A team of investigators has broken a 500-year-old law that uncovers a fake French plot to assassinate the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain Charles V.
Charles was one of the most powerful men of the 16th century, and he led a great empire that took over most of western Europe and America during a reign of more than 40 years.
It took a team from Loria’s research laboratory in eastern France six months to decipher a letter written in 1547 by the king to his ambassador in France.
This turbulent period saw a series of wars and conflicts between Spain and France, which was ruled by Francis I, the Renaissance ruler who brought Leonardo da Vinci from Italy.
A letter from Charles V to Jean de Saint-Mauris had been forgotten for centuries in the collections of Stanislas’s library in Nancy.
Cecile Pierrot, a writer from Loria, first heard about its existence at a dinner in 2019, and after a lot of research she was able to look at it in 2021.
Bearing the signature of Charles V, it was at once strange and mysterious, he told reporters on Wednesday.
A picture of the strategy
Working diligently with the help of computers, Pierrot found “different families” of 120 symbols used by Charles V.
“All words are written with one symbol” and the king changed the vowels coming after the consonants with symbols, he said, an inspiration that probably comes from Arabic.
For another obstacle, he also used meaningless symbols to confuse any enemy trying to decipher the message.
The breakthrough came in June, when Pierrot managed to make a sound in the letter, and the team broke the rules with the help of historian Camille Desenclos.
“It was painful and a long process but there were breakthroughs that happened in one day, when suddenly we had the right idea,” he said.
Another letter from Jean de Saint-Mauris, in which the recipient had drawn a mark on the edge, also contributed.
More to come
Desenclos said that “it was unusual as a historian to be able to read a letter that no one had managed to read for five hundred years.”
“This confirms the tainted state” in 1547 of the relationship between Francis I and Charles V, who had signed a peace treaty three years earlier, he said.
But the relationship was difficult between the two, and they tried to weaken each other, he said.
So much so that one piece of information that was revealed was the rumor of a plot to assassinate Charles V that was said to be brewing in France, Desenclos said.
He said “not much is known” about the attack but it underscored the “fear” of the chief.
The researchers now hope to identify other letters between the king and his ambassador “to have a picture of the path of Charles V in Europe”, he said.
“It is likely that we will discover many things in the coming years,” said the historian.
© Agence France-Presse