Feb 9, 2023

Codebreakers Find and Decode Lost Letters of Mary, Queen of Scots

A trio of codebreakers has found and deciphered a treasure trove of lost letters written by Mary, Queen of Scots.

The 57 secret letters, from Mary Stuart to the French ambassador to England between 1578 and 1584, were written in an elaborate code. The findings come 436 years after Mary’s death by execution on February 8, 1587.

Most of the letters were kept in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris, mainly in a large set of unmarked documents that were also written in cipher — special graphical symbols. The documents were listed as dating from the first half of the 16th century and thought to be related to Italy.

Then, a trio passionate about cracking historical ciphers stumbled upon the documents.

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 worked together to find the truth behind the documents.

The multidisciplinary team has worked together for 10 years to find and understand historical ciphers. Lasry is also a member of the DECRYPT Project, which digitizes, transcribes and identifies the meaning of historical ciphers.

Once the researchers began working through the unique ciphers, they quickly realized the correspondence was written using French, and there was nothing Italian about it.

The team spied verbs and adverbs that used a feminine form, mentions of captivity — and a keyword: Walsingham. Sir Francis Walsingham was Queen Elizabeth I’s secretary and spymaster. Together, all signs pointed to the fact that the team may have found letters of Mary Stuart thought lost for centuries.

The results were published Tuesday in the journal Cryptologia.

You can read more in an article by Ashley Strickland published in the CBB web site at:

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