How researchers managed to decipher a letter from Charles V that was deciphered for 5 centuries

How researchers managed to decipher a letter from Charles V that was deciphered for 5 centuries

a series of symbolsvague“Which sheds light five centuries later: four researchers present their findings in Nancy on Wednesday, November 23, interpreting a letter written by Charles V to his ambassador in France in 1547, providing new insights into the relationship between the empire ruled by Francis Shining I, and the Holy Roman Empire.

Achieving this “extraordinary” achievement required six months of work for cryptographers from the Lorraine Computer Research Laboratory (Loria), who were joined by a historian from the University of Picardy.

The letter, forgotten for centuries, was in the collection of the Stanislaus Library in Nancy. Cecil Pierrot, a cryptographer in Lorraine, heard about the “encrypted letter from Charles V” (1500–1558) for the first time in 2019, by chance, during dinner. The researcher then believes in a legend, but when two years later the existence of this document is mentioned again, she decides to dig.

Word of mouth works, and in late 2021 he sees for the first time a mysterious and incomprehensible letter signed by the King of Spain, addressed to his ambassador, Jean de Saint-Maurice.

After this the work of decryption starts. Cecil Pierrot observed the letter for a long time, class”by different families“Some 120 symbols used by Charles V. She names them and decides to count their occurrences, to identify combinations that can be repeated.”

evil code

For this, she and two other researchers from the Nancy laboratory, Pierrick Goudry and Paul Zimmermann, decided to use computers “speed up research“. No artificial intelligence, here it is the human who “ask the computer the right question“, cryptographers insist.

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Decryption done”small step by step“, because the code used by Charles V is diabolical. In addition to its large number of symbols, “Whole words are encrypted with a single symbolCécile Pierrot points out, “and before a consonant the vowels are marked by diacritics, an inspiration probably coming from Arabic.

Another confusing element, the emperor uses “null symbol“, which makes no sense and actually serves to mislead the adversary who would try to understand the message.

Finally the click occurs at the end of June: Cecil Pierrot manages to separate a series of words in the message.

For this, three cryptographers from Nancy called on Camille Descenclos, an expert in both cryptography and relations between France and the Holy Roman Empire in the 16th century.

The historian helps them put the pieces of the puzzle together, referencing the letter again to better understand its hints.

“Pierre de Rosetta” in Besançon

An actual “Rosetta Stone” also helps the research: a letter from Jean de Saint-Maurice, kept in Besançon, where the recipient wrote in the margin “a form of transcription“explains Ms. Pierrot, understanding the message sent to her by the ambassador.

Once understood, the letter “rather confirms the degenerate state“The relationship between Francis I and Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire in 1547, who had nevertheless signed a peace treaty three years earlier, explains Camille Descenclos.

Despite this peace, the two kings had a “Doubt“reciprocal”extremely strong“and seek”to make weak“Mutual,” she adds.

Other information revealed by the decryption of the letter: “The rumor of an assassination plot against Charles V that was flourishing in France“, says Mrs. Descenclos, the rumor of whichwe didn’t know much“First. She leaves”baseless“- Charles V was not murdered – but this letter shows”Fear of the “iconic emperor” compared to “this possible conspiracy”.“, she underlines.

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In a message to his ambassador, the emperor described the state of the empire and his “political and military strategy“: The use of encrypted correspondence thus allows him”to conceal“This information to his opponents.

The researchers now hope to be able to identify other letters from the emperor and his ambassador to Europe.”To take a picture of Charles V’s strategy in Europe,

,We are likely to make many more discoveries in the years to come.Ms. Descenclos is delighted.


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