Friends and Enemies: The Underground War between Great Britain and France, 1793-1802
Chapter Two – State Security
The first pledge for the safety of any government whatever
is a vigilant police, under the direction of firm and enlightened
Fouché, French Minister of Police 1799-1802, 1804-1810[
You must find the spy in our midst: the man who is said
to be a spy of the Directory, for there is no spy so good as a double
Wickham to James Talbot, 27 November 1797[
During the years of the Wars of the First and Second Coalitions the
French and British governments faced significant threats to their power,
authority and resources. These threats were both internal and external,
and often a combination of the two, as each party sought to support
and exploit the 'fifth column' of its enemy. Both countries faced the
difficult challenge of having to defeat the operations of an enemy
state while simultaneously countering the plots and protests of sectors
of their own people. In their efforts to maintain order and security
and defeat enemies real and perceived, the respective police, intelligence
and security chiefs needed to consider what sort of organisations,
personnel and methods were appropriate to the circumstances. It was
imperative to protect and uphold the government and the authorities,
to put down plots, attacks and rebellions and maintain the peace and
safety of the people. Persons who posed a risk to security and order
needed to either be kept out of the country or failing that captured
and/or rendered harmless. More debateable was the extent to which it
was considered just and permissible to restrict the rights and liberties
of citizens to move, travel, meet, associate, speak, debate, protest,
petition, and hold particular beliefs and ideas. The same issues were
present in conquered territories such as Ireland, though the nature
of the relationship and dynamics between the governors and governed
The state therefore had to balance the need for security and active
protection with the need to secure and respect liberty and human rights.
Dulles notes that
"From time to time the charge is made that an intelligence or
security service may become a threat to our own freedoms". The respective security
chiefs of the two nations recognised these concerns. William Wickham
advocated a means of preventive policing, of using informers and information
to uncover and halt planned and potential crimes and conspiracies before
they reached fruition. Wickham realised that this required surveillance
of British citizens and the occasional arrest and detainment of suspects
before they had actually committed any 'active' criminal acts. However
he considered such actions to be necessary in the national interest,
providing they were conducted with care, fairness and restraint. He
also realised the need to conduct the security services in a manner
appropriate to the circumstances. To this end when peace
appeared on the horizon in 1801 he advocated a winding back of the
intelligence apparatus developed in the heady atmosphere of the war,
to a level "which a Free People jealous of its Liberties may be
supposed fairly and rightly to entertain."
In France Joseph Fouché thought that the primary function of
the police was to provide "security for all; the distinctive character
of this ministry...is to prevent rather than repress, but to repress
vigorously what one has not been able to prevent. Yet vigour must be
justice not violence." Fouché was keen to avoid the arbitrary
actions and methods of which previous police forces had been accused.
Rather he looked to the principles of the Enlightenment, stating to
Bonaparte that "Every operation of Justice is by its nature dictated
by logic and reason". To this end he encouraged due and prompt
process and the correct and diligent collection of evidence, and discouraged
arrests and convictions based on mere suspicion and prejudice. These
were admirable sentiments, but his implementation of them was patchy
at best. Like Wickham, he realised that his emphasis on prevention
required surveillance and preventive detention and was thus liable
to impose on individual freedom. However he was far less restrained
in his use of these weapons and like his master Bonaparte he believed
that the situation in France justified the state's heavy surveillance
of and occasional interference in the lives of its citizens. We will analyse this area in two sections – national
security and counter-intelligence. The first is primarily concerned
with domestic law and order, while the second discusses those actions
designed to thwart the clandestine activities of rival states and organisations.
Legislation and organisation
To operate effectively, the security services of Britain and France
needed to be properly created, organised and empowered by laws. In
both countries it was considered necessary during this period to bolster
the powers and resources of the security services by enacting new legislation
and decrees. In France a law passed on 27 Germinal (16 April) 1796
made it a capital offence to assist in efforts to restore the monarchy
or reinstate the Jacobinic Constitution of 1793. On a more practical
level, the Ministry of General Police was established on 2 January
1796 after considerable debate and disagreement.
In Britain parliament passed the Middlesex Justices Act 1792, the
Aliens Act 1793, the Traitorous Correspondence Act 1793, the Treasonable
Practices Act 1795, the Seditious Meetings Act 1795, the Habeas Corpus
Suspension Acts of 1794, 1798 and 1799 and the Corresponding Societies
Act 1799. The Two Acts of 1795 made it
"a treasonable offence to incite the people by speech or writing
to hatred or contempt of King, Constitution or Government", and
to plot to assist foreign invaders, and banned meetings of more than
50 persons without the consent of local magistrates, who were given
the power to disperse meetings and arrest their participants. Treason
was a capital offence and disobedience of magistrates' orders was also
made punishable by death. The suspension of habeas corpus made it possible
to hold suspects indefinitely without trial and the Traitorous Correspondence
Act made it an offence to aid or travel to France or to correspond
with French citizens. Finally in 1799 all the major radical groups
were declared illegal. Radicals were outraged and protests and petitions
condemning the Two Acts in particular were large. In the House of Commons
Charles Fox argued that
if, in the general opinion of the country, it is conceived
that these bills attack the fundamental principles of our constitiution...then
the propriety of resistance instead of remaining any longer a question
of morality, will become merely a question of prudence.[
Nonetheless the Acts were passed. Pitt insisted that the meetings
of the radicals
"agitated questions, and promulgated opinions and insinuations
hostile to the government" and that they encouraged faction, disloyalty
and rebellion, and therefore "required some strong law to prevent
them". The security
services mostly made good use of their provisions. They were cautious
but diligent in enforcing the laws and the main aims of the Acts were
achieved. As Thompson notes
It has been argued that the bark of the Two Acts was
worse than their bite...It was, of course, the bark which Pitt wanted:
fear, spies, watchful magistrates with undefined powers, the occasional
In Ireland parliament passed a number of laws which dramatically increased
the ability of the authorities to investigate, silence, arrest and
detain suspected radicals and rebels and confiscate their arms. Habeas
corpus was suspended in 1796, 1798 and 1801 and the Insurrection Act
1796 gave the Lord Lieutenant the power to proclaim martial law in
any district. Elliott states that
In such districts a curfew would operate, and justices
would have special powers to search houses during prohibited hours,
to suppress meetings, and to send disorderly persons, untried, into
Finally the Arms Act and the Militia Act of 1793 allowed the government
to heavily restrict the sale of arms, to confiscate weapons and to
form a militia of 16,000 men to defend the administration and maintain
law and order. The new powers allowed the authorities to place greater
restrictions and means of surveillance on the movements and activities
of British citizens, Irishmen and foreigners, to observe, control and
dissolve meetings, speeches and publications, to prevent assistance
being given to Republican France, and to discourage and eliminate the
more extreme forms of radicalism, reformism and revolutionary plotting.
