A picture shows love letters sent to capture French sailors, that had gone unread for 265 years.
The National Archives / Renaud Morieux
Love letters sent to French sailors have been opened for the first time in 265 years.They contain intimate messages sent during the Seven Years’ War between 1756 and 1763.The letters got “agonizingly close” to reaching the soldiers, before being seized by officials.
In a steamy letter sent more than two centuries ago, Anne Le Cerf wrote to her husband, an imprisoned French naval officer, that she could not “wait to possess” him.
“I embrace you with my heart, being unable to do it with my lips,” wrote another wife to her husband, Jean Baptiste Emmanuel Gilbert, a master calker on the Galatée, a captured French warship.
“I am fatigued and impatient of not being able to enjoy your amiable presence. I can assure you that days seem like months, and months like years,” read another letter, translated to English.
Such loving words never reached their intended destination. For more than 265 years, these letters — along with more than 100 others sent to French prisoners — were left unread.
Many of the letters contain intimate messages from the fiancées and wives of French sailors imprisoned during the Seven Years’ War between 1756 and 1763.
After being seized by British officials, they lay untouched in the National Archives in Kew, London, before Renaud Morieux, a professor of history from Cambridge University, decided to open them.
A picture shows one of the long-lost letters addressed to french sailors over 265 years ago. This letter, addressed by Anne Le Cerf to her husband, reads “I cannot wait to possess you.”
The National Archives / Renaud Morieux
“I could spend the night writing to you…I am your forever faithful wife. Good night, my dear friend. It is midnight. I think it is time for me to rest,” read one letter by Marie Dubosc to her husband, a Lieutenant on the Galatée.
Morieux’s investigation revealed that Dubosc died a year after sending her letter. Her husband never read her message and remarried shortly after being released from prison.
The Seven Years’ War was a conflict between France and Britain that began as a dispute over North American land. It spread into conflict in other parts of Europe, North America, Africa, and India.
Almost 20,000 French sailors were captured by the British military to thwart France’s effort to crew their state-of-the-art ships during the Seven Year War.
During the war, France commanded some of the world’s most advanced ships but lacked experienced sailors. To take advantage of this, Britain imprisoned as many French sailors as it could throughout the war.
In 1758, out of 60,137 French sailors, a third were detained in Britain, according to the press release.
Letters to the French prisoners were redirected to England when the ships were captured. Morieux believes they got “agonizingly close” to reaching their destination, but English officials opened only two, decided they likely had no military value, and stored them rather than pass on potentially sensitive information.
“I realized I was the first person to read these very personal messages since they were written. Their intended recipients didn’t get that chance. It was very emotional,” he said in a press release.
While the letters are more than two centuries old, the sentiments shared by the women, who authored more than half of the letters, are remarkably familiar, Morieux said in a press release.
“When we are separated from loved ones by events beyond our control like the pandemic or wars, we have to work out how to stay in touch, how to reassure, care for people, and keep the passion alive,” he said.
The biggest difference is that these messages were, to some extent, more public than messages today.
Paper was expensive, so love messages were often tagged onto the bottom of letters written by other family members. Many of these women were illiterate and would have required someone else to write their love notes.
“Most of the people sending these letters were telling a scribe what they wanted to say, and relied on others to read their letters aloud. This was someone they knew who could write, not a professional. Staying in touch was a community effort,” said Morieux.
The letters and their analysis were published in the French journal “Annales, Histoire, Sciences Sociales” on Monday.