Richards, Harry (2018) Popular emotions and the spy peril, 1914-1915. Doctoral thesis, Keele University.

[thumbnail of Edited version] Text (Edited version)
Restricted to Repository staff only until 15 November 2023.

Download (5MB)


Following Britain’s entry into the First World War, the foreign spy became a particularly poignant image in popular culture as well as broader political discourse. Although espionage had featured regularly across British society during the preceding decade, with the outbreak of war the depiction of the spy took on a new significance. This thesis analyses British fears of German espionage between August 1914 and December 1915, in order to assess how popular spy phobias shaped wartime experiences. This recrudescence of spy fever, as these fears are commonly known, was facilitated by national policies and encouraged by local authorities. Pre-war strategic planning had determined that agents of the Kaiser were likely to target vulnerable infrastructure essential to Britain’s mobilisation. With this in mind, authorities responded to the declaration of war by conducting an erratic search for potential spies within their respective communities. These ostensibly official measures combined with scaremongering in the press to establish the danger of foreign espionage. Early rhetoric defined the appropriate response; popular suspicion and enhanced vigilance became essential to the national war effort.

Defence panics had been an intermittent feature of Victorian and Edwardian discourse, and spy scares reflected a continuation of this tradition. Fears of espionage were far more prolific as collective anxieties rather than individual qualms. While some elements of society were caught up in this spy fever, others appeared unaffected by such concerns. As this thesis will show, emotional responses to spies appeared most pervasive in staunchly conservative communities that believed liberalism was ill-equipped to deal with national security and imperial defence. As a result, liberal ideals created a conflicting set of emotions that opposed radicalism and the feelings that it promoted. Spy fever was thus not a ubiquitous panic, nor was it particularly irrational, despite the fallacy of the espionage threat. Although anti-alienism has often been identified as the cause of such trepidation, spy phobias were multifaceted, and individuals who developed such fears did so for a variety of reasons.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Additional Information: Embargo on electronic copy access until 15 November 2023 - The thesis is due for publication, or the author is actively seeking to publish this material. This electronic version of the thesis has been edited solely to ensure compliance with copyright legislation and excluded material is referenced in the text. The full, final, examined and awarded version of the thesis is available for consultation in hard copy via the University Library.
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D501 World War I
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Humanities
Depositing User: Lisa Bailey
Date Deposited: 13 Dec 2018 09:18
Last Modified: 10 Jan 2023 16:33

Actions (login required)

View Item
View Item