Historical letters were often written in code in order to secretly send messages to people to prevent the information from falling into the wrong hands. Decoding these pieces of history can prove to be difficult, as there are no instructions on how to reveal the message’s true meaning. Recently, Israeli computer scientist and Technion alumnus Dr. George Lasry led a team of international code breakers that successfully deciphered 57 letters written by Mary, Queen of Scots between 1578 and 1584 – the most significant find on the queen in more than 100 years. 

The letters were written a few years before Mary was beheaded while she was held captive in an English prison by Queen Elizabeth I. They unveiled more information about Mary’s poor health, her living conditions during her captivity, and her negotiations with the Queen about her release. Dr. Lasry and the team used cryptography, or the computerized cryptanalysis of historical ciphers and cipher machines, along with manual techniques, to crack the letters’ code. 

For centuries, the contents of these letters were believed to have been lost. The team stumbled upon them while perusing the online archives of the national library of France. The online database had little information regarding their content – they were listed as hailing from the 16th century and were believed to be related to Italian matters, which the team quickly realized was incorrect once they began cracking the code.  

They discovered that the letters were written by Mary upon solving her sophisticated cipher system. They constitute a vast body of new primary material on the queen and hope that this will open the doors to a deeper analysis by historians to better understand Mary’s years in captivity. Their decipherment work on the 57 letters was presented in the peer-reviewed journal Cryptologia