Message From The Author

Author's Message

As I write this, People magazine has just proclaimed Pierce Brosnan the Sexiest Man Alive, so on a 007 note, Id like to share a bit of what I learned while researching Lord of Fire, my January release from Ballantine Books, in which the hero, Lord Lucien Knight, is a gentleman spy in the Napoleonic wars. Think Pierce Brosnan in a cravat and tailcoat!

Spy was a very dirty word in Regency England, for spying went against everything that the ideal of the chivalrous English gentleman stood for. Spying on the enemy was considered a way of fighting dirty. It was deemed cowardly to present oneself as one thing (the spys cover), gaining peoples trust under false pretenses, all the while sending information back to the other side. The manly ideal of English chivalry favored a straightforward approach, looking the enemy in the eye like the infantry did down the barrels of their bayoneted muskets. But, luckily, there were always adventurous souls willing to flirt with dangerand even dishonorto serve their country, for the plain fact was that to beat Napoleon, the army and the government needed the intelligence that only spies could provide.

There were two kinds of spies active during the Napoleonic wars. Serving in the Peninsula under Wellington were the intelligence officers, army men whose job it was to sneak behind enemy lines and report back to Wellington on the foes numbers, strength, and position. The traits these men needed were courage, intelligence, a good working knowledge of the native tongue, and a certain adeptness at drawing, so they could quickly sketch maps of what they found. It might seem strange that the intelligence officers always wore their highly conspicuous scarlet uniforms while making their forays behind enemy lines. But if they were caught, they were treated as prisoners of war precisely because of the uniform. Their activities were deemed honorable because they made no secret of the fact that they were attempting to collect information. If, on the other hand, they were to be caught in plainclothes or in disguise, they would be termed spies and would be instantly hanged.

The other kind of spies operated at a much higher level, out of the Foreign Office under the direction of the Foreign Secretarywho, from 1809 to 1812, was none other than Wellingtons elder brother, Richard, the Marquis of Wellesley! Lord Wellesley drove the other Cabinet ministers nuts with his secrecy over the activities of his agents. He kept in close touch with his men in the field and was highly protective of them.

These operatives were usually high-born, well-educated men, frequently younger sons of the nobility, appointed to ambassadorial roles throughout the courts of Europe. The traits they needed were again boldness, intelligence, lingual skill, perceptiveness, along with a certain amount of social panache. They were there to charm their way into the good grace of key foreign figures, watching allies as well as enemies for not all the allies could be trusted at all times. They were Whitehalls eyes and ears, sent to learn whatever they could about who meant to do what when. They specialized in activities such as intercepting (i.e. stealing) communiques, cryptography (designing and cracking codes), forging and planting false
documents, as well as selecting and managing discreet informers, such as the servants of people whom they were watching. Indeed, this was such an integral part of their job that they were given expense accounts for bribe money. England spent so much money for intelligence during the Napoleonic Wars that the bribe money became known as the cavalry of St. George for the picture of Englands patron saint stamped on the gold coin.

One spectacular triumph of a British secret agent, Colin Mackenzie, bears repeating. It appears in the book Secret Service: British Agents in France 17021815 by Elizabeth Sparrow (The Boydell Press, 1999). Mackenzie had a Parisian bookseller in his pay, who one day reported that someone from Napoleons palace had come into the shop buying books on the topography of Lithuania, an account of the campaigns of Charles XII in Poland and Russia, geographical books on various Russian provinces, maps and atlases of Livonia, Riga, and the Baltic provinces of Russia. Mackenzie sent this odd bit of information back to Lord Wellesley, who deduced that Napoleon was planning to invade Russia! The Emperor did just that the following year in his disastrous Russian campaign.

The other facet of espionage that relates to Lord of Fire is the relationship between spying and secret societies, particularly those that dabble in the occult. In Lord of Fire, Lucien runs a secret society of his own in order to monitor foreign agents operating on British soil, only to discover a plot against the city of London itself. If you enjoy intrigue and diabolically clever heroes, I hope youll look for it. Lord of Fire will be followed up next month by Lord of Ice, which tells the story of Lord Damien Knight, Luciens identical twin, a decorated war hero
who disparages Luciens dishonorable profession.

For more information on her spy series, visit Gaelen's new website or e-mail her at

Read Book Review ›