An 18th century monument in Shugborough Hall near Birmingham, UK, bears an inscription consisting of ten letters. This message is one of the world’s most famous unsolved ciphertexts.

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Last year, when I gave a presentation at a conference in Birmingham, UK, I took the chance to take a side-trip to Shugborough Hall, a stately home near Great Haywood, Staffordshire, which is today a tourist attraction (thanks to Gordon Rugg for taking me there).


Shugborough Hall is the home of a famous crypto mystery. However, this is not the main reason why people go there. Most tourists are simply charmed by the nice buildings and the large park surrounding them. There’s no doubt that Shugborough Hall is a beautiful place. The architecture of the following garden cottage shows a Greek influence:


The crypto mystery that brought me to Shugborough Hall is located on a folly named “Shepherd’s Monument”. Compared to other buildings on the estate, Shepherd’s Monument doesn’t look very spectacular.


Here’s a closer view at Shepherd’s Monument:


Shepherd’s Monument was built sometime between 1748 and 1763. In it’s center a relief ressembling Nicolas Poussin’s painting The Shepherds of Arcadia is located. It shows a woman and three shepherds, two of whom are pointing to a tomb. On the tomb is carved the Latin text “Et in arcadia ego” (“I am in Arcadia, too”). The carving displays a number of small alterations from the original. An extra sarcophagus has been placed on top of the main tomb.


And now we’re getting to the crypto mystery. Below the relief ten letters are carved, eight on the first line, two on the second line:


Here’s a trancription of the cryptogram:

D·                M·

Here are the ten letters viewed up-close:


It is not known what these ten letters mean.

Numerous investigators have occupied themselves with the Shugborough encryption. Some have even suggested solutions. However, there is no accepted explanation to date. A Shugborough Hall spokesman once said: “We get five or six people a week who believe they have solved the code.”

Some alleged solutions are acrostic, interpreting each letter as the initial letter of a word. In 1951 some Morchard Bishop suggested that the letters might be an initialism for the Latin phrase “Optimae Uxoris Optimae Sororis Viduus Amantissimus Vovit Virtutibus” (“Best of wives, Best of sisters, a most devoted Widower dedicates (this) to your virtues”). Another acrostic interpretation leads to the sentence “Orator Ut Omnia Sunt Vanitas Ait Vanitas Vanitatum” (“Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity”). There are many other proposed solutions of this kind, but none of them has ever been proven to be correct.

Last year I introduced a hypothesis from Dave Ramsden, who suggested that the “D. M.” in the inscription stands for “Dis Manibus”, while the eight-letter inscription is a cipher concealing the name “Magdalen”. Ramsden has even published a book about his explanation. However, to me it looks as speculative as all the others I have seen so far.

In  spite of all the decryption efforts the Shugborough inscription is still a mystery. Maybe a reader has an idea how to solve it.

Further reading: Who can break this enciphered letter written by Albrecht von Wallenstein?


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Kommentare (12)

  1. #1 David Allen Wilson
    9. April 2017

    It’s probably an abbreviation, like “Deus Magnificus” (God is great), but since there are many possible solutions, there is no way of proving which one is right.

  2. #2 Thomas
    9. April 2017

    This website provides a collection of profound essays on Thomas Anson`s universe of ideas (the best descriptions I could find):

    This explanation seems convincing to me:

  3. #3 Rich SantaColoma
    9. April 2017

    As with many intractible problems, it may need a new approach that has not been tried. Perhaps the papers and archives of the family might hold a clue. It would be unusual for such a thing to never be discussed elsewhere. There seems to be an assumption it was MEANT to be mysterious, when it may have been a phrase family members were familiar with, and maybe it appears in other letters and writings, by the family and/or associates?

    And perhaps the records of the firm which built the monument…. or of the workers and engravers, and so on, might hold a clue. Most monuments are made from sketches and drawings, and the order for this may have a clue to what it means.

    Perhaps all this was tried long ago: But I’ve been surprised how many unknowns are explored with a narrow view, based on the external only, when other avenues might be fruitful.

  4. #4 Thomas
    9. April 2017

    “Perhaps the papers and archives of the family might hold a clue”:
    There is an archive in Stafford:
    Couldn’t find out wether anybody has sifted through the records yet.

    “the records of the firm”
    The sculptor was Peter Scheemakers, the designers were Thomas Wright and James Stuart ( If there are still any records of them, who knows.

  5. #5 Thomas Ernst
    10. April 2017

    Nothing new, but to second Rich’s view that there is a “familiar” phrase behind it, and that a search through the family archives – wonderful find by Thomas, as always – should be successful in solving this. – Someone please finance my flight from Trump-USA to Stafford …

  6. #6 Rich SantaColoma
    10. April 2017

    Thomas 1 and Thomas E.: Those are good finds, and I would also love to look, myself. But I am in the States also… I am a great believer in pursuing the smallest leads in these things, but no way I could, this one. Maybe someone else is close enough to dig a bit.

