French scientists decoded 500-year-old letter written by Charles V

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French scientists from Lorraine Research Laboratory cracked a coded letter signed in 1547 by the most powerful ruler in Europe – Charles V. The letter is a part of a public library collection in Nancy, founded by King of Poland Stanislaus I (Polish: Stanisław I Leszczyński).

"The mystery of Charles V's encrypted letter is finally solved! Researchers from Lorraine Research Laboratory
 have unveiled the code they have been working on for 1 year. The letter preserved at #bibliothèqueStanislas can finally be read after 476 years. An incredible story! ⤵️"

The research of cryptographer Cecile Pierrot started 3 years ago. Finally, she found the letter in the basement of the historic library in Nancy, France. It consists of three pages and about 70 lines. Although it is mainly written using about 120 encrypted symbols, it also includes three sections in plain contemporary French.

“The first thing was to categorise the symbols, and to look for patterns. But it wasn’t simply a case of one symbol representing one letter – it was much more complex. Simply putting it into a computer and telling the computer to work it out would literally have taken longer than the history of the universe!”

said Pierrot.
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Some symbols used by Charles V had no meaning at all, whereas others symbolized full words or combinations of words. The full process of decoding the letter will be described by Pierrot and her team in an academic paper.

Nevertheless, the researchers have not provided a full translation of the mysterious letter yet but they generally informed reporters what it is about.

“Sent by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to his ambassador at the French royal court – a man called Jean de Saint-Mauris – the letter gives an insight into the preoccupations of Europe’s rulers at a time of dangerous instability caused by wars of religion and rival strategic interests.”

bbc.com

Moreover, Charles V wrote in the letter that he was in fear of an assassination attempt by the Italian condottiere (mercenary leader) Pierre Strozzi. He wanted his ambassador at the French royal court, Jean de Saint-Mauris to check if his assumptions were accurate.

He also was concerned about maintaining the peace with France. Charles V gave instructions on how Saint-Mauris was to “spin” the news at the French court.

Eventually, there was no assassination attempt and Charles V died in a Spanish monastery in 1558.

According to the Guardian, the researchers hope to identify other letters between the emperor and his ambassador, “to have a snapshot of Charles V’s strategy in Europe”.

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