Mary, Queen of Scots, sealed her remaining missive with an intricate spiral letterlock

Four vector drawings show the five-slit spiral lock mechanism used by Mary, Queen of Scots; the front and back of a locked letter packet using this method; and an unfolded lock. Sections are numbered 1-20 to show the different areas created by folding.

Enlarge / 4 vector drawings present the five-slit spiral lock mechanism utilized by Mary, Queen of Scots; the back and front of a locked letter packet utilizing this technique; and an unfolded lock. Sections are numbered 1-20 to point out the totally different areas created by folding. (credit score: Unlocking Historical past Analysis Group)

On the eve of her execution for treason in February 1587, Mary, Queen of Scots, penned a letter to King Henri III of France and secured it with a paper lock that featured an intricate spiral mechanism. So-called “letterlocking” was a standard follow to guard personal letters from prying eyes, however this spiral lock is especially ingenious and delicate as a result of it incorporates a built-in self-destruct function, in response to a brand new paper revealed within the Digital British Library Journal.

The authors are an interdisciplinary group of researchers working beneath the umbrella of the Unlocking Historical past Analysis Group. On this paper, they describe a dozen examples of a spiral lock in letters dated between 1568 and 1638, together with one from Mary’s former mother-in-law, Catherine de Medici, in addition to her arch-rival, Elizabeth I, who signed Mary’s dying warrant.

As we reported beforehand, co-author Jana Dambrogio, a conservator at MIT Libraries, coined the time period “letterlocking” after discovering such letters whereas a fellow on the Vatican Secret Archives in 2000. The Vatican letters dated again to the 15th and 16th centuries, they usually featured unusual slits and corners that had been sliced off. Dambrogio realized that the letters had initially been folded in an ingenious method, primarily “locked” by inserting a slice of the paper right into a slit, then sealing it with wax. It will not have been attainable to open the letter with out ripping that slice of paper—proof that the letter had been tampered with.

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