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NEWS: They Shoot Spies: the untold story of the first female agents – Dr Viv NewmanOn Friday 22 April, Dr Viv Newman, social historian and author, visited Whitgift to give a lecture on the untold stories of some of the first female secret agents.


Date published: Fri 29 Apr 2016   Author: Becky Relf   Category: Academic


On Friday 22 April, Dr Viv Newman, social historian and author, visited Whitgift to give a lecture on the untold stories of some of the first female secret agents.

Dr Newman’s lecture began with the story of Aphra Benn, a 17th century British poet, author and playwright, who was recruited as a political spy by King Charles II, in Belgium, before her career as a writer. 

She also talked about Marthe Cnockhaert, a young Belgian nurse during the First World War. Marthe spied on Germans for the Allied Forces and was imprisoned in 1916. Her story was made into a film in 1933, but now has largely been forgotten, even though she is believed to be the only woman to have been decorated by France, Belgium, Great Britain and Germany.

Dr Newman followed this with the story of French secret agent, Louise de Bettignies, and Belgian secret agent, Gabrielle Petit, who was executed in 1916, and became a Belgian national heroine after the War's end.  

The lecture gave as a fascinating insight into the lives of women, who bravely went undercover for what they believed in. 

  • Statue of Gabrielle Petit in Place Saint-Jean, Brussels
  • Louise de Bettignies
  • Marthe Cnockaert