A fascinating exploration of the devious tricks and ingenious tools used by early modern spies—from ciphers to counterfeiting, invisible inks to assassination
Early modern Europe was a hotbed of espionage, where spies, spy-catchers, and conspirators pitted their wits against each other in deadly games of hide and seek. Theirs was a dangerous trade—only those who mastered the latest techniques would survive.
In this engaging, accessible account, Nadine Akkerman and Pete Langman explore the methods spies actually used in the period, including disguises, invisible inks, and even poisons. Drawing on a vast array of archival sources, they show how understanding the tricks and tools of espionage allows us to re-imagine well-known stories such as the Babington and Gunpowder plots. Exposing the murky world of spies, they demonstrate how the technological innovations of petty criminals, secretaries, and other hitherto invisible actors shaped the fate of some of history’s most iconic figures.
Spycraft explains how early modern spies sought to protect their own secrets while exposing those of their enemies, showing the reader how to follow in their footsteps.
Nadine Akkerman is professor of early modern literature and culture at Leiden University and author of the acclaimed Invisible Agents. Pete Langman is an academic, OED bibliographer, author of Killing Beauties, and manuscript editor for Early Modern Low Countries Journal.
“This original and compelling book delves deep into early modern spycraft as it was actually practised. Techniques of letterlocking, the making and breaking of seals, encryption and invisible ink are all revealed in forensic detail. This is richly textured history, written with verve and a real appreciation for the source material.”—John Cooper, author of The Queen’s Agent
“Akkerman and Langman present a highly readable account of the really practical aspects of spycraft in an accessible and captivating way. An engaging and endlessly fascinating volume.”—James Daybell, author of Women Letter-Writers in Tudor England
“A fascinating deep dive into early modern espionage techniques, a world of forgery, cipher wheels, secret letters written with invisible inks, and poison drawn from vipers and toads. Akkerman and Langman have produced nothing less than the origin story of James Bond’s Q-Branch.”—Charles Cumming, bestselling author of the BOX 88 series
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