A team of codebreakers discovered – and then cracked – more than 50 secret letters written by Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots while she was imprisoned in England by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I.
In total, the team deciphered 57 letters penned between 1578 to 1584. Most are addressed to Michel de Castelnau de Mauvissière, the French ambassador to England and supporter of the Catholic queen, Mary Stuart, who was first in line of succession to the English throne after Elizabeth. About 50 of the scripts had never been seen before by historians.
The researchers presented their findings in the peer-reviewed journal Cryptologia on February 8, the same date that Mary was beheaded 436 years ago for allegedly plotting to kill her cousin.
The three codebreakers – George Lasry, a computer scientist and cryptographer; Norbert Biermann, a pianist and music professor; and Satoshi Tomokiyo, a physicist and patents expert – essentially stumbled upon the letters while combing the Bibliothèque nationale de France’s (BnF) online archives for enciphered letters.
The coded correspondence written by Mary, some 50,000 words altogether, were lumped into a larger collection of documents mostly relating to Italian affairs. All 57 letters were written in ciphertext – no parts of the documents were “in the clear” – meaning that they could not be attributed to anyone without first being deciphered.
In order to crack the code, the trio used a combination of computerized and manual codebreaking along with linguistic and contextual analysis.
But first, they had