Secret Letters

  • James Daybell
Part of the Early Modern Literature in History book series (EMLH)


This chapter examines the manuscript practices associated with what I call ‘secret letters’ in early modern England. Clandestine communications were often disguised as innocuous everyday forms of correspondence. The study of secret letters is therefore a heightened version of the concerns of this book. Its focus on the material aspects of covert correspondences — codes, ciphers, signs, symbols, invisible ink, enigmatic, shared or secret languages, the ways in which clandestine communications were disguised as innocuous everyday forms of correspondence, and hidden or clandestine modes of delivery — forces attention on the complex meanings generated through material forms and contexts. While scholars have recently focused on hidden meanings contained in early modern writings — for example, textual practices of allusion and metaphor as well as instances of silence, self-censorship and communication face-to-face — little work has focused on the development of secret epistolary writing technologies and their broader social and cultural significance, within an emerging concept of privacy.1 The history of secret writing can be traced back to well before the early modern period, with its roots in classical and medieval worlds, where the arts of encryption and secrecy were intimately connected to military and diplomatic activities.2 Nevertheless it is arguably the sixteenth century that witnessed the most marked increase and development in secret forms of letter-writing, attested by the publication of significant numbers of printed cryptographies, the invention of sophisticated manuscript cipher systems, and by thousands of extant manuscript letters employing ciphers or codes.


Orange Juice Material Letter Early Modern Period Cipher System Secret Mode 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© James Daybell 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • James Daybell
    • 1
  1. 1.Plymouth UniversityUSA

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