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Oxford University Press
01 March 2020
History; British & Irish history; Early modern history: c 1450 to c 1700; Social & cultural history; Espionage & secret services
It would be easy for the modern reader to conclude that women had no place in the world of early modern espionage, with a few seventeenth-century women spies identified and then relegated to the footnotes of history. If even the espionage carried out by Susan Hyde, sister of Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, during the turbulent decades of civil strife in Britain can escape the historiographer's gaze, then how many more like her lurk in the archives?

Nadine Akkerman's search for an answer to this question has led to the writing of Invisible Agents, the very first study to analyse the role of early modern women spies, demonstrating that the allegedly-male world of the spy was more than merely infiltrated by women. This compelling and ground-breaking contribution to the history of espionage details a series of case studies in which women - from playwright to postmistress, from lady-in-waiting to laundry woman - acted as spies, sourcing and passing on confidential information on account of political and religious convictions or to obtain money or power.

The struggle of these women to construct credibility in their own time is mirrored in their invisibility in modern historiography. Akkerman has immersed herself in archives, libraries, and private collections, transcribing hundreds of letters, breaking cipher codes and their keys, studying invisible inks, and interpreting riddles, acting as a modern-day spymistress to unearth plots and conspiracies that have long remained hidden by history.
By:   Nadine Akkerman (Reader in early modern English Literature Reader in early modern English Literature Leiden University)
Imprint:   Oxford University Press
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 234mm,  Width: 152mm,  Spine: 24mm
Weight:   380g
ISBN:   9780198849421
ISBN 10:   0198849427
Pages:   288
Publication Date:   01 March 2020
Audience:   Professional and scholarly ,  Undergraduate
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Nadine Akkerman is Reader in early modern English Literature at Leiden University and Visiting Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford. She is editor of The Correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia (OUP), the third and final volume of which will be published in 2021, and is currently writing the definitive biography of Elizabeth Stuart. She has also published extensively on women's history, diplomacy, and masques, and curated several exhibitions, including the popular Courtly Rivals at the Haags Historisch Museum. In 2017 she was elected to The Young Academy of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, and received a Special Recognition Award from the World Cultural Council. In January 2019, she was awarded the prestigious Ammodo Science Award for top researchers in the Netherlands.

Reviews for Invisible Agents: Women and Espionage in Seventeenth-Century Britain

[A] scintillating book . . . based on an impressive range of original research . . . The research of earlier generations of historians who have ignored evidence of female spies, falls like ninepins as Akkerman 'smells out' the invisible women who risked everything for King or Parliament in 17th-century Britain. * Jackie Eales, History Today * A dazzling study of a truly neglected subject, which ably demonstrates the gendered dimension of early modern spy-craft, and the unique ways in which women were able to operate. It is written by one of the foremost early modern textual-historical scholars of her generation and marshals an almost unmatched expertise in working with an impressive range of European and international archives of the period. The book delivers a series of fascinating case studies - including Charles I's prison correspondence, Secretary Thurloe, as well as female practitioners Susan Hyde, Elizabeth Murray, Elizabeth Carey, Anne Halkett, and Aphra Behn - all of which rest on a remarkable and overwhelming weight of archival research. This is an important book that will be widely read and cited, and which will have significant impact on many fields not least those of early modern gender and women's writing, but also political and diplomatic history. * Professor James Daybell, University of Plymouth * For a serious examination of the role of women in intelligence, turn to Nadine Akkerman's Invisible Agents. Doubly invisible, both as agents and in historical records, these women were at the heart of the intelligence network, yet they have never hitherto received the 'glory of Martyrs'. * Teresa Levonian Cole, Country Life * A ground-breaking book looking at a previously unexplored aspect of the world of espionage ... Founded on work in a wide variety of archives, many of them previously undiscovered, Akkerman shines a light on one of the dark corners of the world of spies. * Military History Monthly * Invisible Agents breaks significant new ground in its focus on the special roles of Royalist and Parliamentarian 'she-intelligencers' and their hidden world. This is a model monograph, meticulously researched and relentlessly questioning, which succeeds admirably in uncovering closely guarded secrets. * R. C. Richardson, Times Higher Education * An intriguing book ... [Akkerman's] own remarkable ability to ferret out secrets is often as great as that of the spies she writes about. Time after time, women whose lives, careers and even names have been forgotten or misread spring into stealthy, double-dealing life on the page. * Adrian Tinniswood, Literary Review * Pioneering ... a most valuable book, highlighting women's contribution to the conspiratorial world of mid-17th-century Britain, while also offering a thought provoking exercise in gender and historical methods. * Ann Hughes, BBC History Magazine * Brimming with fascinating detail ... Akkerman's archival dissections admirably emulate the painstaking vigilance of early modern spy masters. * Clare Jackson, The Times Literary Supplement * Invisible Agents is a work of deep scholarship that suggests Akkerman would have made an excellent spy catcher. * Leanda de Lisle, The Times * A triumph of scholarly rigour, original thinking and crisp prose. It is, in every sense, a cracking book. * Jessie Childs, The Daily Telegraph * A brilliant book. * Noel Malcolm, The Sunday Telegraph * A dense, hugely researched and admirably learned history of women spies during the Civil War. * Dominic Sandbrook, The Sunday Times * A history book that will surely inspire future fiction. A work of deep scholarship and clever detective work. * Leanda de Lisle, Books of the Year 2018, BBC History Magazine * Revelatory. * Simon Heffer, Books of the Year 2018: History, The Daily Telegraph *


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