Research Subjects: Government & Politics

Friends and Enemies: The Underground War between Great Britain and France, 1793-1802
Chapter Two – State Security and Counter-Intelligence

By Christopher John Gibbs


The first pledge for the safety of any government whatever is a vigilant police, under the direction of firm and enlightened ministers.

-        Joseph Fouché, French Minister of Police 1799-1802, 1804-1810[78]

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...

-        William Wickham to James Talbot, 27 November 1797[79]

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 was different.

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".[80] 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.[81] 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."[82]

In France Joseph Fouché thought that the primary function of the police was to provide "security for all; the distinctive character of this to prevent rather than repress, but to repress vigorously what one has not been able to prevent. Yet vigour must be justice not violence."[83] 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".[84] 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.[85] 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.

State security

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.[86]

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. [87] 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.[88]

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".[89] 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[90]. 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 example.[91]

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 the fleet.[92]

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.[93]

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 the government

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.[94]

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."[95] 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.[96]

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.[97]

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."[98] 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.[99] 

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 in April.

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.[100]

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."[101] 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."[102] Nicholas Madgett called it a "Vile and detestable profession" yet went on spying for years anyway.[103] 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 outraged".[104]

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".[105] 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."[106] 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.[107]

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 that

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 quarter... [108]

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...[109]

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.[110]

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.[111]

The Book contains intelligence from eighteen different sources. Additional official secret books contained a range of other intelligence and information. Fouché 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.[112]


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.[113]

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".[114] Dulles argues that

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[115]

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 was tolerated.[116]

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.[117]

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[118]

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.[119] 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."[120] 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."[121] 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.[122]


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' as

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.[123]

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".[124] 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.[125] This illustrates for us some of the advantages and risks associated with deception.

Double agents

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.[126]

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."[127] 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".[128] 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".[129] 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 that "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".[130] 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.[131] One further definite double agent – the prince de Carency – will be discussed in the case study.


[78] Joseph 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.

[79] Bod. L. Talbot MSS, b. 21 fos. 71-5, Wickham to Talbot, 27 November 1797, quoted in Sparrow, Secret Service, p. 3.

[80] Dulles, p. 256.

[81] Durey, William Wickham, pp. 134-37; Wells, pp. 30-32.

[82] B.L. Addit. MS 33107 (Pelham Papers), f. 3, Wickham to Portland, 3 January 1801, quoted in Wells, p. 30.

[83] Mellinet, X, p. 204, quoted in Hubert Cole, Fouché, The Unprincipled Patriot, London, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1971, pp. 103-04.

[84] 'Rapport au Ier Consul', p. 104, quoted in Cole, p. 116.

[85] Ernest 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.

[86] Arnold, Jr., pp. 23-25; Lefebvre, pp. 33-34.

[87] Thompson, pp. 158-59.

[88] Parl. Hist., vol. 32, col. 385, quoted in Goodwin, p. 390.

[89] Speeches of the Right Honourable William Pitt, p. 103.

[90] 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.

[91] Thompson, p. 161.

[92] Elliott, Partners in Revolution, p. 98.

[93] Elliott, Partners in Revolution, pp. 43-44, 97-99, 106-07, 189 & 287; McBride, pp. 360-65.

[94] B.L. Addit. MS 33107 (Pelham Papers), f. 3, Wickham to Portland, 3 January 1801, quoted in Hone, p. 78.

[95] Hone, p. 81.

[96] Ibid., 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.

[97] 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. 

[98] Fouché, Volume I, p. 233.

[99] Ibid., pp. 57-58 & 233-36; Arnold, Jr., pp. 24-44, 73-80 & 151-59; Bramstedt, pp. 7-8 & 12-26; Cole, pp. 120-21; Forssell, pp. 148-70.

[100] Cole, pp. 127-31; Forssell, pp. 128-30; Fouché, Volume 1, pp. 149-63; Réal, pp. 1-11; Sparrow, Secret Service, pp. 217-22.

[101] Hone, p. 63.

[102] H.O.42.31, 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.

[103] A.N. F 7 4774 28, quoted in Swords, p. 110.

[104] P.R.O. FO. 41, 42, quoted in Swords, p. 116.

[105] P.R.O., H.O., 43/13. ff. 102-3, Portland to Ralph Fletcher, 14 July 1801, quoted in Hone, p. 60.

[106] Forssell, p. 170.

[107] Fouché, Volume 1, p. 58.

[108] T.S. 11.957.3502(1), Lynam to White, 14 November 1794, quoted in Emsley, p. 559.

[109] H.O. 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.

[110] Arnold, 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.

[111] Durey, William Wickham, p. 110.

[112] Arnold, Jr., pp. 154-55;  Durey, William Wickhan, pp. 109-10; Forssell, pp. 160-61.

[113] Elliott, Partners in Revolution, p. 72; McCracken, pp. 62-64.

[114] Shulsky, p. 109.

[115] Dulles, p. 123.

[116] Sparrow, Secret Service, pp. 175-78.

[117] Ibid., p. 42; Fouché, Volume 1, p. 234.

[118] Castlereagh, Volume 1, pp. 271-72, Wickham to Castlereagh, 16 August 1798, with an enclosed note of intelligence written by Turner.

[119] Elliott, Partners in Revolution, pp. 174-84; Fitzpatrick, pp. 1-69; Weber, pp. 76-107.

[120] Sparrow, Secret Service, p. 218.

[121] Ibid., p. 206.

[122] Ibid., 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.

[123] Shulsky, p. 118.

[124] Wickham, Volume 1, p. 498, Wickham to Grenville, 18 December 1796.

[125] Elliott, Partners in Revolution, pp. 109-15.

[126] Duckworth, pp. 215-16; Durey, William Wickham, pp. 58-60; Godechot, pp. 196-98, 267-70 & 369; Hall, pp. 24-44 & 351-53; Lenotre, pp. 18-45; Sparrow, Secret Service, pp. 53-54 & 122-23.

[127] Shulsky, p. 111.

[128] Flint to King, 19 December 1803, NA, HO100/115, f. 32, quoted in Durey, William Wickham, p. 135.

[129] Above, n. 74.

[130] D'Auvergne to Windham, 13 September & 10 October 1796, F.O. 95/605, quoted in Cobban, p. 51.

[131] Balleine, pp. 78-79 & 115-16; Cobban, pp. 46-51; Durey, William Wickham, pp. 50-51 & 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. 372-73.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: February 2011


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