  7. #7 Ulrich
    10. April 2017

    Literatur: Lincoln/Baiger/Leigh, “Der heilige Gral und seine Erben”, Gustav Lübbe Verlag 1997, 472 S. Darin wird eine “Geheimloge” namens Prieuré de Sion (=Zion) analog Freimaurern, Rosenkreuzern beschrieben. Bilder 20-23 zeigen die gemalten Vorbilder (Poussin) zur Grabtafel, Bild 24 ist identisch mit Klausis Photo. allerdings ohne sein Konterfei ! Ziel der PdS: Wiedereinführung der merowingischen Dynastie; ein Leitmotiv: Arkadien.
    Dies ist KEINE Buchempfehlung. Das Werk ist voll (z.T.abstruser) Hypothesen, alle im Konjunktiv (“könnte”, “dürfte”), obgleich es sich wissenschaftlich gibt. Ich habe es nicht zu. Ende gelesen.

  8. #8 Ulrich
    12. April 2017

    In spite of my unfavourable remarks (on the book) sub #7, I offer for your consideration: – [1] chrs 3-5 may read ORDO SIONENSIS VENERABILiS (or: VENERABILISSIMUS). – [2] chr 2: Self-criticism on choice of language: U together with VVV in Latin in one line very unusual. – [3] Another “M •” just discernible behind the “D •” (chr 9), there also may be further letters sketched in line 2. An error by the stonemason or by one of his apprentices ? – [4] chr. 8 “V” may also show a dot: “V •” (?).

  9. #9 Ulrich
    15. April 2017

    “We get five or six people a week who believe they have solved the code”, as Klaus Schmeh so aptly cited (see above). Well, for your enjoyment, here is another one, unprovable but at least somewhat logical, methinks.
    “They died so that the venerable and mighty order of Zion might live // Consecrated to the gods of the underworld”
    Comments: chr1 plural, in view of second coffin added to the Poussin original; D.M. also possibly: DEUS MAGNIFICUS (thank you #1), DEVOTUS MEMORIAE.

  10. #10 Charlie....not qualified QFH-ZxLUf-zXATU-A0LH
    perhaps there is some more to be found in literature related to Arcadia.
    10. Mai 2019

    Anson was an artist who appreciated art and poetry, it is likely these were significant to the inscriber and the commissioner relative to the arts they both enjoyed. perhaps as suggested meant to commemorate (Devotus Memoriae) the passing of someone dear to them. However it is worthy of note there are poems by Milton, that seem relative to Poussin’s artwork that may hold some clues. ” Nymphs and Shepherds, dance no more by sandy Ladons lillied banks. On old Lycaeus or Cyllene Hoar trip no more in twilight ranks.
    Though Erymanth your loss deplore, from the stony Maenalus, bring your flock and live with us.”
    this poem is referencing several mountains and a river in Arcadia. Perhaps there is a secret here that only the heirs of the family are aware of, or maybe something significant to the Dillettanti community that Anson was a part of. Also it is possible these names could be the first greek letters in the names of the Nymphs of Arcadia that raised Zeus in mythology. There were to be counted 9 if memory serves correct. I Think this entire picture and the letters all share some relevance to point to a greater meaning. Lastly, it would be worthwhile to track down the Poem that the countess referenced to be of Roman Origin that is supposedly the meaning of this abbreviation “Out Your Own Sweet Vale, Alicia, Vanishes Vanity. Twixt Deity and Man Thou, Shepherdess, The Way,”

  11. #11 Hassan Boyouk
    8. April 2022

    This is my possible solution for the Shugborough Inscription
    Our Umpire(Empire) On Scotland; Viscount Anson’s Victorious Voyage
    Others contend that it engages aspects of many cultures, both as a tribute to Admiral Anson’s voyage
    * vessel, voyage
    D & M stand for Doric Metope;
    Doric Metope(According to the link of Shugborough, there were 2 doric columns and 3 metopes)
    This link will also say A. J. Morton denotes the words Orgreave United with Overley and Shugborough, Viscount Anson Venables Vernon
    You might find this sentence;” Others contend that it engages aspects of many cultures, both as a tribute to Admiral Anson’s voyage”

  12. #12 Travis
    The Shugborough inscription
    27. Februar 2023

    To break the cipher, I first generate a substitution table that maps each letter in the ciphertext to a corresponding letter in the plaintext alphabet. I then apply each possible substitution to the ciphertext and check if the resulting plaintext makes sense in 18th century English. I use a simple check to filter out non-English text, such as non-alphabetic characters and uncommon words.

    Our approach is based on a brute-force attack, which involves trying every possible letter substitution until a readable message is obtained. This approach can be time-consuming, but it is a simple and effective way to break a simple substitution cipher.

    I applied our approach to a ciphertext containing the message “O·U·O·S·V·A·V·V D·”. After generating all possible substitution tables and checking each resulting plaintext, we found that the decrypted message is “MURDER WILL OUT.”, a well-known English proverb from the 16th century.