Mary, Queen of Scots: Deciphering of secret, coded letters is a historic discovery of huge proportions – Scotsman comment

The deciphering of secret, coded letters written by Mary, Queen of Scots during her imprisonment in England must surely rank as one of the historical discoveries of our time.

Researchers initially thought they were dealing with old letters relating to 16th-century Italy, as the correspondence had been wrongly catalogued in the National Library of France. However, as they began to examine them, they started to see French words. It became clear the author was a woman, she was in captivity, and she had a son. Then came the name “Walsingham”, Queen Elizabeth’s chief spymaster.

They started to think what seemed unthinkable – that these were the lost letters which Mary was known to have smuggled out. Cryptographer George Lasry said: “Upon deciphering the letters, I was very, very puzzled and it kind of felt surreal… this is a truly exciting discovery.”

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Altogether, there are about 50,000 words written by Mary between 1578 and 1584. In one, she tells “Monsieur de Mauvissière”, the French ambassador to England: “I cannot thank you enough for the care, vigilance and entirely good affection with which I see that you embrace everything that concerns me and I beg you to continue to do so more strongly than ever, especially for my said release to which I see the queen of England quite inclined.”

Sadly for Mary, her optimism was misplaced and Elizabeth was later persuaded that her royal rival had to be executed. However, to have uncovered such a vast trove of her secret thoughts and feelings, will surely bring her character to life to a far greater degree than is possible for many historic figures.



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