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Secret Service: British Agents in France, 1792-1815 (Modern History) [Hardcover]

Elizabeth Sparrow
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

2 Dec 1999 Modern History
"Something rare in the study of a period or a subject: a genuinely substantial addition to knowledge, of a kind that will henceforth need to be taken fully into account in any study of the British conduct of the great French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars." - John Ehrman. "A tour de force of research, an essential document for future students of the subject." - John Le Carre. Elizabeth Sparrow traces the origins of the British secret service to the turbulent aftermath of the French revolution, when Pitt's government, concerned to forestall civil unrest in England, set uppolice surveillance to counteract immigration and sedition. Close study of hitherto unknown Aliens Office documents reveals the expansion of this activity into a foreign secret service, the world of the Scarlet Pimpernel, drawing on an international intelligentsia to infiltrate the French revolutionary government and subsequently, as his domination of Europe seemed ever more certain, Napoleon's military machine. Elizabeth Sparrow is an independent scholar, author of a number of articles on the early history of the British secret service.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 474 pages
  • Publisher: The Boydell Press; First edition. Hardback. edition (2 Dec 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0851157645
  • ISBN-13: 978-0851157641
  • Product Dimensions: 24.2 x 16.3 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 842,693 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

The whole history of the world war against revolutionary and Napoleonic France now has to be rewritten... a fine piece of secret service history and a most readable account of human beings under pressure. SPECTATOR (M R D Foot) A tour de force of research, an essential document for future students of the subject. JOHN LE CARREBy tracking down a secret-service archive tucked away...for nearly 200 years she can boast a stunning coup. SUNDAY TIMES Better than fiction... fascinating, first ever account of early days in the Secret Service... open(s) up this vast, undiscovered continent in our history. OLDIE Sparrow has done an exceptional job of tracing documents in many archives and reconstructing a story hitherto largely unknown, by piecing these together and brilliantly (and judiciously) reading between the lines... A conspicuous achievement and a valuable contribution to our knowledge of this period as well as of the British secret service, ALBION A study of clandestine operations and subversion... a major work. RUSI JOURNAL

