Spying on the Royals: Intelligence, Security and the Monarchy from Victoria to Diana
Richard J. Aldrich, Rory Cormac

Spying on the Royals: Intelligence, Security and the Monarchy from Victoria to Diana


Spying and the Royals uncovers the remarkable relationship between the Royal Family and the intelligence community since the reign of Queen Victoria. It reveals how intelligence grew out of persistent attempts to assassinate Victoria and then operated on a private and informal basis, drawing on close personal relationships between senior spies, the aristocracy, and the monarchy. This reached its apotheosis after the Russian revolution when, fearing a similar revolt in Britain, King George V considered using private networks to provide intelligence on the loyalty of the armed forces – and of the broader population.

In 1936, the dramatic abdication of Edward VIII formed a turning point. What originally started as family feuding over a romantic liaison with the American divorcee Wallis Simpson, escalated into a national security crisis. Fearing the couple’s Nazi sympathies as well as domestic instability, British spies turned their attention to the King. During the Second World War, his successor, King George VI gradually restored trust between the secret world and House of Windsor. Thereafter, Queen Elizabeth II regularly enacted her constitutional right to advise, warn, and ultimately influence policy, raising her eyebrow knowingly at Prime Ministers and spymasters alike.

Along the way, Spying and the Royals asks for whom the intelligence services really work: prime minister or monarch? For the first time, it shines a torch into the most secret rooms of the British state and asks how far their Majesties still call the shots in a hidden world, and how much influence they have in foreign and security policy more broadly. Spying and the Royals, focusing on new stories about intelligence and security, presents the British monarchy in an entirely new light.


Highlights of this book include:

  • Victoria’s constant fear of assassination and the rise of the Special Branch
  • Victoria and Edward VII’s covert missions against Russia in the “Great Game”
  • Edward VII’s personal funding of propaganda to discredit a British journalist
  • George V’s personal turmoil about rescuing his relatives after the 1917 Russian Revolution
  • George V’s plans to start a private intelligence organisation to monitor British revolutionaries and republicanism
  • How a personal mission for George V transformed the career of MI5’s legendary spymaster Maxwell Knight
  • The full story of intelligence operations against Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, before and after the abdication
  • George VI’s private attempts, in pursuit of appeasement, to spy on family members in Germany
  • George VI’s training to join the resistance against a Nazi invasion of Britain
  • The role of George VI in wartime deception operations for D-Day
  • Queen Elizabeth II’s suggestion of assassinating a Middle Eastern leader
  • What Queen Elizabeth knew about the Soviet mole, Anthony Blunt
  • How the KGB oversaw Prince Philip’s visit to Moscow, preventing MI6 from using the trip to insert agents behind the Iron Curtain
  • The inside story of the attempt to kidnap Princess Anne
  • The impact of the Diana conspiracy inquiry on the secret services
  • How the royal protection teams became involved in organised crime

Book Details:

  • Author: Richard J. Aldrich, , Rory Cormac
  • On Submission
  • Rights Sold
    • UK: Atlantic

Richard J. Aldrich,

Richard J. Aldrich was born in 1961 and was educated at the universities of Manchester, Aberdeen and Cambridge. He has held a Fulbright fellowship at Georgetown University in Washington DC and is currently visiting Canberra and Ottawa as a Leverhulme fellow. He teaches international security at the University of Warwick and is Director of the Institute of Advanced Study. He is the author of several books including The Hidden Hand: Britain American and Cold War Secret Intelligence which won the Donner Book prize in 2002 and was shortlisted for the Westminster Medal. More recently he has auth...
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Rory Cormac

Born in 1985, Rory Cormac grew up on the coast in South Devon. He was educated at the University of Nottingham and King's College London. Rory has now returned to Nottingham as a lecturer in international relations. His research focuses on intelligence and covert operations. Rory has previously worked at King's College London and the University of Warwick. He is the author of 'Confronting the Colonies: British Intelligence and Counterinsurgency' (Hurst 2013). Rory has also published numerous academic articles on intelligence, irregular threats, and covert action in journals from Intelligenc...
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