about this, I’d recommend her article, which is publicly available.

Anyway. I like Eileen Harris. Because what she writes is very sensible and well-researched and also because she mentions the ‘sarcophagus’ on top of the tomb in the relief. Harris referred to it as a ‘Gibbsian sarcophagus with a pyramidal lid’ (Harris 2006: 31). Firstly, it was nice to see someone else call a lid a lid. But secondly, not only does she call it a ‘Gibbsian sarcophagus’, but, she gives an actual citation for examples of what she means. So I could actually go check this out myself just by following a simple citation. So, just for clarity: James Gibbs was a very influential architect in Britain, working during the first half of the 18th century. Y’know. Just before Anson started expanding his gardens. Gibbs designed a lot of buildings, but also monuments. For dead people. And many of those monuments include the kind of sarcophagus that looks very similar to the one in Scheemaker’s relief. I will post pics of a bunch of his designs on the twitters, so you can go and behold for yourselves and see that, ‘yeah, actually, this is very much what that looks like’.

We’re not done running through possible solutions, though. I know you’ve probably been sitting there thinking ‘but wait, that guy who literally wrote the book on Thomas Anson, Andrew Baker? What theory does he favour?’ because, y’know. He’s got an awful lot more contextual knowledge than, well…. Anyone. His favoured theory, however, is not one which seems particularly likely, to me. It’s another Latin solution (Baker 2019: 175-76).

It’s by a guy called Steve Regimbal, who first read about the mystery thanks to the publicity generated by the collaboration with the Bletchley Park Museum. Basically, he decided he wanted to know more, and had started by looking at a book of paintings, and discovered that a painting that is essentially a meditation on the inevitability of death, the brevity of life, etc. is called a ‘vanitas’. He looked ‘vanitas’ up in the glossary and discovered that it refers to the phrase ‘vanitas vanitatum’ – a phrase that comes from the Latin Vulgate translation of Ecclesiastes (12: 8) (Kemmick 2004).

And obviously, ‘vanitas vanitatum’ has two Vs in it. So, like… gotta be onto something here, right? The English translation of that Latin is ‘vanity of vanities, sayeth the preacher; all is vanity’. Oh damn, would you look at that. We’re up to three Vs. So obviously, the next step is to go look at the Latin, right? So off he goes and consults the Latin Vulgate Bible, to see what the Latin is. Aaaaaand iiiiiiit’sss…. Vanitas vanitatum dixit Ecclesiastes omnia vanitas (Kemmick 2004)..

Womp womp. Doesn’t fit. Too bad, guess it’s not that then.

Oh, but wait… what if… for unexplained reasons, we decide to translate it… from the English back into Latin… but, like… different Latin? Let’s just use different words! Let’s just mess around and see if we can come up with the words and a word order that will allow us to make this quote fit the initials on the inscription, because this is absolutely a reasonable thing to do and not at all based in the fact that we’d already decided what we wanted the answer be and are now reaaaaaally trying our hardest to make it fit.

To be fair, as Regmibal explains, if Anson is Anglican, then he probably wouldn’t have used the Latin Vulgate as a source – it’s a Catholic thing (Kemmick 2004). But if you’re going to use that objection, then… why would this Anglican want it to be in Latin at all? Who knows, and more importantly, who cares? Because Regimbal sat down with a Latin dictionary and figured out how to translate it in a way that would render the initials as O U O S V A V V: orator ut omnia sunt vanitas ait vanitas vanitatum (Kemmick 2004).. Now, you might think there’s something impressive about the fact that he managed to generate a sentence with the words in the right order so as to match the initials. There is not. There might be if we were working in a language like English, but not in Latin. As you’re probably tired of me saying by now, Latin is an inflected language. This means that the order of words in a sentence can be shifted around far more freely, because the word’s function in a sentence is dictated by form the word takes, not its position in a sentence.

In English ‘the cat pooped on the carpet’ and ‘the carpet pooped on the cat’ are very different sentences in terms of what information they’re conveying. Because who’s doing what and who’s having what done to them is conveyed by the word order in the sentence. Not so in Latin. In Latin the function the word has in the sentence is indicated by changes made to the ending of the word. For instance, the nominative form of the Latin word ‘cat’ is feles. Nominative means that in the sentence, it would be the one doing the verb – pooping. The accusative form of the word is felem. Accusative means that it’s the thing having the verb done to it. So in Latin, you could have the word for ‘cat’ at the start of the sentence, followed by the verb ‘to poop’, and then have the word for ‘carpet’ at the end, and still construct the sentence to say either ‘the cat pooped on the carpet’ or ‘the carpet pooped on the cat’ based on whether you’ve written feles or felem, and changed the ending of the word for carpet to match its new role in the sentence. Make sense? The point is, it’s a lot more difficult in English to construct a meaningful sentence out of a set of initials, because the order of those initials has a much, much greater impact on the meaning of the sentence, whereas in Latin you can play around with it like a jigsaw until you get the order you need. So all Regimbal had to worry about was finding words that started with the right letter, not words that started with the right letter and also made sense at that particular place in the sentence.

