How Did Spy Services Develop in France
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, including Louise-Renée de Penacoët, who became mistress to Charles II, 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).
It was the threat of the Huguenots and French nobles 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.
Before and After the French Revolution
Prior to the French Revolution, France had begun developing elaborate spy networks that spanned Russia to the East and England to the North. Famous spies included Chevalier d'Éon, who had androgynous characteristics, making him also suitable as a female spy. In fact, he was known as a woman for over 33 years and penetrated the Russian court as a female spy. However, in other aspects, the Chevalier performed as a male spy and soldier.
During the French Revolution, many spies, often working for multiple sides, arose. The French Revolution was, on the one hand, a great fear for the monarchies in Europe, but on the other hand also an opportunity to infiltrate France by outside powers. One such spy was Emmanuel Henri Louis Alexandre. He initially supported the French Revolution and became an early member of the National Constitutional Assembly that formed after the deposing of the French (Bourbon) monarchy. He famously changed his mind, after Marie Antoinette, a former love interest, was seized by the revolutionaries. The Jacobines, a radical group in the French revolutionaries, were often most worried about spies and create counter spies to look out for any counter-revolutionaries. Their paranoia, however, likely led to the demise of many innocent people. The fear of spying during the so-called "Reign of Terror," in effect, helped lead to the downfall of the revolutionaries, who became to be seen as oppressive and not holding up the ideals of the revolution. That paved the way for Napoleon's takeover.
After the takeover by Napoleon, plots involving various international and national spies were devised to depose Napoleon. This included the Plot of the rue Saint-Nicaise in 1800, led by Pierre Robinault de Saint-Régeant and others, that attempted to blow up a bomb as Napoleon passed by. The increased paranoia by Napoleon and European powers as Napoleon began to become stronger developed into a network of spies and counter spies. Napoleon successfully used spies to help bring down the reign of Gustav IV Adolf, the king of Sweden, and place a successor who was more friendly to France.