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Thursday, February 16, 2017

The King's Madness

Spies can be good or bad, depending on your perspective:

As a spy, he was not exactly James Bond. He was in his sixties, and was forever complaining that he was not paid properly — but he did keep up a steady stream of information for George III, and even had a direct channel of communication to the king.

So effective was he as a secret agent that, 200 years later, nothing more is known of him than his codename: Aristarchus.

The existence of Aristarchus — named after the ancient Greek astronomer — has been revealed as the papers on George’s reign, held in the Royal Archives, go online for the first time today. The Georgian Papers Programme, a collaboration between the Royal Collection Trust, King’s College London and US partners, will allow 350,000 papers to be made available to academics and the public by 2020. Of those, 300,000 have never been published before.

A BBC Two documentary on George to be shown on Monday features a letter from Aristarchus to the king in 1780 warning of a French plot to assassinate him. “My last Dispatches from Paris happily discover a secret Plot against your Majesty’s Life,” he wrote.

George had been seen walking late at night in disguise in the Queen’s garden at what is now Buckingham Palace, Aristarchus told him. As a result, the French had chosen that as the “most favorable spot” for the execution of their “horrid and bloodthirsty machination”.

In another letter of 1781 he told how Benjamin Franklin, who was in France at the time, had arranged for an agent to climb into a chimney to eavesdrop on the conversation of Emperor Joseph II of Austria when he visited Paris. “The method projected by Franklyn is for this Spy to get himself concealed in the Chimney or behind the Arras of the Room,” wrote Aristarchus. “Money is not to be spared on this account.”

Lord Dampnut ought not tickle the dragon...


February 16, 2017 | Permalink


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