Domestic secret service in Britain has a long pedigree, but I find the history surrounding spies operating in the Napoleonic Wars and later during the Regency era, fascinating. Spies feature in several of my romances.
Ian Fleming's fictional character, James Bond, a suave, charming and handsome spy, survived dangers which were in some instances hardly more amazing than some of his predecessors during the Peninsular War. Spies during the Napoleonic Wars were professors, poets, diplomats and MP's. They lived double lives shrouded in mystery. While Sidmouth's spies often came from far humbler origins. Viscount Sidmouth was made Home Secretary in 1812. He countered revolutionary opposition, being responsible for the temporary suspense of habeas corpus in 1817 and the passage of the Six Acts in 1819. His tenure also saw the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. Sidmouth's spies often recruited themselves and the information they supplied wasn't always reliable. The system lacked structure and the government acted on false information at times. Even though it lacked sophistication, it was a framework the government continued to build upon.
The informers and intelligence gathers working for Wellington were not always treated well. Wellington soon realized that the French outnumbered his forces. In a war such as the Peninsular War, communication was difficult. A general could be ignorant of a battle taking place only forty miles away. He therefore needed to have as much advance information as possible and he developed a network of intelligence officers and local spies. He valued both strategic information, gathered by the interception of enemy letters, and tactical intelligence, gathered by men in the field such as ‘exploring officers’.
|LOVE AND WAR|
Under Wellington’s command, codebreaking and intelligence gathering played an important role in British victories such as Oporto (1809), Salamanca (1812) and Vittoria (1813). But Wellington's dismissive treatment of his spies, placed Gyles life in danger.
It is to Scovell that Lady Selena turns when her mysterious husband, Lord Gyles disappears again. And, unwittingly, she places him in great danger.
Exploring officers in Wellington’s army were under the command of the Quartermaster General. They operated on their own or with one or two local guides. Their task was to collect first-hand tactical intelligence by riding to enemy positions, observing and noting movements and making sketch maps of uncharted land. It was a dangerous job and they had to be fit, good horsemen, and ready to escape at any moment.
Three men served in Wellington's army, one English, two Scotsmen, strikingly different in character. They each left first-hand accounts:
Loquacious and known to be pompous, Sir Andrew Leith-Hay, inherited the estate of Rannes from a relative. He joined the army as an ensign in the 72nd Foot on 8 January 1806 and went to the Peninsular in 1808 as aide-de-camp to his uncle, General Sir James Leith, and saw action at Corunna and the storming of San Sebastian. Where cameras were still unknown, he gathered intelligence and provided sketches of both landscapes and towns. His keen eye for detail in his drawings and written descriptions are found in his two volumes entitled Narrative of the Peninsular War published in 1831.
The quiet and reserved Colquhoun Grant also came from north-east of Scotland, and was one of the Duke of Wellington’s most famous intelligence officers, he was extremely clever and had a quick ear for languages, but he never thought of himself as a spy. In the nineteenth century spying was still considered an underhand and dishonest way of warfare. To brand Grant a spy would have been to cast doubt on his status as an officer and a gentleman.
Impetuous and courageous, Charles Cocks, was born with the proverbial "silver spoon in his mouth" as the scion of a noble family - his father was the second Lord Somers. Tall and handsome, and with all the advantages of wealth, he could have had a political career, but his ambition lay in reaching the heights of his profession in the army.
Wellington relied upon these spies to bring him: positions of the enemy, estimations of troop movements, the number of soldiers, both infantry and cavalry, the number and size of his guns, and above all the directions and the state of the roads on which they were to travel.
AMAZON US Print & e-book released March 6th.
In A BARON IN HER BED - THE SPIES OF MAYFAIR SERIES, Book One, Guy Truesdale, Baron Fortescue is a reluctant spy, thrown into a dangerous situation, driven by the desire to help the government of his newly adopted country.
In Book Two, TAMING A GENTLEMAN SPY, John Haldane, Earl of Strathairn returns from the war to continue working as a military spy during peace time. He is thrown into the midst of the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester.
Source: Wellington's Spies, March McGrigor
The National Archives
PLOTS AND PARANOIA, Bernard Porter.
More coming: Spies during peacetime.