How Did Spy Services Develop in France?


Louise Renée de Penancoët helped spy for Louis XIV.

Espionage, in the French monarchy period, has become notorious in suppressing aspirations of those who sought to loosen the bonds of the monarchy in the late 18th century. The history of spying in France, similar to other European powers, started because of interests in security and developed to both external and internal espionage. This has also shaped subsequent periods after the French Revolution. World War II also set the stage for modern French Espionage.

Similar to England, the French nobility in the 16th and 17th centuries proved to be at times a difficult group to control for the monarch. During the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715), spying (internally and externally), developed in France as the country became the main power on the European continent and was the leader of the Catholic states. Louis was well known to use a variety of spies, particularly his diplomats. However, he also used many women, as he found them useful in infiltrating powerful men. For instance, Louise-Renée de Penacoët, who became a mistress to Charles II, was used to spy on the English king. Using her liaison with the king, she passed on vital information to the French regarding English intentions and alliances. Louis also send emissaries and spies to his main rivals the Dutch during the period of William of Orange (1689-1702).[1]

It was the threat of the Huguenots and French nobles that required the French kings to develop spies that can infiltrate French society. During Louis XIV’s reign, remaining rights of the Huguenots were taken away and French nobles felt the loss of their power as Louis centralized the state. This led Louis to use informants within the Huguenots and nobles as a way to undermine them. Thus, critical to a central state bureaucracy that efficiently ran the country was a country that required spies at every level so that rebellious areas of France can be know before any major problems broke out. Spies among the poor commoners and nobility became well know, creating a type of police state. The Affair of the Poisons and other conspiracies led to a more paranoid state for the French monarchy.[2]

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