In Britain the intelligence and security forces were dispersed between
a range of bodies. On the domestic front the Home Office, Alien Office,
Post Office, postmasters, police offices, stipendiary and local magistrates,
justices of the peace and the military were all involved in gathering
intelligence, making investigations and conducting arrests and security
operations. Agents abroad reported to the Foreign, Home and Alien Offices
and occasionally to individual statesmen. The House of Commons had
a secret committee that received and analysed intelligence from all
over the country, making decisions on matters of security and reporting
and making recommendations to the House. Co-ordination of the various
arms and the information they collected improved throughout the 1790s,
culminating in 1798 when the Alien Office directed by William Wickham
became the nerve centre of the entire British secret service. It started
out in 1793 as a mere sub-branch of the Home Office tasked with the
inspection and registration of aliens under the new Aliens Act, created
to address the security concerns arising from the legion of French émigrés pouring
into the country. Over time it became more involved in domestic intelligence
and surveillance, culminating with the establishment of an Inner Office
under Wickham, which for one brief period in 1798-1801 became Britain's
first specialised intelligence agency. Intelligence, both raw and compiled,
was collected from all the domestic sources noted above and analysed
and filed by the Inner Office. The Office also received regular reports
from Dublin Castle and the intelligence from all the agents and diplomats
based in Europe passed through its hands.
The core members of the Office – Wickham, Flint, John King,
Le Clerc, Charles Lullin and Henry Brooke – worked closely with
the various other security and intelligence offices, at times directing
their operations and consulting them on their results and findings.
Wickham was proud of his achievement, and stated that his system provided
without bustle, noise or anything that can attract the
Public attention...the most powerful means of observation and information,
as far as their objects go, that ever was placed in the Hands of
a Free Government.[
This is probably overstating the case a little, but there is no doubt
that Wickham ran a highly organised and effective operation.
One of Wickham's closest and most important allies was Richard Ford,
virtual head of the Bow Street Runners, London's first police force.
Hone describes the Bow Street chief as "a good and tolerant policeman
concerned to preserve law and order in a time of national stress, but
not a fanatical counter-revolutionary." The police
forces in England were small. Seven new offices were established in
1792 under the Middlesex Justices Act, operated by stipendiary magistrates.
These offices, whose staff only number around 10-15 each supplemented
by volunteer constables and assistants, joined Bow Street and the small
forces of the Cities of London and Westminster as the only police units
in London. In the counties local magistrates had to recruit their own
officers and agents. During this period Bow Street became the de facto
head office of the English police, receiving reports from all the city
and regional magistrates and passing all relevant information on to
the Alien Office. Orders also emanated from Bow Street to other offices
and magistrates, while Bow Street Runners and other agents were sent
on missions throughout England. Two of the Runners had been ordered
to track the United Irishman James Coigley upon his arrival in London
in late December 1797. Coigley was involved in the attempts to co-ordinate
a French invasion with an Irish rebellion. Through-out the next 8 weeks
the Runners shadowed his movements, to Ireland and back, gathering
evidence against him and his accomplices, which included the former
Irish parliamentarian Arthur O'Connor. Finally on the 28th February
they swooped, arresting Coigley, O'Connor, Arthur O'Leary, John Allen
and John Binns at Margate as they were on their way to the Kentish
coast to take ship for France.
Irish security was maintained by a combination of good intelligence-gathering,
restrictive and invasive laws and brute force. Dublin Castle was the
centre of all power, security and information. The military and militia
played a far more prominent role than it did in Britain, though the
activities of police and local authorities were still important. This
was particularly the case in the provinces governed by local magistrates
who were responsible for upholding law and order and directing constables
and militiamen. Grand juries were responsible for organising criminal
trials and maintaining the courts, jails and local watches. The vast
majority of the magistrates and jurors were Protestant or Presbyterian
gentry and clergymen, with Catholics only receiving the right to hold
some of the lower offices in 1793. Information gathered in the provinces
was sent to the Castle where affairs were directed by the Lord Lieutenant
and the Chief Secretary, the latter being responsible for all civil
intelligence in Ireland. The Irish House of Lords also had a secret
committee which received intelligence from agents and informers, made
decisions and gave reports to the House.