Regimbal’s fairly cocky about his solution, and told Ed Kemmick, writing for BilingsGazette.com, ‘If this isn’t what it is, it’s an incredibly coincidence… If it’s not, give me something better’ (Kemmick 2004). Kemmick finishes his article by stating: ‘Regimbal is not code expert and he’s not a classical scholar, but skeptics need to disprove his theory, not question his credentials. The truth is there for all to discover’ (Kemmick 2004).

I agree that his credentials aren’t where scrutiny should necessarily lie. Knowledge and understanding of a subject and credentials are often wholly unrelated. However… No. No it is not the job of skeptics to disprove his theory. That’s not how that works. It’s up to him to prove it. And ‘hey, if I dick around with translating this phrase into Latin I can make it fit’ is not proof. It’s just a theory. A theory that provides no explanation whatsoever as to why Anson would have done this. And part of Regimbal’s process to get to his answer was to imagine that the guy who commissioned the monument – i.e. Thomas Anson – performed a “naïve back translation”, because, to quote Regimbal, ‘I imagine the guy’s like me… He’s not an expert; he’s a dabbler’ (Kemmick 2004).

To which I say: Nope. No. Nu-uh. No. Do not pass go, do not collect £200. This is a man who is a member of the landed gentry in England in the 1700s. He did not dabble in Latin. This was a standard part of his education. Why on earth Regimbal thinks that it’s reasonable to assume that Thomas Anson would have an understanding of Latin equivalent to his is beyond me. It is not a reasonable thing to assume. Regimbal’s whole argument here is, essentially, ‘hey, this type of painting is called a vanitas, which comes from the phrase vanitas vanitatum, which comes from Ecclesiastes and if I take the King James English translation of that and muddle around translating it back into Latin by tweaking and tweaking until it fits, then voila!

That’s not a good argument. I don’t know why you’d think it was. The idea that maybe the phrase is a meditation on the brevity of live and the perpetual shadow of death, matching the Et in Arcadia Ego of the relief is a totally fine suggestion. No problems with that. ‘Maybe the phrase is based on the English translation of the Latin translation of Ecclesiastes, but translated back into Latin using different words’ Not a fine suggestion. Bad. Requires way more justification.

There’s one more theory we’re gonna cover this episode. This one appeared in 2014, and was presented by a guy called Keith Massey, who formerly worked for the NSA as an Arabic linguist, and who, in 2014, at least, was working as a Latin teacher. He suggested it means ‘Oro Ut Omnes Sequantur Viam Ad Veram Vitam, which he translates as, ‘I pray that all may follow the Way to True Life’ (Lockley 2014). Much like most who favour translating it as a Latin inscription, Massey thinks the D M stand for Dis Manibus.

Much like Regmibal, Massey noticed something that reminded him of a biblical passage. In this instance, it was the proliferation of Vs at the end of the inscription, which reminded him of John Chapter 14:6, ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’, or, in Latin, ‘Ego sum Via et Veritas et Vita.

Obviously, despite having the required amount of Vs, that phrase does not have the required amount of any other letter, but hey! That didn’t stop Regimbal, and it’s not gonna stop Massey either. If you take via, veritas and vita as the base, then you can work up a sentence around them that matches the requisite letters and I honestly do not understand how someone thinks this is a valid way to go about trying to solve what this means. I just don’t get it. And much like Regimbal’s proposal, whilst it provides a phrase that has words beginning with the right letters in the right order, that’s pretty much all it has going for it. There’s no explanation for why that should be the answer, or why it would be such a big secret, or how that would related to Poussin’s painting. It’s just…’hey I managed to come up with words that fit these letters’. That’s it.

Okay. So we’ve covered six different theories so far this episode, and two others in previous episodes. Eight in total, and we’re still so far from done. Because more than one person has written an entire book about this. But… I’m gonna call it quits on this topic for now, because… five episodes on this damn inscription is a lot. However, if you enjoyed listening to me discuss these theories – especially Dave Ramsden’s book – and talk about how to analyse an argument and also tear my hair out a little bit, and you’d like to hear more like that in the future, then let me know. If people like it, I can chip away at some bonus episodes between working on other stuff. And… not gonna lie, not having covered all the theories bothers by completionist little heart. Gotta catch ‘em all, ‘yknow?

