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Penelope, Tudor Baroness

Author Tony Riches shines a light on a fascinating woman of the Elizabethan court

Penelope, Tudor Baroness

Author Tony Riches writes captivating accounts of Tudor England’s most illustrious figures. His latest novel features a mesmerizing woman of Queen Elizabeth I’s court whose story has languished in the shadows for too long. I’m thrilled to welcome Tony to the blog today for an interview about Lady Penelope.

Daughter of Queen Elizabeth’s nemesis, the Countess of Essex, Penelope rose through the ranks of royal courtiers to become maid of honor to the queen. Though she was caught up in her brother Robert’s fateful rebellion, the beautiful Penelope charmed her way out of serious charges of treason, adultery, and forgery. Tony Riches’ novel creates a dramatic portrait of this complex woman, whose life was a story of love, betrayal, and tragedy.

Welcome, Tony!

AM: What’s the tagline or ‘elevator pitch’ for your book, ‘Penelope – Tudor Baroness’?

TR: Beautiful and talented Baroness Penelope Rich survives scandal and tragedy to find happiness.

AM: How did you come up with the idea for your book?

TR: I wrote Essex – Tudor Rebel, about her brother, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, and discovered what a fascinating and influential woman Penelope was. She lived life on her own terms, and most people have never heard of her, so I thought her time has come.

AM: What inspired you to write about that particular era or character?

TR: I began writing the stories of the Tudors from the beginning, with Owen Tudor’s first meeting with Queen Catherine of Valois in the first book of my best-selling Tudor Trilogy, and have since progressed over ten historical novels to complete the story to the end of the Elizabethan era, (and the ‘culture shock’ of the new King James.)

AM: How did you create a realistic setting for your story?

 TR: I’ve been immersed in the people and places of the Elizabethan world for the past five years, so have become something of an expert on the complex court of Queen Elizabeth – and her many palaces.

 AM: What surprised you in the course of your research?

 TR: I wasn’t aware that Elizabethan society would understand Penelope living openly with her lover – or that divorce was impossible without an Act of Parliament. I found it wasn’t until the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 that the first divorce law was introduced in the courts of England and Wales.

 AM: Do your research findings guide the plot, or do you plan out the plot first and flesh it out with research? (Or perhaps both?)

 TR: In my Tudor and Elizabethan books the actual events of history guide the plot, and I do exhaustive research to make sure they are as accurate as possible. Lord Byron’s saying ‘Tis strange – but true; for truth is always strange; Stranger than fiction; if it could be told.’ is proven right by my research. Although historical fiction, I have only had to ‘fill in the gaps’, and believe my new book is therefore one of the most comprehensive account of Penelope’s amazing story.

Penelope (r) with her sister Dorothy

AM: Name three historical facts or events that helped bring your main character to life.

TR: Three great historical events of Penelope’s life were the Spanish Armada, the death of Queen Elizabeth I and the crowning of King James. In 1588 Penelope believed the country would be invaded by the Spanish, as she was in a position to know England was poorly prepared. It was truly the end of an era when the old queen died, and Penelope did all she could to win the favour of the new king – and was successful, as his new queen appointed Penelope as one of her ladies-in-waiting.

AM: As historical novelists, we are often left wondering about tantalizing mysteries that can’t quite be solved with our research. If you could invite your main character(s) to dinner, what questions would you ask them, and what lingering mysteries would you hope to solve?

TR: What a great idea, I’m looking forward to the invention of time travel! I would ask Penelope to talk me through her many children, as few of her biographers agree on the order, and leave some out entirely. (I updated her Wikipedia page with what I believe is the correct order.) I’d also like to understand why she didn’t do more to stop her brother’s rebellion, as she must have known it would not end well.

AM: Do you completely plan out your cast of characters before writing, or do you sometimes add new characters as you go along? What are some of the reasons you’ve added new characters to a story?

TR: I decide which characters from history to include on the basis of how important they are to the main character’s story. The only characters I invent are servants, who are rarely recorded or mentioned in the historical records, so this gives me plenty of scope to be creative.

 AM: Do you have any tips for other writers about keeping track of your historical fiction research?

TR: I keep all the reference books I’m using together in a box, as I was always losing them! I also have a system of saving any web based research I find in a folder of the book name, so I can find them easily even several books later. I must admit I’ve spent hours looking for a reference when I remember seeing it but not sure where!

AM: Do you prefer to write in silence or with background music? If music, what kind and why?

TR: I like to have music playing when I’m writing, and use a MacBook Pro, so the sound quality is excellent and can be muted with a single click. I like a wide range of music, but my latest favourite is singer songwriter Katie Melia, who I saw recently when her concert tour came to Wales.

AM: What do you have planned for your next writing project?

TR: I am already researching the fifth book (of six) in my Elizabethan series, about another of Queen Elizabeth’s ladies. Less well known, they all had close contact with her, influence with her advisors, and the opportunity to see behind the queen’s carefully contrived façade.

AM: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

TR: I enjoy sailing and kayaking, and live close to the sea and the River Cleddau, so like to get out on the water as often as I can. I also have an Indian Scout motorcycle and a Ducati Scrambler, and enjoy riding them when the weather is good.


 Penelope – Tudor Baroness (Book Four of The Elizabethan Series)

Penelope’s life is full of love and scandal. The inspiration for Sir Philip Sidney’s sonnet Astrophel and Stella, she is inevitably caught up in her brother Robert’s fateful rebellion.

A complex and fascinating woman, her life is a story of love, betrayal, and tragedy. Discover how Penelope charms her way out of serious charges of treason, adultery, and forgery, and becomes one of the last truly great ladies of the Tudor court.

A maid of honour to Queen Elizabeth, Penelope outlives the end of the Tudors with the death of the old queen and the arrival of King James, becoming a favourite lady-in-waiting to the new queen, Anne of Denmark.

“This is the story of a woman who lived life on her own terms, and one that will stay with you long after you finish reading it.”

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About the author

 Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of Tudor historical fiction. He lives with his wife in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the lives of the early Tudors. As well as his new Elizabethan series, Tony’s historical fiction novels include the best-selling Tudor trilogy and his Brandon trilogy, (about Charles Brandon and his wives). For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website and his blog, The Writing Desk and find him on  Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches

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