Secret Service: British Agents in France, 1792-1815
ESPIONAGE is taken for granted today as the unacceptable but unavoidable veiled activity of modern statecraft. But how and why did it all begin? Elizabeth Sparrow's 'secret history' takes as its starting point the period immediately following the French revolution: a turbulent time, both on the Continent and in Britain, as the established order came under threat of imminent social upheaval.
To this point can be traced the true story of the Scarlet Pimpernel, and the origins of a British secret service (ultimately the MI5 and MI6 of the twentieth century), as Pitt's administration, advised by Louis XVI's ex-ministers, reacted to the threat of a French-style revolution in Britain by instituting police surveillance to counteract immigration and sedition. A foreign secret service followed, to infiltrate the French revolutionary government's actions; at the same time, British-paid police in Paris helped potential victims to escape.
Once established, espionage activity intensified in the ensuing decades, finally achieving covert formal status as Napoleon's military domination of Europe drew together an international set of intelligentsia, who, with secret British assistance, directed the urgent imperative and manipulating his ministers and generals.