Emperor Charles V’s secret code cracked five centuries later

(ORDO NEWS) — A group of researchers have cracked a five-century-old code that reveals rumors of a French plot to assassinate the Holy Roman Emperor and King Charles V of Spain. more than 40 years of reign.

It took a team from the Loria research laboratory in eastern France six months to decipher a letter written in 1547 by the emperor to his ambassador in France.

The turbulent period was accompanied by a series of wars and tensions between Spain and France, which was then ruled by Francis I, a Renaissance ruler who brought Leonardo da Vinci from Italy.

Charles V’s letter to Jean de Saint-Maurice languished forgotten for centuries in the collections of the Stanislas library in Nancy.

Cecile Piero, a cryptographer from Loria, first heard of its existence at a dinner in 2019 and after a long search was able to see it in 2021.

Charles V’s signature, she explained, was both cryptic and completely incomprehensible.

Through painstaking computer work, Piero discovered “separate families” of about 120 characters used by Charles V.

Whole words were encrypted with a single character, and the emperor replaced vowels following consonants with signs, probably inspired by Arabic, she said.

Elsewhere, he also used symbols that mean nothing to mislead anyone who tried to decipher the message.

The breakthrough came in June when Pierrot was able to make out the phrase in the letter, and then the team cracked the code with the help of historian Camille Desenclos.

“It was painstaking and long work, but there really was a breakthrough that happened in one day, and suddenly we had the right hypothesis,” she said.

Another letter from Jean de Saint-Maurice also helped, in which the recipient scrawled a transcription code in the margin.

Desanclos said that “it is rare for a historian to read a letter that no one has been able to read for five centuries.”

According to her, this “confirms a somewhat worsened state” in 1547 of relations between Francis I and Charles V, who had signed a peace treaty three years earlier.

But relations between them were still tense, with various attempts to weaken each other.

So much so that one of the nuggets of information unearthed was a rumor about a plot to assassinate Charles V that was said to be brewing in France, Desenclos said.

She said there was “little known” about the conspiracy, but it highlighted the monarch’s “fear”.

Researchers now hope to identify other letters between the emperor and his ambassador to gain insight into Charles V’s strategy in Europe.

“We will probably make many more discoveries in the coming years,” they explained.

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