Codebreakers Find And Decipher Lost Letters Of Mary, Queen Of Scots

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A group of codebreakers from three different countries successfully deciphered 57 “lost” and “elaborately” coded letters of Mary, Queen of Scots, 436 years after her execution on Feb. 8, 1587.

The letters, mostly kept in a large set of unmarked documents in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris, were discovered and deciphered over the course of 10 years by George Lasry, a computer scientist and cryptographer from France; Norbert Biermann, a pianist and music professor from Germany; and Satoshi Tomokiyo, a physicist and patents expert from Japan, all of them “passionate” about historical ciphers, CNN reported.

“Mary, Queen of Scots, has left an extensive corpus of letters held in various archives. There was prior evidence, however, that other letters from Mary Stuart were missing from those collections, such as those referenced in other sources but not found elsewhere. The letters we have deciphered are most likely part of this lost secret correspondence,” Lasry told the outlet.

The trio of codebreakers soon found that the ciphers were based on French and quickly began to uncover keywords and mentions of captivity, leading the team to understand that the letters referenced the ill-fated queen’s time as a prisoner in England, CNN reported.

Since many Catholics viewed Mary as the rightful heir to the English throne, Elizabeth imprisoned her cousin for 19 years and had her consistently spied on by Sir Francis Walsingham. During her time of imprisonment, Mary used encrypted letters to communicate with Michel de Castelnau, sieur de la Mauvissière, the French ambassador to England, who then forwarded her correspondence to France, CNN explained.

The newly deciphered letters appear to have been intercepted by Walsingham via a spy in the French embassy. In them, Mary details the conditions of her captivity, her failing health, her distrust of some of Elizabeth I’s closest officials and advisors and her belief that negotiations with her cousin were not be carried out in good faith, CNN reported.

Breaking the code was not a eureka moment — it took quite a while, each time peeling another layer of the ‘onion,'” Lasry told CNN. “Most of the effort was spent on transcribing the ciphered letters (150,000 symbols in total), and interpreting them — 50,000 words, enough to fill a book,” he added. (RELATED: Researchers Claim They’ve Deciphered An Ancient Tablet That Confirms A Biblical Narrative)

“It’s a stunning piece of research, and these discoveries will be a literary and historical sensation,” Dr. John Guy, a historian at Clare College and author of a book on Mary, Queen of Scots told the outlet. “They mark the most important new find on Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, for 100 years,” and show that Mary was, even in captivity, “a shrewd and attentive analyst of international affairs.”