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celticroots
07-28-2015, 12:30 AM
In my WIP that takes place in 16th century Scotland, I am thinking of making my MC, who is taken into service of a wealthy family, a spy in order to save the family. She finds the man who is also a spy trying to take down the antagonist so he won't harm the people MC is staying with.

Could a female be a spy at this time? (She's 17.) How would they go about it?

Thanks.

King Neptune
07-28-2015, 01:35 AM
Lucrezia Borgia wasn't really a spy but close, and she sure wasn't in Scotland, but she might be a sort of model.

waylander
07-28-2015, 02:01 AM
Who is she a spy for and how did this come about? I wouldn't say she could not, but does she truly have agency? It is not going to be easy for her to move about on her own.

WeaselFire
07-28-2015, 03:20 AM
Any could be, and could have been, a spy. Your key will be writing it effectively and believably.

By the way, there are plenty of role models for you to use, for example:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte_de_Sauve

Jeff

frimble3
07-28-2015, 04:52 AM
To me, a 'spy' implies that the person is in the employ of a third party, either the master of the house, or the Crown, or some other outside force. If she's just doing it on her own, to save the family, she might be 'spying', but she's just a loyal and faithful servant.
And, for certain types of information, taking a position as a servant as a good idea, because, really, who notices one among many maids, as she goes about her tasks. Yes, she can't just run off and 'do her own thing', but aside from her supervisors, who really knows where she's supposed to be, or what she's supposed to be doing? Carry a chamber pot and most people would just look away entirely.

Rufus Coppertop
07-28-2015, 05:05 AM
In my WIP that takes place in 16th century Scotland, I am thinking of making my MC, who is taken into service of a wealthy family, a spy in order to save the family. She finds the man who is also a spy trying to take down the antagonist so he won't harm the people MC is staying with.

Could a female be a spy at this time? (She's 17.) How would they go about it?

Thanks.Yes. If she's intelligent, observant and educated, she could conceivably be a spy. If she has a particular skill that is in demand from time to time, she could be moving around from court to court or house to house.

Could she be a music scribe? Highly skilled at making elaborate and accurate copies of music with beautiful illuminations on high quality parchment? Maybe she gets commissions to do copies for lords who wish to impress their kings or catholic monarchs who wish to impress the pope.

If a lot of readers wouldn't believe that a female could be a freelance portrait artist at this time, they will probably believe in a music scribe simply because it's such a quirky and obscure thing that it wouldn't occur to people these days that there could have been such a profession. There was.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Alamire

She'd probably have to be an instrumentalist as well. The harpsichord/virginals would be appropriate. The krumhorn or blockflute absolutely not. Probably not the bass viol either. Also, music was written differently in those days and they didn't use key signatures, time signatures or bar lines and they didn't think in terms of tonal harmony.

Twick
07-28-2015, 07:45 AM
I suspect spying is the second oldest profession. No reason an intelligent woman couldn't be one.

Taejang
07-28-2015, 05:10 PM
At age 17 in that time period, she is an adult (practically middle age, even). If she needs to move about, she might disguise herself as a man to do so. If she is stationary (the things she spies on are in one location, like a castle or whatnot), then as others mentioned, she could set herself up as a servant there.

But yes, spying is a very old profession, right along with 'thief' and 'gatherer'. Women of every age and every culture have been spies; the only differences between male and female spies are the methods employed.

CWatts
07-29-2015, 05:16 AM
And, for certain types of information, taking a position as a servant as a good idea, because, really, who notices one among many maids, as she goes about her tasks. Yes, she can't just run off and 'do her own thing', but aside from her supervisors, who really knows where she's supposed to be, or what she's supposed to be doing? Carry a chamber pot and most people would just look away entirely.

That's pretty much what Mary Bowser did as an enslaved spy in the Confederate White House, as part of Elizabeth "Crazy Bet" Van Lew's Union spy ring. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/21/a-black-spy-in-the-confederate-white-house/?_r=0

mayqueen
07-31-2015, 04:40 PM
I know more about the rest of Europe and the near east at this time than Scotland, but I'll take a stab. Spying was a lot more informalized at this time, and it sounds like that's what you're setting up anyway (since she isn't dealing with state secrets or anything). A few countries in Europe were starting to set up their own bureaus or councils to manage and centralize their information-gathering activities. Most spies were people who had a reason to travel back and forth (priests, diplomats, etc), and because of the nature of that, were unlikely to be women. But we don't know a whole lot about the people who these spies were getting their information from, so maybe they were women. So, I think in the situation you're describing, in a household matter where she's taking it more or less on herself to information-gather than outright international spying, it sounds perfectly legit to me.

Twick
07-31-2015, 06:24 PM
It's later than your time period, but the start of the Dreyfuss case in France was the French finding out that the Germans were getting treasonous correspondence from a French officer. How did they find out? The cleaning lady, who emptied the German trash, was a spy, and took all the scraps back to French Intelligence, who pasted the bits together (the Germans hadn't bothered to burn the letters, just ripped them up). Nowadays it seems quaintly ridiculous - just tossing incredibly sensitive letters into the garbage. But it led to a crisis for an entire nation.

So, a servant in a house could, if she had nerve and initiative, probably find out nearly everything of importance about the inhabitants by going through scraps and listening at doorways. And that's not counting using Mata Hari methods.

Calder
08-04-2015, 04:43 AM
In my WIP that takes place in 16th century Scotland, I am thinking of making my MC, who is taken into service of a wealthy family, a spy in order to save the family. She finds the man who is also a spy trying to take down the antagonist so he won't harm the people MC is staying with.

Could a female be a spy at this time? (She's 17.) How would they go about it?

Thanks.

I'm a bit confused by what you mean by the term "spy." Usually a spy is someone who gathers information, sometimes confidential, which is then passed on to other people. If that is the case with your MC, gender isn't really an issue, but there's the question of who she is spying for and why and how does she communicate the results of her spying? A girl in service in 16th Century Scotland would, most likely, be illiterate.
If, on the other hand, your MC secretly gathers information which she keeps to herself, but later uses to save the family and unmask the male spy, she can be said to be "spying" but isn't really a spy in the accepted sense of the word.

Bufty
08-04-2015, 03:02 PM
Deleted. Mistaken assumption.

Tulips
08-18-2015, 07:14 PM
Does your novel take place in the first or second half of the 16th century? This is important, because Europe at the end of the 1500s was now engulfed in the Wars of Religion and this affected the political landscape, creating a more prevalent use of spies for sussing out secret loyalities/dealings/religious beliefs of families and courtiers.

Next, what is the rank of your "wealthy family?" I'm assuming nobility, but what if any positions do they have at court? If this takes place when Marie de Guise was regent or Mary Queen of Sctos was an adult (either in Scotland or after she had been imprisoned in England), you'll have more flexibility/opportubnity for your MC to be a spy. What is the social status of your spy, too?

I don't suppose your MC could be an English or French spy who becomes a turncoat spy for the family? Francis Walsingham had an elaborate spy network under Elizabeth I that stretched across Europe (if you haven't already, you should read about this to understand how spying worked in this time period - Walsingham had a school for spies). Catherine de Medici also utitlized young women as spies for her "Flying Squadron," though it was primarily for spying within the French Court/seducing men for information; however, you could make an argument that one of her spies was sent to Scotland during Marie de Guise's regency to protect France's interests there (when Mary of Scots/Francis were still betrothed).