In France the nature of the security services changed considerably
over the time from 1793-1802. The period under the Committee of Public
Safety and National Convention will not be considered here. The Directory
relied on the Ministry of General Police, National Guard, Gendarmerie,
border patrols, local authorities, the military and a host of spies
and agents that reported directly to the various ministries and even
to the Directors themselves. Under the Consulate the services became
much more centralised and organised. The Ministry of General Police
was enlarged and give greater power, resources and access to intelligence,
Bonaparte acquired his own guard and network of spies, and border and
passport control were tightened. Both regimes employed agents abroad
who reported to the police, the military, the Foreign, War and Navy
Ministries, and directly to the heads of the Executive. Under police
minister Fouché, the police became responsible not only for
policing but also for prisons, censorship, passports, ports and the
frontiers. Fouché had his own foreign spies in addition to the
vast number of domestic spies and agents employed by the police.
Fouché claimed that he "had salaried spies in all ranks
and all orders; I had them of both sexes, hired at the rate of a thousand
or two thousand francs per month, according to their importance and
their services." Paris had its own police
prefecture while in 1804 Fouché also gained control over three
other regional police departments which covered the whole of France.
Each major city and province had its own police commissioner who reported
to the head office in Paris. This office was divided into five separate
departments, the most important of which was the haute police,
overseen by Pierre-Marie Desmarest. Fouché also liaised with
General Moncey's Gendarmerie, Bonaparte's personal guard under
General Savary, the Cabinet noir and the ministries who received
intelligence from agents abroad.
Spies, agents and informers
The British and French security services had few full-time policemen
and other law-enforcers at their disposal, though the French enjoyed
the advantage of their Gendarmerie. Therefore little was done
in the way of active day to day patrolling, though police were used
for special missions, such as the tracking and eventual arrest of O'Connor
and Coigley. The military was put to use in Ireland and in particularly
restless parts of France. However both the French and British governments
were reluctant to employ troops on home soil any more than was absolutely
necessary. Instead the authorities hired and relied upon a host of
agents, spies and informers. There were two basic types: spies recruited
on either a temporary or long-term basis and assigned the task of infiltrating
and/or gathering information about a particular group, place or person;
and informers who were already part of a targeted group or in contact
with suspect persons who decided to provide information pertaining
to that target. Some spies were selected by the authorities; others
offered their services themselves. Recruiting informers was a more
difficult task. Some informers offered information on their own initiative,
others chose to become one because they suspected or were informed
that the state possessed incriminating evidence against them and they
decided that the life of an informer would be preferable to that of
a prisoner or exile. Particularly in France people who were arrested
were sometimes persuaded to become informers in exchange for their
freedom, although this could be a risky and uncertain enterprise as
such persons were often regarded with suspicion following their release.
The Irishman John Pollock tried to befriend well-connected United Irishmen,
with the intent of either gathering incriminating information or convincing
them by bribe or blackmail to become an informer.
French police methods under the Consulate were thorough and highly
successful. Only once was a dangerous plot carried through to an unsuccessful
conclusion – the attempt to assassinate Bonaparte via a bomb
in the rue Nicaise on 24 December 1800. Here we may observe the French
police at work on a major crime investigation. Fouché
and his assistant Pierre-François Réal personally inspected
the crime scene as soon as possible. All the remains from the area
were gathered and inspected by the police. Réal noticed that
the horse which had pulled the cart carrying the bomb had been newly
shod. All the blacksmiths of Paris were summoned to inspect the horseshoe.
One recognised it as his own work and was able to provide the police
with a description of the man who had bought it. The cart was also
traced to a man named Lambel, who had sold it to a man whose description
matched that given by the blacksmith. This intelligent, Holmesian use
of evidence was supplemented by Fouché's files, deep knowledge
of suspicious persons and his observation of them through spies and
agents. His notes had already led to the identification and capture
of Chevalier, inventor of the original infernal machine. Now the descriptions
given by the blacksmith and Lambel were matched to one François
Carbon, known to be an associate of the royalists Limoëlan, Saint-Réjant,
Joyaux and La Haye Saint-Hilaire. Fouché knew that all four
had been in Paris, the first two having arrived only a few weeks before.
All five had now disappeared. The police chief was now certain he was
on the right track. He ordered his police and agents to search for
them, and monitored their known associates. Three of the plotters had
fled Paris, but Carbon was apprehended while visiting his sister and
Saint-Réjant was eventually picked up on 27 January 1801. Carbon
confessed many of the details and both men were tried and executed
Fouché's handling of the affair demonstrates some of the benefits
of his methods of surveillance and intelligence-gathering, but it also
exposed some weaknesses. The police minister was secretly in contact
with the royalist chief the comte de Ghaisne de Bourmont. The comte
gave Fouché information on royalist activities and occasionally
co-operated with police operations, and in return was provided with
details of police intentions when it was considered safe to do so.
This was symptomatic of Fouché's complex handling of the royalists.
At times he merely observed and even solicited information from and
for them, while at other times he struck, making arrests and trying
them in court. Fouché
would no doubt have argued that such subtle methods were superior to
the approach of simply investigating and arresting royalist suspects
wherever possible. They allowed him to gain inside information, manipulate
the royalists, and compile evidence on their more senior figures. However
it in turn left the police susceptible to being duped and corrupted
themselves and vulnerable to sudden breaks in communication. Such was
the case here. Fouché
and Bourmont fell out in November 1800, which left the former with
a significant gap in his means of gaining intelligence. There is also
evidence to suggest that the latter not only knew about the plot but
was a part of it. It is unknown what the slippery royalist chief would
have revealed had he still been on good terms with Fouché, but
the fact remains that the police minister's reliance on him played
a key part in allowing the plot to proceed. Therefore the use of such
informants posed a risk, and in each case it had to be considered whether
the benefits outweighed the dangers.