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
From Mata Hari to the recently opened Mitrokhin archive, it might be thought that effective espionage has only existed in the 20th century, but as the British Director of Military Operations, James Edmonds, commented in 1908, the military successes of Napoleon and Wellington "were largely due to carefully elaborated spy systems". Napoleon himself is reputed to have said that a spy in the right place was worth 40,000 men, although his famous spy Schulmeister was only ever rewarded with plenty of money and not the Legion d'Honneur he reputedly craved. On the other side of the coin, the French would regularly attribute their setbacks to "English gold". The authoress tells the story of the operations run by the British during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Begun by the Aliens Office to control French agitators among the émigrés fleeing Revolutionary France, under Wickham the networks expanded into a system capable of both gathering vital military and political intelligence, while channelling money to the Continental Allies. It should be more accurately described as the activities of both the British and French, as the various French factions and leaders jockey for position backed by Britain. Virtually anyone of any consequence is included, plus unsavoury characters and throughout the story, the shadowy and cunning Joseph Fouche lives a charmed life, keeping just enough incriminating documentation out of Napoleon's way to prevent the Emperor taking decisive action against him. The success of the British network is stunning - they are often in control of the Paris police - as they attempt to support a series of potential new rulers in France (and ultimately Bonaparte). Read more ›
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning new assessment of a very murky subject 8 Feb 2000
By D. A. Hollins - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It might be thought that effective espionage has only existed in the 20th century, but as the British Director of Military Operations, James Edmonds, commented in 1908, the military successes of Napoleon and Wellington "were largely due to carefully elaborated spy systems". Napoleon himself is reputed to have said that a spy in the right place was worth 40,000 men, although his famous spy Schulmeister was only ever rewarded with plenty of money and not the Legion d'Honneur he reputedly craved. On the other side of the coin, the French would regularly attribute their setbacks to "English gold". The authoress tells the story of the operations run by the British during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Begun by the Aliens Office to control French agitators among the émigrés fleeing Revolutionary France, under Wickham the networks expanded into a system capable of both gathering vital military and political intelligence, while channelling money to the Continental Allies. It should be more accurately described as the activities of both the British and French, as the various French factions and leaders jockey for position backed by Britain. Virtually anyone of any consequence is included, plus unsavoury characters and throughout the story, the shadowy and cunning Joseph Fouche lives a charmed life, keeping just enough incriminating documentation out of Napoleon's way to prevent the Emperor taking decisive action against him. The success of the British network is stunning - they are often in control of the Paris police - as they attempt to support a series of potential new rulers in France (and ultimately Bonaparte). Then, they act in support of their Allies against the expansionist plans of Emperor Napoleon. There were disasters too, especially in 1804, when the network is broken up by Napoleon's men. In fact all the elements of a good spy story are here, including double-crosses, bribes, multiple aliases, assassination conspiracies, spies dressed as monks, the unfortunate souls who found themselves sacrificed to save operations or senior individuals. Naturally, the authoress concentrates on the Anglo-French duel, but there are many interesting details included which influence the Wars in general, notably the Bank of France's near-bankruptcy in Sept 1805. Aside from the murder of Tsar Paul I, something that has remained an opaque subject until this book, she can only briefly look at the activities of the Continental Allies, but there are several smoking guns left east of the Rhine, which are worthy of further investigation. Few books in the last twenty years have added greatly to our knowledge of the Napoleonic period, but this is certainly one of them. Just one word of caution - this is not a James Bond novel! These men were involved in something far more complex and were doing it for real. The first 30 pages or so see a whole series of characters emerging in quick succession as the British deal with the various factions, so take it steady at the start. All becomes clear soon after, especially when the focus turns directly on Consul and later Emperor Napoleon. The real backdrop to many key events emerges - ever wondered how Napoleon eluded the British blockade of Egypt? Essential and worthwhile reading.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No wonder they keep this stuff secret 19 Mar 2000
By A. Woodley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I did enjoy this book - but it is not one I found easy to read. Even with Elizabeth Sparrow's relatively easy style it is difficult at times to unravel the complex relationships and payments - double crosses and so on. The world of subterfuge is a truly murky place.
The book is well set out though and the topic is utterly fascinating. So while I found it difficult to untangle the threads I found the subject compelling.
She has made the divisions in sections and chapters well, so while you can read the book from start to finish for a complete overview - if you have a specific interest in a time period or place it is easy to pick up and read for that period - which is really what I ended up doing.
Perhaps only giving 4 stars is underselling the book because the topic is difficult and Sparrow does do a great job making sense of it. A very impressive job actually - it just didn't grab me by the throat the way some other books do.
I would definitely recommend this book for those with an interest in the British History in this period or for people with an interest in the Napoleonic Wars. Or maybe for people who just want to know how to be sly and cunning - there are some great tips!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Actually 3 1/2 Stars - Interesting Material/Frustrating Read 2 Feb 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
First off I should say that I could not put this book down (until I would get a headache - from trying to keep all the info in order in my head). It really was very interesting. What was the problem? It was a very frustrating read. The book could have been a 5 star incredible read if it was just organized. Even though the book is broken up into dated sections - she did not keep to the dates and would float back and forth into the past and future. One moment you would read an agent was executed and then 2 pages later she would be talking about him and the prison he was in. One minute she would be discussing 1804 the next 1799. If she had written the book in chronological order it would have been much easier to understand. Also it would have been a lot easier to understand what was going on if she discussed the important battles that were going on at the time. I had to have a book about the Napoleonic War sitting next to me so that I could see what was going on with the armies etc. This book could have been amazing if she brought the agents to life on the page. It was hard to understand what was going on with the agents when she would go back and forth in dates. Hopefully some day someone will take all this information and make a more interesting and understandable book.
5.0 out of 5 stars The Real Scoop on the French Revolution 6 Dec 2009
By Dick from New Hampshire - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
You will not understand the French Revolution until you have read this book.

Most histories of the Revolution, whether written by Frenchmen or Anglophones, relate a surreal world apparently inhabited mostly by madmen such as the Jacobins. What motivated them to create the bloodbath of the Terror? Was there a common thread linking events, or were they really random occurences? Were events really as disjointed and disconnected as they appear?

British gold, is what. The British government, naturally royalist in spirit, wished to return the Bourbons to the French throne, rather than have the Republican spirit wash onto their own shores. Their method of choice: bribe key revolutionaries to create conditions so frightening, so repulsive, so disgusting, that the French would ardently desire the return of their kings. Who would have guessed that Robespierre was acting as directed by a British paymaster? Who would have guessed that the British would even have approached a military figure named Napoleon Bonaparte?

This book is not an historical novel. Heavily footnoted, extensively researched, it is a work of impressive scholarship. It does, however, raise an interesting question of its own: It is far, far stronger in the Revolutionary period than in the Empire. Were there secrets the British were willing to reveal about the former period that are still impossible to release about the latter?
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