Buuuuut… for now, well… I’ve still got a few more theories to share with you. See, as bad as some of the suggestions we’ve seen so far are, they’re far from the bottom of the barrel. So I’m gonna leave you with a taste on what some of the more, uh… incoherent theories look like. And of course, there’s no better place to find incoherent theories than the hive of scum and villainy that is the comments section on a news article. So here are some choice comments from one of the BBC articles about the inscription. Fair warning, ‘making sense’ is not a dominant quality in many of these.

Here's the first one:

An older solution (A) refers to genesis 50, 25: „Deus visitabit vos asportate vobiscum ossa mea de loco isto.“. The initials from the words „visitabit vos asportate vobiscum“ are „vvav“. The reverse „vavv“ is a fragment of „DOUOSVAVVM“. This solution is correct but incomplete.The completion (B) is: Apocalypse of John 11, 14: „vae secundum abiit ecce vae tertium veniet cito“. Removing the 2., the 4., the 6. word, etc, four words remain: „vae abiit vae veniet“. Its Initials are in correct order „vavv“. Apocalypse of John 11, 14 in English means: „The second Woe is past: behold, the third Woe cometh quickly.“. The first (not mentioned) „Woe“ means (in this case) „A“, the second „Woe“ means „B“, and the third „Woe“?The end letters of „vae abiit vae veniet“ are „etet“. The reverse is „Tete“, the French word for „Head“. The Latin word for „Head“ is „Caput“. Other Significance of „Caput“ is „Chapter“.The end letters of „visitabit vos asportate vobiscum“ are „tesm“. The reverse is „mest“ or „m est“.„m est“ is a fragment in Evangelium of John Chapter 12, 5 (C): „Quare hoc unguentum nonm veniit trecentis denariis et datu(m est) egenis? “. The third „Woe“ means „C“ ...If you want to know more, contact Bletchley Park. They have my complete solution. It is too long to be publicated here.

It's too long to be publicated here, guys. I wonder what the Museum did with all the submissions they got. Might… just… add that to the… to-dooo list. Contact Bletchley Park Museum re: Shugborough inscription.

Anyway. Moving on. This next one is… honestly, I can’t tell if this is trolling or genuine or what:

read it backwards then u get:Mascul(in)us Vulgo Vocatus Ad Valorem Sacro Oleo Obierunt Ubi Decollatus.and that means: Forceful, in the people mouth, calculated to value, Sacred Oliesel, where his survive, beheaded. i really have no cleu what that means.

Me neither, dear commenter. Me. Neither.

These next two are comments from the same user. I’m not sure if they’re actually related to each other, though. Here’s the first one:

Hi it seems to me that the code, when following basic numerology, points to chapter and verses of the hebrew bible: "Subjecting all things under his feet". In "subjecting" all things (to him), he left nothing not "subject to him". Yet at present we do not see "all things subject to him". Then followed by: "Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come, 2 and not the very image of them, it can never make perfect those who come to worship by the same sacrifices 1. Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come, 2 and not the very image of them, it can never make perfect those who come to worship by the same sacrifices". This plus two other verses then goes over my head with third dimesion though there seems to be some thing else in V A V V just may it is tulugu poetry????

I mean… I doubt it. Not sure why it would be written in Telegu at all. Telegu is one of the official languages of India, in case you didn’t know, but I have no idea why they think it’s relevant here. Anyway, here’s their next comment:

if one were to take each of the top line, as it relates to a number, then take each of the numbers as an hole number, to it's coresponding letter of the alphabet, in order that you make them weigh the same,now take one letter from the front and back working inward they resemble a colour code or star location??? AB,EB,BB,AB,AA,EB,AB,note also the similarity in the order of the letters??it's all food for thought. then one could even take the first four round letters,?? against the second four sharp letters,?? write the alphabet into a block of six, once again they weigh the same 14.that then being 5 the root number of knowledge ??????

No idea. Words no longer mean things.