The methods of spies we know already – waiting, watching, following,
inspecting and inquiring. As informers were generally active members
of the organisation they were reporting on, their tactics were a little
different. They had to gain and/or maintain the trust of their fellow
members, by attending and sometimes even presiding over meetings, staying
in contact with associates and carrying out assigned tasks. In the
course of these activities they would naturally discover relevant information,
which could be augmented by more specific inquiries and investigations
of their own. The Irish lawyer Leonard McNally represented a number
of UI members of court. He gained their trust and then betrayed them
to the Castle, even while he defended them in court. Turner placed
himself in Hamburg and through his apparent zeal for the UI cause gained
the trust of the many French-Irish agents who travelled between Britain
and France via the neutral port. Powell was on the executive committee
of the radical London Corresponding Society and John Moody was another
LCS member with extensive contacts among the senior leadership. Both
sent many reliable reports to the Home Office while they continued
to serve their societies. As the English radical groups were rarely
either interested in or capable of undertaking actions that threatened
the government and the public, this was not that difficult for them
to do. Hone explains how the government helped to avert suspicion from
its LCS informer John Tunbridge by having him "arrested in April
1799 along with fifteen of his associates, and held long enough to
avoid suspicion." In France in 1805 the
police arrested a Morbihan storekeeper named Bombard on suspicion of
having connections with known Chouans. Bombard was released but placed
under surveillance. He also appears to have agreed to become a police
spy, which was the probable reason for his release. In 1808 he informed
the police of the time and location of a secret meeting in his local
area that was to be held by a number of plotting Chouan leaders. This
information led to their arrest and the collapse of their plans.
Some spies found their job distasteful. Robert Holden acted as an
informer because he conceived it to be "my Duty as a Member of
that State in which I enjoy Protection, to contribute to its Support" but
he requested anonymity and refused payment for his information, as
he "should not like to risque the odium which would necessarily
attend a Discovery; to say nothing of the unpleasantness of such a
Task." Nicholas Madgett called it a "Vile
and detestable profession" yet went on spying for years anyway. Many
spied for financial and/or personal gain; some out of duty and patriotism;
a few felt aggrieved by their organisation; while others simply enjoyed
the secrecy, adventure and intrigue. The Paris-based British agent
Charles Somers provided information to his government because of "the
most ardent and disinterested love for the sacred person of my king
and for the constitution of my country, which I have seen indignantly
In Britain and Ireland, where agents were in rather short supply,
and even in France where a considerable number of dangerous and secretive
groups were in action at any one time, it was necessary to make effective
and efficient use of the resources at the state's disposal. Therefore
specific groups, persons and regions were carefully chosen and targeted,
with spies and where possible informers being used to fulfil specific
tasks. Fouché had numerous spies amongst the Chouans and other
royalists, and the Home Office specifically targeted the LCS and the
later radical groups. For the most part spies were only required to
watch, investigate and provide information, and while it was expected
that informers would not be over zealous in furthering the cause of
their organisations, they were generally not asked to actively disrupt
or further incriminate it either. The use of agents provocateurs was
disliked and avoided in both countries, though there were exceptions.
It is suspected that the Scot Robert Watt may have acted as a provocateur planning
and spurring on an uprising in 1794 in Edinburgh. The government had
him tried and hanged when he had outlived his usefulness and become
a liability. It is also possible that the Irish Rebellion of 1798 was
provoked by the British, with the aim of triggering it before the rebels
were properly prepared and bringing the whole conspiracy and its members
out into the open. Certainly the United Irishman and government informer
Turner was strongly pushing the French and the UI members in Hamburg
and Paris to undertake an open rebellion. Nonetheless actions to break
up organisations, make arrests and suppress plots were left in the
hands of the legitimate police, the military and other state forces.
There were risks and problems associated with the use of agents. The
desire to receive payment and maintain their employment by the state
made spies prone to inventing and exaggerating information. Furthermore
the role of the spy tended to attract disreputable individuals whose
veracity was often suspect. Even the best spies were liable to make
the occasional mistake and exaggeration. The Duke of Portland warned
his magistrates that although informers were "very useful and
necessary and very praiseworthy...(they) are sometimes led a great
way by very good motives and by a very laudable zeal". The receiver had to
sift through the mass of information, make sense of it and pick out
what was important and worthy of further attention. Fouché was
exceptional at performing this task. His powerful memory and attention
to detail helped to make him a peerless detective and policeman. As
Forssell notes, "Fouché...had a keen ear, trained to distinguish
between an empty noise and the passionate notes of weighty import." Additionally
the former Oratorian felt
that I alone should be judge of the political state
of the interior, and that spies and secret agents should only be
considered as indications and instruments often doubtful...I felt
that the high police was not administered by memorials and long reports;
that there were means far more efficacious; for example, that the
minister should place himself in contact with the men of greatest
influence, over all opinions and doctrines, ands over the superior
classes of society.[
Fouché therefore kept himself personally in touch with as many
people, places and issues as he could. His many contacts, his vast
files and knowledge, the copious networks of agents, his frequent contact
and correspondence with the head of state and the police ministry's
control of the prisons, frontiers, ports, passports, censorship and
police commissioners gave him immense power and insight.
The use of the information received also posed challenges. Both the
British and French people disliked spies and the government was therefore
reluctant to make their use public any more than was necessary. Yet
often when suspects were brought to trial the evidence provided by
agents was critical to the case of the prosecution. Placing the spy
in the witness box would obviously blow his or her cover. It would
also leave them open to cross-examination by the defence counsel, who
could place doubts concerning the character and accuracy of the witness
in the minds of jurors who already tended to regard such people with
suspicion. Keeping the spy out of court protected their identity but
it made it difficult to find ways to have their evidence legally presented
in a trial. Much of the evidence that the British government had proving
the treasonous activities of the UI members Coigley, O'Connor and John
Binns in 1797-98 came from the informers Turner and Powell. However
the government refused to put them on the stand and publically reveal
their information, for they were considered too valuable to the security
services. With the flimsy evidence that remained only Coigley was convicted.
