Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots were among European royals who used an intricate folding method to share their most important secrets, new research has revealed.
The process of locking letters dates back to the 13th century and involved cutting a small slit or tab in a piece of paper and combining it with a folding technique to secure the letter with intricate stitches.
This would effectively change the paper in its own envelope, preventing it from being read without breaking the seals or slips, providing a means of security, and new research has shown how popular this practice is among Queens.
The technique, which could take hours to succeed, was common for secure communications before modern envelopes were used, and is seen as the missing link between old physical communications security techniques and modern digital cryptography.
According to a new article from British Library Electronic Journal, 16th-century royals regularly used the spiral letter lock to send notes securely, with lead author Jana Dambrogio explaining, “You had to be very confident to create a spiral lock. If you made a mistake, you had to start all over again, which could take hours of rewriting and editing.
Among those who used the method was Mary Queen of Scots, who used the method to write a note hours before her beheading in 1587.
Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots were among European royals who used an intricate folding method to share their most important secrets, new research has revealed
Among those who used the techniques was Mary Queen of Scots, who used the method to write a note hours before her beheading in 1587 (photo, her letter)
The process of “letter locking” involves intricately folding and securing a flat sheet of paper into its own envelope.
Dr Wiggins wrote that the combined effect of the lock, her own handwriting and her signature allows Mary to “create bonds of affinity and kinship and assurances of authenticity.”
Royals would fold the letter before cutting a strip, which would then be used to sew stitches to lock the letter.
The method would transform a flat piece of stationery into its own envelope, locking it securely from prying eyes.
If a spy wanted to access the letter, he would have to open it, which was impossible to do without being detected.
There are several different types of folds and cutouts can be made to turn a letter into an envelope.
Queen Elizabeth I used the method in 1573 as ruler of England and Ireland to write a letter to King Henry III
Royals would fold the letter before cutting a strip, which would then be used to sew stitches to lock the letter. The method would turn a flat piece of stationery into its own envelope, locking it securely from the eyes of spies (photo of letter dated December 16, 1638)
Writing her locked letter on February 8, 1587, Mary Queen of Scots wrote: “Tonight after dinner I was informed of my sentence: I am to be executed as a criminal at eight in the morning.
LETTERLOCKING: SECURE WORDS WITHOUT ENVELOPES
Popular in the 17th century, Letterlocking is a process for securing a letter without an envelope.
It involves a complex process of cutting and folding.
It uses small slits, tab and holes placed in a letter and combined with folding, secures the letter for delivery.
There are a number of types of letter binders and they are often unique to the binder.
At the most basic level, it involves intricately folding and securing a flat sheet of paper so that it becomes its own envelope around a letter.
Although the technique dates back to the 13th century, the term “lettering” was not coined until 2009.
“The Catholic faith and the assertion of my God-given right to the English crown are the two issues on which I am condemned. “
According to the newspaper, Catherine de Medici used the method in 1570 when she ruled France while her son, King Charles IX, was seated on his throne.
Her son, Francis II, became king just 15 years after the death of his 40-year-old father in a jousting accident – beginning Catherine’s long-term role as ruler through her children, which she apparently used “black magic”, poison and slaughter to ensure his family stays on the throne.
During her time in power, Catherine was one of the most influential figures in the Catholic-Huguenot Wars, known as the Wars of Religion, and a conflict in France from 1562 to 1598 between Protestants and Roman Catholics.
She wrote a letter, which she “locked” using this technique, to French politician Raimond de Beccarie.
During this time, Queen Elizabeth I used the method in 1573 as ruler of England and Ireland to write a letter to King Henry III.
The researchers suggested that the various examples show how the method was used in diplomacy in addition to being a form of cachet.
Until recently, these locked letters could only be studied and read by cutting them up, often damaging historical documents.
However, last year, using a highly sensitive x-ray scanner, a team from Queen Mary’s University in London examined the letter which was closed using a ‘lockdown’ process. by letters ”as scientists“ digitally ”unfolded the paper.
The team was able to examine the contents of the letters without irrevocably damaging the systems that kept them secure.
Professor Graham Davis of Queen Mary University in London said the scanner was designed to have unprecedented levels of sensitivity for mapping minerals in teeth.
Adding that this is “invaluable in dental research.
According to the document, Catherine de Medici used the method in 1570 when she ruled France while her son, King Charles IX, was seated on his throne
She wrote a letter, which she “locked” using the technique, to French politician Raimond de Beccarie (photo)
But this high sensitivity also made it possible to resolve certain types of inks in paper and parchment. It’s amazing to think that a scanner designed to look at teeth has taken us this far.
This process revealed the contents of a letter dated July 31, 1697. It contains a request from Jacques Sennacques to his cousin Pierre Le Pers, French merchant in The Hague, for a certified true copy of a death notice of a certain Daniel Le Pers.
The letter provides a glimpse into the lives and concerns of ordinary people during a tumultuous period in European history, the team explained.
This was at a time when networks of correspondence united families, communities, and commerce over vast distances.
Last year the letter was virtually unfolded and read for the first time since it was written 300 years ago.
After x-ray microtomography scanning of the letter packets, the team then applied computational algorithms to the scanned images.
This allowed them to identify and separate the different layers of the folded letter and “virtually unfold” it to read the content inside.
The authors suggest that the virtual unfolding method and categorization of folding techniques could help researchers understand this historical version of physical cryptography, while preserving their cultural heritage.
“This algorithm takes us to the heart of a locked letter,” explained the research team in their article published in Nature Communications.
“Sometimes the past stands up to scrutiny. We could have cut out these letters, but instead we took the time to study them for their hidden and secret qualities.
“We have learned that letters can be much more revealing when they are not opened. Using the virtual unfolding to read an intimate story that never saw the light of day – and never even reached its recipient – is truly extraordinary. ‘