Code deciphered in 430-year-old jail letters written by Mary, Queen of Scots ..UK News


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Mary is thought to have hidden codes in her correspondence to others (Picture: PA)

Coded letters written by Mary, Queen of Scots before she was put to death have been discovered in a French archive more than 430 years after she wrote them.

Researchers only realised the imprisoned queen was the author when they cracked the famously sophisticated cipher system she used to communicate with her supporters.

The 57 letters, previously unknown to historians, give a new insight into Catholic Mary’s imprisonment by her Protestant cousin Elizabeth I, before she was beheaded for treason aged 44 at Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire, in 1587.

Most are addressed to Michel de Castelnau de Mauvissière, French ambassador to England, who tried to bring about a reconciliation between the cousins.

‘This is a truly exciting discovery,’ said cryptographer Dr George Lasry, whose international team came across the haul in the online archive of enciphered documents at the national library of France in Paris.

‘It kind of felt surreal. We have broken secret codes from kings and queens previously, but with Mary, Queen of Scots it was remarkable as we had so many unpublished letters deciphered.’

The former queen had a deep mistrust of Sir Francis Walsingham (Picture: Getty)

Using computerised and manual techniques, they decoded key themes including Mary’s complaints about her poor health and the conditions in captivity. She also wrote about negotiations with Elizabeth for her release, which she believed were not being conducted in good faith by the monarch.

Her mistrust of her cousin’s spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham is also apparent, as is her animosity for Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, a favourite of Elizabeth’s.

She also expresses her distress when her son James – the future King James I of England – is abducted in August 1582.

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Although Mary’s extensive correspondence is held in various archives, Dr Lasly said there was evidence of gaps in those collections.

‘The letters we have deciphered are most likely part of this lost secret correspondence,’ he added.

‘Together, the letters constitute a voluminous body of new primary material on Mary Stuart – about 50,000 words in total.’

The decipherment work is published in the journal Cryptologia.

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