The British had been chastened by their previous negative experiences
using informers in court. In 1795 John Cockayne resented having to
publically denounce his friend the French-Irish agent William Jackson,
and the information he gave in court was limited and cautious. In the
1794 treason trial of the LCS founder Thomas Hardy the defence counsel
Thomas Erskine tore into the credibility of the government's spies
and their evidence, and secured Hardy's acquittal. Informers who were
outed in this manner also suffered personally. Following the Hardy
trial George Lynam wrote to his handlers of his misfortunes, noting
My name is wrote as a Spye every night in Wallbrook,
I have been personaly threatened by a person of one of the Societys
at Aldgate, and yesterday received a threatening letter from another
Some years later his brother wrote that George's
reputation and character were destroyed and his business
then in the East India line...annihilated and he never after such
exposure received an order of any description...(He) was deserted
by his friends and relations and frequently insulted in the streets...[
Both George and his wife died just two years after the trial, early
deaths that his brother ascribes to the distressing treatment they
received. Spying and informing were generally dangerous occupations.
If apprehended by the enemy state they faced execution. Irish 'traitors'
could expect even worse. A priest was drowned, a farmer disembowelled,
the spy Edward Newell was assassinated, Turner was shot in the head
in a duel and others resorted to suicide.
Both Wickham and Fouché were aware of the need to sort, catalogue
and file the wealth of information that they received from their respective
networks of sources. Within the Inner Office of the Alien Office Wickham
created a comprehensive filing and record system which included a register
entitled 'Book of Informations', sub-titled the 'Book of Suspects'.
As Durey describes it, the register
contains several hundred names of suspects, in rough
alphabetical order, with dates, names or initials of informants,
and relevant information. There are cross-linkages between individual
names, based on a letter/number code.[
The Book contains intelligence from eighteen different sources. Additional
official secret books contained a range of other intelligence and information.
created a similar system in France that was probably even more comprehensive
than that of the Alien Office. The police ministry's filing system
was centred on two registers – the Topographie chouanique and
the Biographie chouanique. The first contained information on
places of refuge and meeting and routes of travel and communications
as used by suspects, rebels and enemy agents, while the second contained
biographical dossiers on the same, in addition to information
on their known contacts, friends and family. In this way both men attempted
to sort and file the raw information that their offices received daily.
Thwarting the enemy
Counter-intelligence and counter-espionage were of critical importance
to all the organisations involved in our struggle. The governments
needed to counter the espionage and clandestine efforts of their rival
states, and the secret societies and intelligence organisations in
turn needed to protect themselves from state interference. Counter-intelligence
is necessary but it can also pose its own problems. In its early years
the UI suffered heavily at the hands of spies and informers and was
outlawed in 1793-94. In 1795 the Society was reorganised, with individual
units being limited to twelve persons and assigned a number. The units
were kept separate, with only one member from each group meeting in
a Lower Baronial Committee, which in turn appointed one member to represent
them in the next committee up, and so on. New members had to be vouched
for by two people and were to take a new oath. The measures were designed
to ensure that spies and people of unsound character and beliefs could
not enter the Society, and that even if they did they would not be
able to discover much outside of their own unit. To a certain extent
they were successful, but they had two shortcomings. Firstly, the secrecy
at the lower levels proved to be all but useless when the senior leaders
themselves were betrayed by informers they considered to be firm republicans,
such as McNally, Thomas Reynolds and Turner. Secondly, the isolation
meant that the average member had little idea who the leaders of his
organisation were or what they had in mind even at a provincial level
let alone a national one. This made it exceedingly difficult to co-ordinate
rebellious action, all the more so when many of the original senior
leaders were arrested.
Turning to counter-espionage, Shulsky states that it involves "active
measures that try to understand how a hostile intelligence network
works to frustrate or disrupt its activities". Dulles
Its ideal goal is to discover hostile and intelligence
plans in their earliest stages...To do this, it tries to penetrate
the inner circles of hostile services at the highest possible level
where the plans are made and the agents selected[
Anglo-Royalist agents in Paris, Hamburg and the French ports were
instructed to uncover any information they could concerning the plans
and agents of the Republic and Ireland. The access of Sourdat and his
fellow agent de Mezières to the French ministries allowed them
to discover the names of many of the Directory's and the UI's agents.
This information was passed on to London, and in September 1798 it
played a pivotal role in smashing the Directory's spy network in England
and uncovering the traitor who was allowing the agents into the country – the
Alien Office's Gravesend inspector John Mazzinghi.
Mazzinghi was charged with checking the papers and passports of everyone
who entered the country via Gravesend. Possibly as early as May 1796
French Republican agents working for Charles-Frédéric
Reinhard, France's representative in Hamburg, convinced Mazzinghi to
assist French agents in entering England. He was paid 11,000 francs
for his services. People arriving at Gravesend who presented Mazzinghi
with a small card marked with a painted pimpernel and a golden
guinea were allowed to enter the country without having to present
a passport or fill out the registration form for aliens. These agents
were often subsequently assisted in their activities by Madame Mayer,
the mistress of Louis Bayard. She had been arrested in Paris after
the coup d'état of 18 Fructidor and it appears that her release
was obtained by a promise to become a double agent. Mayer travelled
to England under the alias of La Sablonnière and took over a
hotel in London. Her previous activities had no doubt engendered some
decree of trust in her fidelity to the royalist cause. No doubt royalists
continued to frequent the establishment, however Mayer was now in touch
with Mazzinghi and providing assistance to Republican agents as well.
