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Catalogue reference: SP 53/22; ciphers used by Mary, Queen of Scots, 1586 (link to an enlarged view)
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Ciphers used by Mary, Queen of Scots, 1586
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(Catalogue reference: SP 53/22)  
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In 1586 Mary, Queen of Scots, was held prisoner at Chartley under the watchful eye of Sir Amias Paulet, a Protestant loyal to Elizabeth I. In Paulet’s custody Mary’s contact with the outside world was limited to correspondence encrypted by her cipher secretary, Gilbert Curle, and smuggled out in casks of ale. Every letter was intercepted by a Catholic double agent, Gilbert Gifford, who had offered his services to Walsingham in 1585.

‘I have heard of the work you do and I want to serve you. I have no scruples and no fear of danger. Whatever you order me to do I will accomplish.’
(Gilbert Gifford to Sir Francis Walsingham)

Letters between Mary and her allies in England and abroad were painstakingly deciphered and copied by Walsingham’s master forger and cipher secretary, Thomas Phelippes. Letters were then carefully re-sealed and sent on to their intended recipients, who blithely continued with their scheme to establish Mary on the throne.

Different ciphers using unique combinations of symbols, letters, words and nulls were used for different recipients. This document illustrates some of the ciphers used by Mary during her imprisonment at Chartley.

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Mary The Babington plot
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