* * *
  secrets and spies
 
* *
* *
* *
*codes and cipher*spies*codemaster *
* *
* *
* Home > Codes and Ciphers > Mary
* * * *
* * * Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587)
* * * *
*
Catalogue reference: SP52/13/60; Allegorical sketch of Mary, Queen of Scots (detail) (link to an enlarged view)
*
Mary's ciphers
*
The Babington plot
*
More plots against Elizabeth
*
 
Cryptography was widely used by political rulers in 16th century Europe. Monarchs, ministers and ambassadors often established cipher offices and employed cipher secretaries to encrypt diplomatic or military information. Mary, Queen of Scots, had a cipher secretary handle her ‘secret’ correspondence in an attempt to communicate with her supporters while she was imprisoned in England. However, the encrypted messages were not as secure as she hoped.

In England the safety of Queen Elizabeth I was constantly under threat from enemies at home and abroad. Anti-Catholic laws created a climate of fear. Mass was banned, those who would not attend Church of England services were fined or imprisoned, lands were confiscated, and to harbour priests was deemed treasonable. Elizabeth's Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham created a school for espionage in London in the 1570s, recruiting spies from Oxford and Cambridge and developing an unrivalled network of agents and informants throughout Europe. The State Papers are full of letters from informers and accounts of interrogations and searches.

Conspiracies to overthrow Elizabeth were uncovered by Walsingham’s men throughout her reign. From 1571 to 1586 the discovery of a series of plots to establish Mary, Queen of Scots, on the throne led to the trial and execution of Mary and many of her friends and allies.
*