The British did not uncover the operation until September 1798. Bayard
was one of the three agents alongside Sourdat and de Mezières
who tipped them off, though when and how much he knew must remain shrouded
in doubt. De Mezières was playing a similar role to Turner,
posing as a radical Irishman named Wells in order to infiltrate the
United Irish and their plans in Paris. He and Sourdat supplied the
British with information on the Directory's plans and activities concerning
Britain. Upon uncovering the activities and methods of Mazzinghi and
the Directory's agents, they considered it imperative to report this
important information to London in person. De Mezières and Sourdat's
son Carlos travelled to England, and on 21 September they met with
Wickham. The spymaster was astonished and immediately placed Mazzinghi
under surveillance. Once evidence of his treasonous activities was
collected Ford interrogated him, and while Mazzinghi refused to confess
anything, there was sufficient evidence to secure his arrest and imprisonment.
However it appears that the prosecution lacked the evidence to obtain
a harsher punishment for treason.
The whole operation was crushed, but the question remained of what
to do with Mayer. As an experienced double agent she could do much
for the Anglo-Royalist cause but she also posed a risk to their activities
and security. Wickham took the riskier approach and released her into
the custody of Bayard, who took her back to Paris. Mayer continued
to act as a double agent, supplying the French government with information
but also assisting Bayard and other royalist agents. Sparrow believes
that her double act actually protected Bayard from police interference,
and as Bayard was a very important agent this may be why her treachery
The case also demonstrates the great importance of border control.
In the absence of a large and active police force it was very difficult
to locate enemy agents once they had entered the country. Checking
and registering immigrants weeded out undesirables and helped to track
the names and movements of those who were allowed to enter the country.
The corrupting of a single immigration official could threaten the
security of the entire country, a fact well known to the Directory
who had taken at least three years to discover and dismiss three frontier
guards in the Jura who had been allowing royalist and foreign agents,
many connected with Wickham and Condé, to enter France via the
Jura at will in 1794-97. Under the Consulate this weakness was realised
and addressed, with Fouché given personal control of passports
and border security and instructed to make it as tight and restrictive
as was possible and reasonable in the circumstances.
In Hamburg Turner's membership of the UI allowed him to be intimate
with many of their plans and movements and their relations with the
French, for he also had the trust of Reinhard and met with the Foreign
Minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord. He exposed
to the British the vast majority of the Irish network on the Continent,
the connections between the UI and the Directory and the plans for
an Irish rebellion backed by French troops and arms. He disrupted and
obtained the correspondence not only of Irish agents but even that
between French ministers. He was able to inform the Home Office of
such important events as the mission of the UI leader William MacNeven
to Paris in July 1797, whose intentions were
to give an exact account of the strength of his Majesty's
forces then in Ireland; to point out the respective places at which
a landing might be effected with safety, and to endeavour to convince
the Directory that a descent in Ireland was a matter, in itself,
of no real difficulty[
Even though the rebellion and invasion still occurred, the good intelligence,
preparations of the British and the loyalists, and the arrest or persecution
of many of the senior UI leaders made them much less dangerous than
they could have been. That this was the case was in large part due
to Turner and his fellow agents. External
sources of information can therefore be of great assistance. By discovering
the enemies' plans at their source, one can counter their moves and
identify and combat their operatives as swiftly as possible.
The British and the royalists not only had their own agents in the
French police but also ran a contre-police in Paris. They sought
to discover the identities of the police agents and informers, to protect
and inform British and royalist agents, and to discover and thwart
the operations of the police. They also played a more active royalist
role. Sparrow even argues that in late-1800 "The police had become
the key, the linchpin of British counter-revolutionary plans." The contre-police certainly
had a number of notable successes. Its head Louis Dupérou obtained
the names of many of the mouchards, discovered their methods
and provided the Anglo-Royalist English Committee with reports from
various ministries and police offices and information on "denunciations,
orders for surveillance and warrants for arrest." Within the police itself
the royalist agent Antoine Talon secured a senior position in the haute
police, from where he was able to pass on much important information
concerning top-level government and police affairs. No doubt he also
attempted to blunt its effectiveness. For a time in 1803-04 the royalists
even composed the police intelligence bulletins that were given to
the First Consul himself, a masterpiece of deception.
Apart from the activities of the contre-police, deception was
not a major part of the civil intelligence agencies' repertoire in
this period. However it was far more common in military affairs, where
generals were often trying to deceive the enemy as to their real intentions
on both a strategic and tactical level. Shulsky defines 'deception'
the attempt to mislead an adversary's intelligence analysis
concerning the political, military, or economic situation he faces
and to induce him, on the basis of those errors, to act in a way
that advances one's own interests rather than his.[
One particularly notable successful deception that pertains to our
topic is that carried out by General Hoche in December 1796. Hoche's
intention was to sail from Brest to Ireland to land an invasion force.
To do this he had to avoid the ships of the Royal Navy and keep the
British troops in Ireland unaware of his intentions. Hoche's secrecy
concerning the expedition was severe – his admirals knew they
were headed for Ireland but did not know where they were to land, and
his generals knew even less. They were instructed to open sealed packets
containing information concerning Hoche's plans only once they had
put to sea. Hoche also had proclamations printed in Portuguese which
were secretly slipped into general circulation to ensure that they
reached the hands of the British. The Directory unwittingly added to
the confusion as they dithered over whether or not to permit Hoche
to sail. In fact on the 17th they cancelled the whole expedition, but
Hoche, tired of waiting and encouraged by the arrival of reinforcements,
had already sailed the day before.
