Espionage Techniques of Seventeenth-Century Women
February 16, 2016 8:29 AM   Subscribe

While Dr. Nadine Akkerman of Leiden University was examining letters sent by Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia (Google books preview) during her exile in the Hague, she discovered that some were filled with secret codes.... Akkerman was intrigued as to why the queen would require such covert correspondence. This was her first encounter with the 17th-century female spy.
Within England, Dr. Akkerman uncovered a network of more than sixty female spies.

You can find a recipe of sorts for hiding messages inside eggs (and making invisible ink) from the period in Thomas Lupton's A Thousand Notable Things of Sundry Sorts, (Archive.org copy) "an assemblage of items without any sort of organization." That recipe was re-created in a video by the YouTube channel Letter Locking, which has a host of other interesting videos on invisible writing and letter locking (previously/recently).
posted by filthy light thief (11 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
 
Fascinating!
posted by Wretch729 at 8:52 AM on February 16, 2016


Neat story!

From the nwo link:
She thought of the idea when she was cracking a secret code in the letters of Elizabeth Stuart (1596-1662), a Scottish princess who lived in exile in The Hague for forty years.

Was this a typo in the post? Or was Elizabeth Stuart from Scotland but ended up Queen of Bohemia after a 40-year exile?
posted by Arandia at 9:19 AM on February 16, 2016


Thanks for this post!
posted by jacquilynne at 9:22 AM on February 16, 2016


Was this a typo in the post? Or was Elizabeth Stuart from Scotland but ended up Queen of Bohemia after a 40-year exile?

Lots of intermingling between all European royal houses. George I was German but ruled over Britain. Looks like Elizabeth Stuart married a King of Bohemia.
posted by kmz at 9:33 AM on February 16, 2016


Arandia - She was Scottish. Your standard royal intermarriage. From Wikipedia:
She was the second child and eldest daughter of James VI and I, King of Scots, England, and Ireland, and his wife, Anne of Denmark. She was also the granddaughter of Mary, Queen of Scots. She was four years older than her brother Charles, who became Charles I of Britain and Ireland.
She married the (protestant German prince-elector) Frederick V, who was offered the crown of Bohemia when it rebelled against the Catholic Hapsburgs. He held the crown for only a year due to a confluence of military and political misfortune. The loss of the crown of Bohemia was why she ended up in exile in the Hague in the first place, and largely why she spent so much time working with the extensive espionage network described in this post, trying to secure a better future for herself and her children. (She did eventually regain the Electorate of the Palatinate for her son, though not Bohemia.)
posted by Wretch729 at 9:39 AM on February 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


As a further aside the House of Stuart was founded in the late 1300s and ruled Scotland and at times England until the 1700s (with a little break during the civil war). They were originally descended from some people who came over right after the Norman invasion and had power in Scotland because reasons. The point of all this is to get to the (to me) hilarious fact that the family name is taken from steward, as in, the political office.
I just love that Walter Stewart of Dundonald was like "Whelp, I'm High Steward of Scotland, my father was High Steward of Scotland, and my grandfather was too! We like this job, we're keeping it! In fact, that's our name now! Suck it other nobles!"
posted by Wretch729 at 10:03 AM on February 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


Ah, I thought that that might be the case. Thanks for clarifying.

I just love that Walter Stewart of Dundonald was like "Whelp, I'm High Steward of Scotland, my father was High Steward of Scotland, and my grandfather was too! We like this job, we're keeping it! In fact, that's our name now! Suck it other nobles!"

Reminds me of the saying that the true king is the one that gets crowned...
posted by Arandia at 10:16 AM on February 16, 2016


She was only the Queen of Bohemia until the first Hapsburg regiment showed up and they started marching about a day after they heard the news.
posted by bukvich at 11:22 AM on February 16, 2016


This is similar to a storyline in Neal Stephenson's Baroque trilogy, iirc. One of the main characters spends months encoding chatty letters into cross-stitch while riding rround the place in a carriage.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:37 PM on February 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


What a marvelous post! So interesting! Thanks.
posted by nickyskye at 12:42 PM on February 16, 2016


Sebmojo - Oh yes! Stephenson makes reference to Elizabeth Stuart, and her offspring feature more prominently in the story. Her daughter Sophia of Hanover has a bit part, and her daughter Sophia Charlotte of Hanover has an important role as the guardian of Caroline of Ansbach. (Who eventually marries Sophia Charlotte's nephew and in time becomes Queen of England.)
posted by Wretch729 at 2:09 PM on February 16, 2016


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