Moving on. This next one is a bit more intelligible, though equally nonsense:

I am currently engaged on writing a book about the Exodus. Co-incidently I am at the stage where Joseph's brothers go down to Egypt. It was a silver cup that was placed in Benjamin's sack, the object being to allow Joseph's brothers to redeem themselves.Staffordshire was a Catholic hotbed of powerful, families linked to each other through marriage and through the court. Charles II hid in the area, the Gunpowder plot has associations with the area and Mary Queen of Scots took refuge in a castle near Shugborough Hall.Noting the date that the Holy Grail is supposed to have been brought back to Shugborough gives a big clue to the meaning of the monument, i.e. the Jacobite Rebellion. The Catholic families had to keep a low profile, hence priest holes etc. The monument depicts the adoration of the shepherds at the nativity. The woman is the Virgin Mary,she is on her own, mourning the loss of her son, but of course the tomb is empty(the nativity and the grave are closely linked, from life to death to rebirth in Heaven/Arcadia). The inscription, I believe reveals the faith of the owner. The three V's join together to form the glyph of the Virgin Mary. The letters A&M , Ave Maria, and as for the letters, D O U O S, there is a letter missing to hide the word, Doulos- Greek for Slave or Servant. In other words this is the owners' own adoration of the Virgin Mary. It is hidden because of the great dangers involved in being a Catholic, hence the use of codes, including playing cards and songs. To confirm this, there are a number of ancient chapels marked within the area dedicated to the Virgin Mary, together with a priory, 'The White Ladies'. If you join up a line between the two churches of All Saints and the Virgin Mary with the priory, then you will see one of the triangles that appear on Poussin's painting, when geometry is applied.

I have no idea what the ‘glyph of the Virgin Mary is’. There is something called the ‘Ave Maria monogram’, which is an interlocked M and A, and I guess if you take three Vs and turn them upside down and ignore the fact that you’ve got no bar for the A then you can kind of make that monogram? But then, like… there’s literally an A right there in between the Vs, so… why am I trying to make sense of this? I don’t know. Here’s another one:

it is the location and also a warning and consist of precise days and events. should man have this knowledge? I dont know just yet but I would like to contact Oliver Lawn and a hint it is in 8 different languages.

8 Different languages. Of course it is. How does that even work? Like, it spells the same word in eight different languages? Or that the cypher runs through eight different languages? Like, if it’s just one letter per language then… what’s the language of the word it’s generating? Why am I trying to make sense of this?? Here’s the next one:

Hi What a coincidence… you have publicised the monument virtually the same time as the book that proposes a solution to the code is launched. (see weblink) There must be higher forces at play here. The monument is part of a bigger story and you are welcome to run with it as it hits the American media. The story is at www.thehiddenrecords.com click on DaVinci paintings (link with flame) see aditional clues and wait for the unveiling next month There are enough additional clues now for the public to decode the inevitable! All one must realise here is that the solution is the same for ALL the artwork. you might be more interested in the ancient star map material relating to this 'code' found at Stonehenge. I fly to London in two weeks time, if you want the obvious solution in advance or an interview I might consider exclusivity. I put the solution in on display at the Westminster Archives a short while ago but someone threatened my publicist and no media came to the event! There are people that are trying to prevent this solution being made public. Kind regards Wayne Herschel (author).

Oh man, exclusivity?? Cannot think why the BBC did not snap this offer up. Anyway. I’ll leave you with a final remark from one rather cynical commenter:

There is no idea so daft that it cannot find idiots still dafter to take it seriously.

Thanks for listening. If you like the show, please subscribe on whatever podcatcher you’re using. Rate and review the show, especially on Apple Podcasts.

If you have questions, comments, corrections, feedback, want to suggest a topic, etc. You can find the podcast on twitter @poisonroompod, or send an email to: poisonroompodcast@gmail.com

And use the tweets and the mails to let me know whether you want me to tackle the other books that have been written about the Shugborough inscription in pedantic detail, too.

Alternatively, find a BBC article - any BBC article at all where the comments section is still open, and tell me your thoughts there. Maybe one day I’ll find it.

Transcripts of all episodes are available at poisonroom.com, where you can also see the references and bibliography. As always if the sources are publicly available, they’re linked to.

You have been listening to The Poison Room, a podcast that knows the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.

The voice of Margaret Lichfield was: Mel, from the Mysterious, Missing, Murdered podcast.
The voice reading the extract from The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail was: Inari Porkka.
The voice reading Sneyd Davis’s poem was: catlover.
The voices of the comment section were: Fiona Mitchell, Tim Stone, Zee, Tom Embry, Lianne Nijenhuis, Jens Andersen, and Kirsty Reynolds.

The voice in your ears has been: too long to be publicated here, when geometry is applied.


Baigent, M., Leigh, R., & Lincoln, H. (1982) The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, Arrow Books.

Baker, A. (2019) Thomas Anson of Shugborough and the Greek Revival, (unpublished, available online).

Barber, R. (2004) The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief, Harvard University Press.

Barber, M. (1994) The New Knighthood: A History of The Order of the Templar, Cambridge University Press.

Erdeswick, S. (1844) A Survey of Staffordshire, J. B. Nichols and Son.

Fishwick, D. (2011) ‘A Secret Code at Shugborough?’ Religious Studies and Theology Vol. 30: 83-100.

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