None of the Anglo-Royalist agents could discover what the French were
intending. Malmesbury was uncertain and while Wickham knew that an
invasion of Ireland was under general consideration, his information
was extremely patchy and in December he informed Grenville that he
believed that "the expedition against Ireland is laid aside". With
nothing better to go on, Admiral Pellew concluded that the French fleet
was sailing for Portugal or possibly the West Indies, and on receiving
news that it had left Brest he set sail in the Indefatigable and
led his own fleet to Portugal. No special preparations were undertaken
to reinforce Ireland. Hoche's deception was therefore a complete success
in baffling the British, but it also upset his own operation. When
his ships became separated in a thick fog, the admirals and generals
discovered that their secret orders were indecisive and in the ensuing
uncertainty they decided against a landing. Probably again in the interests
of secrecy the Irish had not received proper warning about the coming
invasion, but this only compounded the hesitation of the generals when
they found the Irish shore cold and empty. Hoche's own ship had been
blown far off course and the other ships sailed for home before he
could find them. This
illustrates for us some of the advantages and risks associated with
Double agents were the high stakes game of the world of counter-espionage – they
posed a significant risk but the pay off could be massive. Some agents
simply enjoyed the profits, high society, intrigue and power that their
role afforded them and served whoever was beneficial and convenient
at the time. Such was the comte de Montgaillard, who at various stages
in his notorious career acted on behalf of the prince de Condé,
the comte de Provence, Barras and Bonaparte.
By contrast double agents had a more definite role and allegiance.
Shulsky defines double agents as "agents who, while pretending
to spy for a hostile service, are actually under the control of the
country on which they are supposed to be spying." Their
place as a trusted and sometimes high-placed member of an enemy organisation
gave them great opportunities to damage the operations of that body
and advantage their real master. A double agent could disrupt the plans
of the organisation for which they supposedly worked, disseminate false
and misleading information to them, and inform his or her real masters
on the members, structure, plans and knowledge of the duped organisation.
It required a very sharp mind, the utmost discretion and good sources
and contacts in order to be able to succeed as a double agent. Both
parties had to be convinced either that the agent was completely loyal
to them or that their usefulness outweighed the risks of their duplicity.
However double agents were dangerous commodities. If they were in
fact working for the hostile service or at some point chose to turn
their coat yet again, they could potentially give their original agency
a lot of useful and important information. This danger was compounded
by the fact that it could be exceedingly difficult to determine the
true allegiance of a double agent.
Double agents are often difficult to pinpoint with any certainty in
our period. Talon was certainly one, and Turner another. Wickham's
secretary in Berne and later member of the Alien Office Le Clerc may
have been – at the very least he later claimed to have been in
contact with both Fouché and Talleyrand and he definitely betrayed
much of what he knew of the British secret service and the Alien Office
when he defected to the Republic in 1801. This did considerable damage
to the clandestine Anglo-Royalist operations in France. Flint commented
that the whole affair was something "of which we shall often have
to repent". Wickham
had realised that he had a leak, for upon handing over his Continental
affairs to Talbot in October 1797 he told him that "You must find
the spy in our midst: the man who is said to be a spy of the Directory,
for there is no spy so good as a double one". However
it is not certain that this was Le Clerc – clearly Wickham did
not think so.
Noël Prigent was a senior member of La Correspondance and
one of the Chouan leader Joseph Puisaye's most trusted agents. However
in 1796 he was accused of having been in the pay of General Hoche since
he was arrested and released by the Republicans in late 1794. The royalists
could not substantiate the allegations and Prigent was given the benefit
of the doubt but suspicion lingered. Puisaye refused to question his
allegiance, but d'Auvergne did, writing to Windham in September 1796
"I fear much that Prigent has played a double game". A month
later he noted that "There is scarcely an Emigrant that has not
reclamations against his apparent faithlessness in pecuniary matters". One final relevant
piece of evidence is that when Prigent was captured again in 1808 he
sang to the high heavens, desperate to reveal whatever information
he thought could possibly save his life. It didn't work, but it does
suggest his propensity to betray his friends and allies. However we
ultimately don't know whether he was a long-term double agent. One
further definite double agent – the prince de Carency – will
be discussed in the case study.
Fouché, duc d'Otrante, The Memoirs of Joseph Fouché,
duke of Otranto, minister of the general police of France, Volume
1, London, H. S. Nichols, 1896, p. 56.
 Bod. L.
Talbot MSS, b. 21 fos. 71-5, Wickham to Talbot, 27 November 1797, quoted
in Sparrow, Secret Service, p. 3.
 Durey, William
Wickham, pp. 134-37; Wells, pp. 30-32.
 B.L. Addit.
MS 33107 (Pelham Papers), f. 3, Wickham to Portland, 3 January 1801,
quoted in Wells, p. 30.
X, p. 204, quoted in Hubert Cole, Fouché, The Unprincipled
Patriot, London, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1971, pp. 103-04.
au Ier Consul', p. 104, quoted in Cole, p. 116.
Kohn Bramstedt, Dictatorship and Political Police: the technique
of control by fear, London, K. Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co.,
1945, pp. 9-12; Cole, pp. 102-06 & 115-17; Nils Forssell, Fouché,
the man Napoleon feared, translated by A. Barwell, London, George
Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1928, pp. 148-57; Fouché, Volume 1, pp.
55-58 & 236.
Jr., pp. 23-25; Lefebvre, pp. 33-34.
Hist., vol. 32, col. 385, quoted in Goodwin, p. 390.
of the Right Honourable William Pitt, p. 103.
