French scientists have decoded a letter written in 1547 by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
The three-page letter reveals 16th-century secrets, including fears of assassination.
It took the team of French scientists months to decode the letter’s secret language.
French scientists have decoded a letter signed in 1547 by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, announced the Stanislas Library in Nancy, France.
The secret coded letter revealed the significant concerns of Renaissance Europe’s most powerful man during an era of religious and strategic strife. It showed that Charles V feared an assassination attempt by an Italian mercenary and was prioritizing his relationship with King Francis I of France.
The three-page letter—sometimes written in plain script and other times in a mysterious code—unveils 16th-century royal secrets, including a rumor that Pierre Strozzi, war chief under Francis I, was plotting his death.
After nearly five centuries, the letter had been forgotten in the Stanislas Library. French cryptographer Cecile Pierrot heard a rumor about the mysterious historical document at a dinner party, according to the BBC, and searched for it in the basement of the library.
Charles V ruled over a large European territory, including Spain, southern Italy, the Netherlands, swathes of central Europe, and much of the newly discovered Americas.
The letter sent by the emperor to his ambassador at the royal court of France was written against the feverish backdrop of the continental wars and religious conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, which meant that it was essential to be able to communicate secretly and not reveal valuable information to prying eyes .
So far the content of the letter has remained a mystery as it is composed of about 120 encrypted symbols and some French passages.
Pierrot named all the symbols and loaded the improvised alphabet into Python, a programming language, but couldn’t unlock the mysterious language.
Pierrot and his team, which included French cryptographers Pierrick Gaudry and Paul Zimmermann and historian Camille Desenclos — he set to work for months wading through the strange script invented by Emperor Charles, identifying decoy letters and getting slow and steady eureka moments.
The team has not yet published a complete translation, but the themes they identified have revealed an invaluable insight into the thinking of a gigantic figure at a turning point in European history.
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