… pioneering archive archaeology …

seventeenth century spies agents women

With this exhilarating and meticulously researched account, Nadine leads the reader through thickets of ciphers and pages of correspondence to highlight the contribution female agents made to the field of espionage during the seventeenth century. Most of these women have been been discounted or silenced by contemporaries who deemed their actions unladylike and later, ignored by (largely male) historians who thought their contribution could only be trifling.

On the contrary, using their “soft femininity” as cover and working their social connections, these women played a vital role in early modern intelligence gathering and communication. I am in awe of Nadine‘s textual research which has unearthed so much evidence in the face of almost total invisibility. She manages to convey her own passion and the excitement of the chase through dusty archives, studying invisible inks and riddles, and through forests of private letters to spot glimpses of these daring, brave and sometimes reckless women. I do get the sense this is a ground breaking work and that there will be many more of this type of historiography in the future: what other strands of history have fallen through the cracks?

It was fascinating and frankly appalling to learn that the sister of the Earl of Clarendon, Susan Hyde’s story was effectively passed over by her brother in his classic and influential contemporary text, The History of the Rebellion, and Nadine had to read “against the grain” to pick up the traces of a career in which Susan was a crucial intermediary between the exiled Royalists and rebels at home. Following discovery Susan died in prison. Her brother doesn’t mention her once in his account.

Highly recommended.

Nadine Akkerman is Reader in Early Modern English Literature at Leiden University and Visiting Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford. She is author of  The Correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia (OUP), the third and final volume of which will be published in 2020, and is currently writing the definitive biography of Elizabeth Stuart. She has also published extensively on women’s history, diplomacy, and masques, and curated several exhibitions. In 2017 she was elected to The Young Academy of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, and received a Special Recognition Award from the World Cultural Council.

Cover design moment : The picture on the cover design is De Luistervink (The Eavesdropper literally The Listening Finch) by Nicholas Maes, 1657, from the Dordrechts Museum, Netherlands.

Invisible Agents, Women and Espionage in Seventeenth-Century Britain, was published in July 2018 by OUP. I found out about the book because Nadine will be coming to the 10th Chipping Campden Literature Festival in May this year. For further details of the Festival click here.