 W. Belsham, Memoirs
of the Reign of George III. to the Commencement of the Year 1799,
Volume V, London, G. G. and J. Robinson, 1801, p. 33; Goodwin, pp.
387-98; Hone, p. 11
& 66-67; Mori, p. 176-80 & 252-55; Sparrow, Secret Service,
pp. 7-28; Thompson, pp. 158-62; Wells, passim.
 Elliott, Partners
in Revolution, p. 98.
 Elliott, Partners
in Revolution, pp. 43-44, 97-99, 106-07, 189 & 287; McBride,
 B.L. Addit.
MS 33107 (Pelham Papers), f. 3, Wickham to Portland, 3 January 1801,
quoted in Hone, p. 78.
pp. 65-81; Durey, William Wickham, pp. 43-46 & 106-113;
Elliott, Partners in Revolution, pp. 171-83; Kenneth Ellis, The
Post Office in the Eighteenth Century: A Study in Administrative History,
London, Oxford University Press, 1958, pp. 60-77; Clive Emsley, 'Binns,
John (1772-1860)', in Biographical Dictionary of Modern British
Radicals, Volume 1, pp. 44-48; Nelson, pp. 123-30; Palmer, 'O'Connor,
Arthur (1763-1852)', pp. 347-48; Bernard Porter, Plots and Paranoia:
A history of political espionage in Britain 1790-1988, London,
Unwin Hyman, 1989, pp. 24-40; Sparrow, Secret Service, pp. 7-28;
Weber, pp. 92-95; Wells, pp. 28-46.
 Durey, William
Wickham, pp. 103-137; Elliott, Partners in Revolution,
passim; W. J. Fitzpatrick, Secret Service Under Pitt, London,
Longmans, Green, and Co., 1892, pp. 52-69; McBride, pp. 284-85 & 359-67;
Tone, 'Memoirs II: The Catholic Question' 1792-1793', in T. W. Tone, Life
of Theobald Wolfe Tone, p. 84.
Volume I, p. 233.
& 233-36; Arnold, Jr., pp. 24-44, 73-80 & 151-59; Bramstedt,
& 12-26; Cole, pp. 120-21; Forssell, pp. 148-70.
pp. 127-31; Forssell, pp. 128-30; Fouché, Volume 1, pp. 149-63;
Réal, pp. 1-11; Sparrow, Secret Service, pp. 217-22.
Holden to F.F. Foljambe, 1 June 1794, quoted in Clive Emsley, 'The
home office and its sources of information and investigation 1791-1801', The
English Historical Review, vol. 94, no. 372 (1979), p. 541.
F 7 4774 28, quoted in Swords, p. 110.
FO. 41, 42, quoted in Swords, p. 116.
H.O., 43/13. ff. 102-3, Portland to Ralph Fletcher, 14 July 1801, quoted
in Hone, p. 60.
Volume 1, p. 58.
11.957.3502(1), Lynam to White, 14 November 1794, quoted in Emsley,
42.67, John Sargent to John King, 12 May 1803, enclosing application
of Francis Lynam, and report of Joseph White on the application, 30
April 1803, quoted in Emsley, p. 547.
Jr., pp. 33-44 & 154-59; Bramstedt, pp. 12-23; F. W. Chandler, Political
Spies and Provocative Agents, 2nd Ed., Sheffield, Parker Bros.,
1936, pp. 7-25; Elliott, Partners in Revolution, passim; Durey, William
Wickham, pp. 103-37; Emsley, pp. 532-61; Fitzpatrick, passim; Forrsell,
pp. 148-70; Fouché, Volume 1, pp. 56-58 & 233-36; Hone,
pp. 47-77; Knox, passim; Porter, pp. 24-40; Swords, pp. 108-36; Thompson,
pp. 529-39; Weber, pp. 63-107; Wells, pp. 28-43.
 Durey, William
Wickham, p. 110.
Jr., pp. 154-55; Durey, William Wickhan, pp. 109-10; Forssell,
 Elliott, Partners
in Revolution, p. 72; McCracken, pp. 62-64.
 Sparrow, Secret
Service, pp. 175-78.
p. 42; Fouché, Volume 1, p. 234.
Volume 1, pp. 271-72, Wickham to Castlereagh, 16 August 1798, with
an enclosed note of intelligence written by Turner.
 Elliott, Partners
in Revolution, pp. 174-84; Fitzpatrick, pp. 1-69; Weber, pp.
 Sparrow, Secret
Service, p. 218.
pp. 198-212, 217-18 & 290-91; Cole, pp. 118-21; Durey, William
Wickham, p. 135; Sparrow, 'The Alien Office, 1792-1806', pp. 378-80.
Volume 1, p. 498, Wickham to Grenville, 18 December 1796.
 Elliott, Partners
in Revolution, pp. 109-15.
pp. 215-16; Durey, William Wickham, pp. 58-60; Godechot, pp.
& 369; Hall, pp. 24-44 & 351-53; Lenotre, pp. 18-45; Sparrow, Secret
Service, pp. 53-54 & 122-23.
 Flint to
King, 19 December 1803, NA, HO100/115, f. 32, quoted in Durey, William
Wickham, p. 135.
to Windham, 13 September & 10 October 1796, F.O. 95/605, quoted
in Cobban, p. 51.
& 115-16; Cobban, pp. 46-51; Durey, William Wickham, pp.
135; Hutt, Volumes 1 & 2, pp. 103-04, 191-92, 467-70 & 575-77; Sparrow, Secret
Service, pp. 50-52 & 259-60; Sparrow, 'The Alien Office', pp.
Placed on the Napoleon
Series: February 2011
Index | Government