George Scovell was chief codebreaker for
of Wellington. During the Peninsular
War of 1808-1814 he developed a system of military communications
and intelligence gathering for the British that intercepted French
letters and dispatches to and from the battlefield, and cracked
The wars that followed the French Revolution
and the rise of Napoleon
Bonaparte ushered in a new era of intrigue and bloodshed. Most
of Europe fell before Napoleon’s Grand Armée.
In 1808 Napoleon turned his attention to Portugal and Spain, occupying
Lisbon and Madrid and placing his brother Joseph
on the Spanish throne. The Portuguese and Spanish resisted and sought
British aid. The first British troops set foot on Portuguese soil
in the summer of 1808. For the next six years Spanish and Portuguese
fought alongside the British army and waged a guerilla war on the
occupying French forces.
Under Wellington’s command, codebreaking
and intelligence gathering played an important role in British victories
such as Oporto (1809), Salamanca (1812) and Vittoria (1813), and
Scovell was a key part of these activities.
George Scovell served as an officer in the Intelligence
Branch of the Quartermaster-General’s department. A gifted
linguist, he was placed in charge of a motley group of Spanish,
Portuguese, Italian, Swiss and Irish soldiers and deserters recruited
for their local knowledge and language skills, and called the Army
Guides. They began to develop a system for intercepting and deciphering
encoded French communications.
For more about Wellington’s spies, see