Sister Spies: Charm, Sass and Bravery Behind Enemy Lines

Royals and aristocrats have flirted with spycraft throughout the centuries from the legendary Moremi Ajasoro to Lady Lucy Hay, Countess of Carlisle, who was likely the inspiration for spy Milady de Winter in The Three Musketeers.

These six noble women broke ranks more recently, engaging in extraordinary charm offensives and sneaky espionage operations - some even risked their lives behind enemy lines.

María Aline Griffith


America’s ‘best dressed’ spy

María Aline Griffith, Countess of Romanones, was an ex-model living in Madrid during WWII. She wrote about her life as a coder and cipher clerk, recalling how she dressed in Balenciaga and infiltrated Spanish society to gather intel at nightclubs, bullfights, and country estates.

Royal Spies: Charm, Sass, and Nobility Behind Enemy Lines

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Royals and aristocrats have flirted with spycraft throughout the centuries from the legendary Moremi Ajasoro to Lady Lucy Hay, Countess of Carlisle, who was likely the inspiration for spy Milady de Winter in The Three Musketeers.

These six noble women broke ranks more recently, engaging in extraordinary charm offensives and sneaky espionage operations - some even risked their lives behind enemy lines.

María Aline Griffith


America’s ‘best dressed’ spy

María Aline Griffith, Countess of Romanones, was an ex-model living in Madrid during WWII. She wrote about her life as a coder and cipher clerk, recalling how she dressed in Balenciaga and infiltrated Spanish society to gather intel at nightclubs, bullfights, and country estates.

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Griffith grew up in rural New York and was trained at the ‘Farm’, the OSS/CIA camp for US spies, where she learned how to pick locks, crack safes, and make daggers from newspapers. She was also a member of the International Best Dressed List and married to the Count of Quintanilla.


Comtesse de Milleville

Feisty spy Mary Lindell ran Noah’s Ark, a British Secret Intelligence Service network in WWII that took its code names from animals. Lindell - a Red Cross nurse who married a French aristocrat - lived for danger. She dropped behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied France to set up escape routes for POWs and Allied airmen shot down by German soldiers. The countess was instrumental in Operation Frankton, hunted by the Gestapo, and eventually captured in 1943 but escaped. The French twice awarded her the Croix de Guerre.


Polish-British spy Krystyna Skarbek


Polish-British spy Krystyna Skarbek

Krystyna Skarbek, the Polish-born daughter of Count Jerzy Skarbek, excelled at languages, horseback riding, and shooting. She met her second husband, Count Jerzy Giżycki, on the ski slopes and they spent their time traveling before WWII. When Germany invaded Poland, she skied across the border to smuggle money, propaganda, and explosives into Poland and returned with microfilm. Skarbek - aka Christine Granville - also worked for Britain’s Special Operations Executive and survived the war only to be killed by a lover who stalked her in London.


Noor Inayat Khan

Noor Inayat Khan

Descended from South-Indian royalty, Noor Inayat Khan was a student of Sufism which taught her that honor and self-sacrifice are paramount.

After living in Paris, she decided to risk her life to aid the French resistance in WWII.

While the average life expectancy of a radio operator was just six weeks, Noor passed on crucial intelligence to British spies for four months in 1943.

Unfortunately, Noor Inayat Kahn was eventually executed. She received Britain’s George Cross for her service and her life was celebrated in the Hollywood movie A Call to Spy (2019) starring Radhika Apte as Noor Inayat Khan (left) and Sarah Megan Thomas as Virginia Hall.


Nancy Wake

Nancy Wake

Nancy Wake was a New Zealand-born freelance journalist brought up in Australia. She married French industrialist Henri Fiocca and was enjoying a life of champagne and caviar in the south of France when WWII erupted. She volunteered to drive an ambulance and is credited with saving hundreds of Allied soldiers and airmen by smuggling them to safety in Spain. She died at age 98. When asked a decade earlier if she’d lost her determination, Wake laughed: "Somebody once asked me: 'Have you ever been afraid?' Hah! I've never been afraid in my life.”


Kawashima Yoshiko

Chinese princess Yoshiko Kawashima was brought up in Japan and spied for the Japanese Kwantung Army. She was nicknamed the Mata Hari of the East for her popularity and cafe lifestyle. In the 1930s, she lived in Shanghai where she coaxed intelligence from Chinese officials on behalf of Tokyo, according to Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy. It didn’t end well. The princess became an opium addict obsessed with her pet monkey, and she was eventually convicted of treason and executed in China in 1948.

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