The Forbidden Sister, the companion novel to The Forgotten Sister, tells the story of Morgause, Arthur’s half-sister who is fated to bear the child Mordred with him, the boy who will eventually bring down Camelot.
When she is married off to King Lot, he introduces her to two different types of power. One is foreign trading. According to archaeological evidence, sub-Roman Britain traded with countries as distant as Turkey, enjoying rich furnishings and a varied diet as a result.
But any king with a boat can be a successful trader, funding expeditions and charging taxes on any goods that pass through their lands. Lot’s real power lies in information. As he himself says, it is all about “obtaining it, disseminating it, or choosing not to.” Despite his tiny, distant, kingdom, he rises to become one of the most powerful men in Britain through espionage.
Many people think of spying as relatively modern invention, something that came about with the Second World War and grew into the intrigues of agencies like the CIA, the KGB and MI6. Yet it is as old as the concept of lying and telling tales.
Sun Tzu’s Art of War (written between 771 and 476 BC) has a whole chapter devoted to this topic, in which he states “what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge” and that this is only obtained from men. He even classifies spies into different categories, including local people who will report on activities in their area, spies of the enemy who can be turned to your side and spies who can be convinced to give false reports to draw out the enemy. The modern agent would now refer to these as informants, double agents, and dangles respectively.
Ancient Egyptians dealt extensively in secret communiqués, and were some of the first creators of invisible inks and secret compartments in which to conceal their messages. They were well versed in the use of poisons made from herbs and snake venoms, using them to assassinate their enemies by sending them fatal gifts.
There no historical evidence to suggest a British network like Lot operates in The Forbidden Sister, but if the rulers learnt anything from their Roman overlords, it would make sense. The Romans had a highly developed network that spanned the length of the Empire, concealed within the official position known as Frumentarii.
To most people, the Frumentarii were wheat-collectors, gathering and transporting the wheat that the Empire’s citizens paid in tribute to Rome. The Emperor Hadrian transformed them into an organisation to rival the reach of any modern spy agency. As they travelled between far-flung outposts, they made contact with other officials, Roman citizens and disgruntled natives. They returned to the Emperor with knowledge of local geography, defences, troop sizes and siege resources. Hadrian spied on friends as well as enemies, preventing them from conspiring against him - one of the first examples of counter-intelligence.
|Sir Francis Walsingham|
Spies would go on to play huge roles in almost all of the battles and conflicts that shaped global politics from then on – the American Revolution, the Napoleonic War, the First World War, right through to ongoing modern conflicts. Think about how often we listen in on conversations, or are tempted to! Spying is very important, and not as new as you might think. In fact, it seems to be one of the oldest professions out there.