Bess of Hardwick - First Lady of Chatsworth (1527 - 1608).
Bess Hardwick, born into the most brutal and turbulent period of England's history, the fifth of six daughters of an impoverished Derbyshire nobleman who died before her first birthday, did not have a particularly auspicious start in life. Widowed for the first time at sixteen, yet she outlived four monarchs, married three more times, founded dynasties that still wield influence today, and died one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in England's history.
In 1527 England was in the throes of violent political upheaval as Henry VIII severed all links with Rome, and yet after his son Edward VI died, Henry was eventually succeeded by a monarch even more capricious and bloody than himself; his daughter Mary, and after Mary's death by the indomitable and ruthless Gloriana, Elizabeth I. It could not have been more hazardous a time for an ambitious woman. By the time Bess's first child, Frances, was six years old, three of her illustrious godparents had been beheaded. Plague regularly wiped out entire families, conspiracies and feuds were rife, allegiances made and dissolved at a whim, royal intimates dispatched summarily to the Tower. But through all this Bess Hardwick bore eight children and built an empire of her own including the great houses of Chatsworth and Hardwick.
She survived sorcery, a poisoning attempt by her brother-in-law and charges of embezzlement. She negotiated the tortuous Elizabethan laws of succession and inheritance, endured the probable murder of her third beloved husband, married a fourth time to a senior peer (the Earl Marshall of England) and became co-guardian of Mary, Queen of Scots. She even managed to marry each of her children into noble families, in one case to royalty, no mean feat in a climate where it was a treasonable offence to marry without the queen's explicit consent.
Through journals, letters, court reports, inventories and books of accounts Mary S. Lovell charts the rise of an astonishingly tenacious and accomplished woman, one who loved extravagant furnishings and fine clothes and who inspired passionate uxoriousness in her husbands; a woman who was generous, hard-headed and brave. What is revealed is not simply an intimate portrait of one woman but also of all Tudor society: full of life and colour, bold, exuberant and fascinating.
What the reviewers said:
"The best account yet of this shrewd, enigmatic and remarkable woman."
The Sunday Times.
"Mary Lovell is an entertaining guide through the twists and turnings of Bess Hardwick’s marital and financial affairs … there is much to enjoy in this lucidly written biography."
"Lovell has excelled at bringing the Tudor Age to exuberant life ... altogether this is a rattling good read …a phenomenal story."
Hugh Massingberd, Mail on Sunday.
"This biography gives a clear impression of the political, social and domestic life of the Elizabethan age."
"Impressively researched …detailed and fascinating."
"Lovell has found much new material."
"Lovell argues convincingly."
Anne Somerset, The Spectator.
"Shows us, in this affectionate biography, a portrait of Bess that we have not fully seen before … engaging history."
Philippa Gregory, The Times.
"Utterly absorbing ... throughly researched ... one of those biographies in which the reader really doesn't want the subject to die. By the end I felt as close to this extrordinarily plucky, wan-faced lady as Queen Elizabeth, who once proclaimed of Bess, 'I assure you, there is no Lady in this land that I better love and like.'."
Alexander Waugh, Independent of Sunday.