Queen of Codes: The Secret Life of Emily Anderson, Britain’s Greatest Female Code Breaker

Jackie Ui Chionna

When the history of British codebreaking is told, the story is often a men-only preserve (for example, of the top fourteen listed actors in Bletchley Park-set The Imitation Game, only one is a woman). That perception completely ignores the fact that the vast majority of codebreakers were in fact women. And foremost among them was one who is largely unknown to the public, and whose activities were a secret even to her closest contacts – Emily Anderson.

Anderson was a leading member of British intelligence for over three decades. She played key roles in both World Wars, worked in Bletchley Park and in the Middle East, and was reckoned among the top three female codebreakers in the world. Her work coincided with her other great love – music. She is famous in musicology circles as being the first to effectively decipher the letters and diaries of Mozart and Beethoven. In 1961 Germany awarded her their highest honour, the Order of Merit First Class, completely ignorant of the fact that the interpretative skills they were honouring were the same utilised to defeat their military only a few years previously.

Secrecy was the keyword of her life, as she also had affairs with other women at a time when such was not generally accepted. That few are familiar with her name is no surprise. Even those close to her had little idea that she had such a significant role in international affairs. Now, this startling new narrative of her life, complete with new material and sources QUEEN OF CODES will place Emily Anderson at the forefront of great British codebreakers.

“This fantastic piece of work by Dr Jackie Uí Chionna highlights the critical role that women have played in our organisation’s history.”
Dr David Abrutat, GCHQ Departmental Historian
“In unravelling Anderson's story, Uí Chionna shines a light on an extraordinary woman who literally changed the course of history.”
Suzannah Lipscomb
“The groundbreaking contribution of Emily Anderson to codebreaking in the 20th century has been hidden for far too long… until now. One of the most important biographies of recent times.”
Dr Helen Fry, author of Women in Intelligence
“Completely compelling, endlessly illuminating and richly intriguing – Jackie Ui Chionna’s wonderfully written and deeply researched work has at last pulled back the curtain of secrecy from one of Bletchley Park’s most extraordinary unsung figures. This is a story not just of a pioneering codebreaking genius, working through two world wars, but also – movingly - about a dazzlingly brilliant woman creating a space for herself and her passions in a rigid world and at a rigid time. ”
Sinclair McKay
“That this book could even be written is a wonder of research... That this book is so well written is a delight to match the grace of Emily Anderson's scholarship on Beethoven and Mozart.”
John Ferris
“Based on rigorous research and brilliant storytelling, Ui Chionna has produced a seminal biography that Anderson would have approved.”
Claire Hubbard-Hall: