300 and not out! Bess of Hardwick by Mary S. Lovell reviewed by Northernvicar

Mary S. Lovell, Bess of Hardwick; First Lady of Chatsworth, Little, Brown, 2005

Julie has asked me to write a guest blog for number 300. It seems only right that, since I am married to a wonderful Derbyshire lady, to write a blog about another one.

Bess was born in 1527, at the small manor farmhouse at Hardwick. Lovell gives a good picture of what was life in that period of English history, not just the interplay of royalty and politics, but the sheer struggle for survival of any young child. She was sent to the Zouche family of Codnor Castle for her training as a lady in waiting. She met Robert, a close relative, and they were married at the age of 15. He died a year later. Lovell has done her research. We have the account of a seventeenth century antiquarian of her marriage to Robert, and she does a good job of explaining the financial transactions involved.

In 1547 Bess married William Cavendish, from Chatsworth, and the Treasurer of the King’s Chamber. Lovell takes us right into the court of the boy king Edward VI. The newly married couple purchased themselves a “great bed” – “with savines [raspberries] and woodbines [honeysuckle] fringed with gold, silver and black silk”. Their first child was born ten months after their wedding day. The couple are involved in the plans to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne, and retire quietly to Chatsworth when that plan fails. Yet, such is William’s political skill, that Queen Mary became Godmother to their third child, Charles.

William died after 10 years, and Bess married another William, William St Loe. He sounds a fascinating man, and they made an amazing couple. They obviously loved each other, were attracted to each other and, once again, she married well. When he died in 1565 she was left a very wealthy widow. His children were not happy, and much of the rest of Bess’s life was lived in disputation with them – it is quite a sad picture.

In 1568 Bess married George Talbot. Life became difficult when Queen Elizabeth charged them with the guarding of Mary Queen of Scots. For several years they progressed round different castles and what we would call stately homes, but the pressure (both emotional and financial) of caring for the Queen took its toll on their marriage. George died in 1590 and is buried in Sheffield Cathedral – there are some photos on my blog.

Bess lived for another 18 years, and died at Hardwick Hall in 1608, aged 81. Julie and I need a proper explore of both Hardwick Hall (National Trust) and Chatsworth House. She is buried at Derby Cathedral. I need to write that Cathedral up for my blog – but here are two photos of her tomb.

It is said that Bess ensured that each husband richer than the last. She was a moneylender, property dealer, exploiter of iron works, coal mines and glass works – part of the early industry of the East Midlands. She ended up as the richest woman in England after the Queen – shrewd, charming, scheming, powerful and ambitious. Lovell’s book is thorough, readable, fascinating – highly recommended.

Congratulations to northernreader on her blog.

Image result for bess of hardwick lovell

Thanks! Watch this space for more reviews and Bookish stuff. (And even a cat plus books photo!)


One thought on “300 and not out! Bess of Hardwick by Mary S. Lovell reviewed by Northernvicar

  1. Bess of Hardwick is one of my heroes! I actually prefer Hardwick Hall to Chatsworth for a day out. Partly this is because I was born in Derbyshire and have a proprietorial sense about her: it is so heartening to read about women taking muscular roles in our history, making me wonder if at some point (eg in the Victorian era) we actually lost power as well as influence. This biography sounds just what I need.

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