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Is there a secret Enigma Code buried in Gawain and the Green Knight?

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

One of the strange features of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is the set of nine crudely drawn illuminated letters which the poet originally produced to accompany his work. Do they hold a secret political code as yet untold?

Is there a political invocation contained in the Gawain manuscript?

There is a main letter for each of the four fitts (parts) and another five elsewhere in the poem (each of which, incidentally, I have recreated in linocut to appear in the new edition).

The four main introductory letters are: S (fitt 1); T (fitt 2); F (fitt 3) and N (fitt 4). Each of these letters begins the following words:

  • S – Sythen (since)
  • T – This
  • F – Ful (full)
  • N – Now

While the inclusion of illuminated letters at the beginning of each part makes artistic sense, it is the random selection of other letters which occur occasionally in the manuscript which make us look again. The complete list of letters is as follows:


  • S – Sythen (since)


  • T – This
  • N – Nade (no sooner, now hardly)
  • T - Then


  • F – Ful (full)
  • S – Sone (Soon)
  • N -Now


  • N – Now
  • T – Then

We can construct a curious sentence as follows:

Since this no sooner, then full soon now now then.

Is this a strange invocation, a request for an uprising? If it doesn’t happen now then it must happen soon? What is being asked here and why? Is the reader being challenged to act against authority?

Does Sir Gawain and the Green Knight hide a secret message within its own Enigma code? Who can say? In all likelihood, the words are a random consequence of the illuminator’s whimsy and yet this poem was written in challenging times. But you never know...

Time for Alan Turing to make a return!


Thank you everyone for supporting this book. This week, at long last, the manuscript goes to the publishers on the next stage of its journey to become reality. If you know of others who would like to pledge for their own limited collector’s first edition, please do pass on the link to them and let Gawain speak again in a new illuminated manuscript for the modern age.


Michael Smith


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Publication date: July 2018
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