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Today I’m welcoming author and Tudor expert Tony Riches to my website. Tony has recently released Frances, Tudor Countess which is the fascinating story of Frances Walsingham, daughter of Elizabeth I’s spymaster, Francis Walsingham. Tony explains more about his research.


Frances – Tudor Countess: Breaking the Secret Codes, by Tony Riches

I’ve been telling the continuous story of the Tudors for the past twelve years, from the first meeting between a young Owen Tudor and the lonely widowed Queen Catherine of Valois, through to the last days of Queen Elizabeth I.

I decided to make the Elizabethan books a series of six, rather than a trilogy, and explore the complexity of Queen Elizabeth through the eyes of three of her favourite men, Drake, Essex and Raleigh, and three of her ladies. I had plenty to choose from, but found the most interesting were Penelope, eldest daughter of the queen’s nemesis, Lady Lettice Knollys, one of her ‘Gentlewomen’, Bess Raleigh, and Frances, the only surviving child of the queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham.

Frances nursed him through a long illness at his home, Walsingham House, in Seething Lane, in the shadow of the Tower of London. Her father seems to have suffered complications following ‘treatment’ for kidney stones which eventually confined him to his bed (although later historians suggest he died from a form of cancer).

Unusually for the time, Sir Francis ensured his daughter had the best education he could afford, and spent long hours tutoring her himself in Latin, French and Spanish. The queen was unsympathetic about her spymaster’s illness, and concerned about rumours of Catholic plots against her. His problem was knowing who he could trust, as he even suspected members of his own network of being double agents.

Sir Francis Walsingham


It is therefore likely that he would turn to the one person he could rely on, his daughter. In my book, Frances works in her father’s study, decoding the latest letters of intelligence from their agents. The work takes patience, yet she finds the challenge satisfying. Her ability to memorise and recall the detail of codes means she can decipher faster than her father. She enjoys helping him, and being the first to know important state secrets.

Here is an example of one the ciphers Frances could have worked on:

Frances could have helped her father decode letters from Mary Queen of Scots, and provide evidence of the Babington plot, as well as the first warnings of the Spanish Armada. Unlike the substitution tables favoured by Catholics, her father used symbols, over and under the same letters, to change their meaning. A letter ‘m’ with two dots below means ‘more’, and ‘m’ with a bar across the top means ‘money’. The queen and many others had their own secret symbols, meaningful only to Frances, her father and his most trusted agents.

When I set out on this ‘journey’ to tell the story of the Tudors I had no idea how much I would learn about fascinating women such as Frances Walsingham, who witnessed the key events of the Elizabethan era first-hand, yet is so little known – until now.

Frances – Tudor Countess is new from Amazon in eBook and Paperback, and an audiobook edition will be produced this year:

Tony Riches


Author Bio

Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling Tudor historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the Tudors. For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website and his blog, The Writing Desk and find him on  Facebook, Twitter @tonyriches and Bluesky:  You can find out more about his research on his popular podcast series, ‘Stories of the Tudors


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