Stolen Moments ~ Welcome to my blog

Yet another Tudor lady – Tony Riches has a new book out!

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I am not necessarily a Tudor era fan. But there are some writers who do a great job stepping out of teh stereotyping of the era (and in particular I am pretty sick of stories featuring Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn) and instead breathe life into some of the movers and shakers of the period. One such writer is Judith Arnopp. Another is Wendy J Dunne – and then we have today’s guest, Tony Riches, who has sort of been working his way forward through time, since his first books featuring Warwick the Kingmaker or Eleanor Cobham. I picked up Tony’s book about Owen Tudor years ago because I was fascinated by this man who somehow managed to get away with marrying the widow of Henry V. since then, I think I’ve read all of Tony’s books, even when he has moved well into the time of teh Tudor kings and queens.

His latest release, Frances – Tudor Countess, features the wife of the flamboyant Earl of Essex, once Elizabeth I’s much younger favourite, then a hot-headed rebel. However, Frances was more than the Countess of essex: she was also the daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham, spymaster extraordinaire to Elizabeth I. It seems the daughter had the skills required to follow somewhat in her father’s footsteps, at least to judge from Tony’s guest post below! With that, it is over to you, Tony!

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 her father 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.

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.

I recommend Stephen Budiansky’s book, ‘Her Majesty’s Spymaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage’ to anyone looking for a deeper understanding of this secretive side of the Elizabethan world. I also recommend ‘The Queen’s Agent: Sir Francis Walsingham and the Rise of Espionage in Elizabethan England’ by J. P. D. Cooper.

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.
Thank you, Tony, and now onto the book itself:
Frances Walsingham is the only surviving child of Queen Elizabeth’s ‘spymaster’ Sir Francis Walsingham. Better educated than most men, her father arranges her marriage to warrior poet Sir Philip Sidney.

After Philip Sidney is killed in battle, Frances becomes Countess of Essex, and is banished from court after her husband Sir Robert Devereaux’s rebellion against the queen.

Can she marry for love, if it means turning her back on her faith and all she knows?

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



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

Media Links:







Amazon Author Page:



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.