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* Home > Codes and Ciphers > Scovell
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* * * General George Scovell (1774-1861)
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Catalogue reference: WO 37/9; The Great Paris Cipher, c.1812 (link to an enlarged view)
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The Great Paris Cipher
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'The Art of Decyphering'
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Example of a cipher
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George Scovell was chief codebreaker for the Duke 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 their codes.

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 Colquhoun Grant
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