Sparrow, Elizabeth 1928–

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SPARROW, Elizabeth 1928–

PERSONAL: Born 1928.

ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Boydell & Brewer, 668 Mount Hope Avenue, Rochester, NY 14620-2731.

CAREER: Independent scholar and writer.


Secret Service: British Agents in France, 1792–1815, Boydell Press (Rochester, NY), 1999.

Contributor to periodicals, including Historical Journal.

SIDELIGHTS: An acknowledged authority on the beginnings of the British secret service, Elizabeth Sparrow is the author of Secret Service: British Agents in France, 1792–1815. In the book, Sparrow follows the origins of the British secret service, especially in relation to the Alien Office, a British government department that was created to deal with immigrant issues. In reality, the agency was overseeing the British government's spying efforts in Europe. Sparrow had discovered many unknown documents of the agency in the late 1980s and spent a decade studying them and other documents from archives in France and Switzerland in order to write her book. Focusing primarily on the British efforts to spy on arch-enemy France, Sparrow begins by delving into efforts underway to influence who would rule France following the French Revolution, including working with such factions as the modern monarchists. Eventually Napoleon Bonaparte took control of France, ending such intrigue, and the second part of Sparrow's book looks at the British spying efforts following Bonaparte's ascent to power, including, as pointed out by Dave Hollins in a review on, Britain's "channeling of money and operations in France to divert Napoleon's attention." According to Sparrow, it was not long before such covert actions raised the stakes to increasing internal dissent to bring about Napoleon's downfall. British spies were so successful in some of their infiltration efforts that they often controlled much of the Paris police. Nevertheless, not everything went smoothly, such as when British agents were captured in 1804 as part of a plot to assassinate Napoleon.

Through the course of Secret Service Sparrow delves into the roles of many individuals, including William Windham, who was believed to be a minor government minister and dilettante but who in reality was in charge of British spying efforts. She also discusses William Wickham, an agent stationed in Switzerland who tried to bring about the collapse of revolutionary France. Sparrow also delves into the mysterious identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel, the shadowy figure on whom Baroness Orczy modeled the hero of her novel of the same name. In fact, Sparrow indicates, Orczy's fictional hero was based on three agents: Xandrin; low-level aristocrat Louis Bayard; and Richard Cadman Etches, who Sparrow believes is the primary source for the fictional Scarlet Pimpernel.

Several reviewers noted that Sparrow's intense research and detailed discussion of the facts tends to "get in the way of a good story," as John Crossland wrote in the London Sunday Times. However, Crossland went on to note that "if you have the stamina to stay with this marathon of plotting, there are rewards and some surprises." English Historical Review contributor Clive Emsley remarked that in Secret Service "Sparrow exposes an astonishing tale." M. R. D. Foot, writing in the Spectator, commented that "the whole history of the world war against revolutionary and Napoleonic France now has to be rewritten."



English Historical Review, June, 2000, Clive Emsley, review of Secret Service: British Agents in France, 1792–1815, p. 746.

Spectator, June 17, 2000, M. R. D. Foot, review of Secret Service, pp. 48-49.

Sunday Times (London, England), February 20, 2000, John Crossland, review of Secret Service, p. 41.


Jane Austin Centre in Bath Web site, (July 14, 2004), review of Secret Service., (July 14, 2004), review of Secret Service., (February, 2000), Dave Hollins, review of Secret Service.

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Sparrow, Elizabeth 1928–

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