Reply To: Signal Codes Employed During the Napoleonic Wars

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    Three more books which discuss British signal codes at this period are:
    Brian Tunstall, Naval Warfare in the Age of Sail : the evolution of fighting tactics 1650-1815, edited Nicholas Tracy (1990);
    Mark Urban, The Man who broke Napoleon’s Code : the story of George Scovell (2002);
    Steven E Maffeo, Most Secret and Confidential : intelligence in the age of Nelson (2000).

    The late Brian Tunstall’s book covers signal codes throughout the Georgian era in depth and specifically in relation to the evolution of the command and control of fighting tactics in major European navies. This thoroughly researched book on a narrow but important field of enquiry should not be confused with Bernard Ireland’s excellent book with the same main title (2000) which deals with the title’s subject in a much broader vein but has little of interest to this specific topic.
    Mark Urban’s book is well-researched and well written; on the basis of the title it bears little relation to the Topic here, but has some useful information on naval codes in the Peninsular War.
    I must declare an interest before I recommend Commander Maffeo’s book; I know Steve but that should not preclude me from encouraging researchers in this field to consult his book, as it covers a wide range of naval codes and encryption in the relevant period. Written by a US naval officer well versed in the field of encryption and from good research, this book suffers slightly, as has been stated in several reviews, from Steve’s (deliberately undertaken) conceit of bringing in fictional characters from time to time (notably Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey) as if they were historical naval officers.

    I have also undertaken recent research into intelligence in Iberia during the Peninsular War, specifically in respect of the Royal Navy on the coast of Catalonia (not signals and codes but direct espionage). My published essays which directly or indirectly cover that research are:
    ‘A Place of Considerable Importance : Lord Cochrane at the Siege of Rosas 1808’, The Mariner’s Mirror, vol 95 no 4 (November 2009), pp400-428; this article is available online (with the Society’s permission) in the Oxford University Research Archive at:
    ‘In Search of Nelson’s Spy : a research case study’, Trafalgar Chronicle, number 19 (October 2009), pp1-15; this article is also available online in the Oxford University Research Archive at:

    My research continues and will be published in a monograph about ‘Nelson’s spy’, Edward Gayner, later this year. If the correspondent wishes, please email me directly about this.