Throughout history, the royal family has used spies to gather intelligence. During the 20th century, the intelligence services grew and their relationship with the monarchy became close. The royal family and the intelligence services have much in common. Both are small and secretive, and both are frequently the subjects of conspiracy theories. In their new book, Richard Aldrich and Rory Cormac have alighted on one of the few areas of royal history that has not been much written about.
The authors argue that in Britain modern intelligence grew out of attempts to assassinate Queen Victoria. For Victoria, intelligence was about survival. Not long after the insane Edward Oxford fired a pistol at her in 1840, the Metropolitan Police established a ‘detective department’ for the first time. During the 1848 revolutions, political refugees from Europe flooded into Britain, fleeing crackdowns at home, and Victoria pushed for Britain’s liberal refugee policy to be tightened. This the government refused to do, in spite of repeated requests from the queen.
The largest royal intelligence network was the foreign one. Aldrich and Cormac describe Victoria as a gatherer, analyst and consumer of intelligence, conducting a vast correspondence with secret informers and royal cousins across Europe. Many of these networks were created by Prince Albert, who gets little attention here