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Bess of Hardwick: Empire Builder (2005)

af Mary S. Lovell

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4991450,160 (4.07)24
'Bess of Hardwick' is a biography of one of the most remarkable women of the Tudor era - next to Queen Elizabeth, the most powerful woman in England.
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From the “interesting women” wishlist. Elizabeth Hardwick was one of the most successful Elizabethan entrepreneurs, ending up as the second wealthiest woman in England (after the queen). She did this mostly by marrying well - four times, to increasingly well off husbands , increasing her net worth by about a factor of ten with each- but that requires a certain sort of entrepreneurship too, especially because Bess was not considered particularly attractive by contemporaries. It wasn’t all just inheritance, though; Bess proved to be quite adept at investment and banking.


There’s plenty of opportunity for author Mary Lovell to trumpet feminism here, but she doesn’t; in fact she’s almost disappointingly restrained. I would have liked to read a little more about the problems and disabilities facing women at the time. Ironically, Bess’s biggest problems came from other women; her last husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, had the thankless task of caretaker for Mary Queen of Scots and the trials associated with this may have contributed to the Earl’s eventual estrangement from Bess; and Bess’s granddaughter, Arabella Stuart (see Arabella) ended up as a burden as well. (Bess may have had herself to blame here, since it’s likely that she arranged the supposed “love match” of her daughter Elizabeth and Charles Stuart).


A well-written and easy read. The first few chapters are necessarily speculative; there’s so little documentation of Bess’s early life that the author is forced to repeatedly say “Bess may have done this...”, “Bess could have done that...”, “Bess might have done the other...” but that’s understandable. Recommended. ( )
2 stem setnahkt | Dec 4, 2017 |
Very well researched, complete with comprehensive documentation (footnotes AND endnotes, oh joy!) and a good understanding of the scholarship that’s come before. The book (a biography of a gentlewoman who lived through the later Tudor monarchs) has a tendency to get bogged down in details and tangents, but I’d rather err on the side of too much than too little. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
Impeccably researched biography of Bess, who through her four marriages and astute purchasing of land and its management became one of the wealthiest woman in England.

A contemporary, and friend of Elizabeth I, Bess appears to have been the only woman at court who had access to and so knew Mary Queen of Scots well, as the latter was her house-guest and prisoner for many years. And if Bess's ambitions had been fully realised, she would have become the grandmother of a future queen, seemingly holding her grand-child under house arrest to attain that end.

My one quibble with Mary Lovell is that she endeavours to paint Bess in a too positive light, emphasising how 'generous' Bess was (despite constantly complaining about lack of money in her letters) and a loving matriarch. But Bess became estranged from many members of her family. And even Elizabeth I had to step in to curb Bess's empire building when she tried to enclose common-land. I doubt the folk reliant on the common to scrape a living had much sympathy for Bess's complaints of being short of money when she already had numerous houses and was increasing the size of Chatsworth.

So I gasped at her vaulting ambitions and greed, but this was a revealing if under critical account of a fascinating woman living in a fascinating period of history. ( )
2 stem LARA335 | Feb 4, 2014 |
I'm a Tudor history buff, but I just plain couldn't finish this. It was solidly researched and very interesting but as dry as a barrel of low-salt soda crackers. ( )
  satyridae | Apr 5, 2013 |
A well-researched and accessible account of Bess of Hardwick, the formidable matriarch of the 'Chatsworth' Cavendish family.

Born at Old Hardwick House in Derbyshire, Bess built her own powerful and wealthy dynasty during the Elizabethan era by marrying onwards and upwards, acquiring money, status and a title from her four husbands (the first of whom she married at the 'tender age' of fifteen). Biographer Mary Lovell is keen to defend Bess as a shrewd businesswoman and loving wife and mother, instead of the traditional historical portrait of a calculating golddigger and grasping old harridan, and presents a convincing case. Bess' first husband died young, and Bess had to fight for her rights as his widow. Husband number two, Sir William Cavendish, was twice Bess' age and twice widowed, but he bought the Chatsworth estate for Bess and they had eight children together, including second son William, whose descendents include the first Duke of Devonshire. Bess' next husband, Sir William St Loe, left Bess all of his considerable fortune, making her one of the wealthiest women in the country, after Queen Elizabeth. And her fourth marriage, a final love match which soured in later years, was to George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, making Bess a Countess. The Earl was given the poisoned chalice of 'keeping' Mary, Queen of Scots, after she was imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth in 1568, and the strain of guarding Mary in the Earl's own houses and castles for fifteen years eventually caused the breakdown of the Earl's marriage to Bess, and destroyed his health.

After her last husband's death, Bess focused her considerable energies and wealth on her children and grandchildren - in particular her granddaughter Arbella, a potential heir to the throne after Elizabeth - and on expanding her already vast estates. Leaving Chatsworth, the house which she started building with Sir William Cavendish and later shared with the Earl (and Mary, Queen of Scots, on occasion) for her son, Bess set to building a new Hardwick Hall for herself, an impressive house - 'more glass than wall' - which remains today as a lasting monument to an incredible and determined woman.

I was disappointed that I was unable to borrow Mary Lovell's biography from the library - I plead lack of shelf space for not buying my own copy - because the Kindle version does not include any of the images featured in the printed copy, but this is an excellent account of Bess of Hardwick all the same. Lovell expertly combines history with personality, bringing to life the social and political background of Bess' England, so that modern readers understand just how impressive this woman was. I am full of admiration for Bess, who married at fifteen and lived until she was eighty, and cannot wait to visit her beloved house, Hardwick Hall, later this year! ( )
2 stem AdonisGuilfoyle | Jan 28, 2012 |
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"I assure you, there is no Lady in this land that I better love and like." Queen Elizabeth I about Bess of Hardwick
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This book is dedicated to Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire with my grateful thanks. Debo, as she prefers to be known, loves and cares for modern-day Chatsworth as Bess did for the original, and she has followed my research into Bess's life with interest, as well as much kind assistance.
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To most people who have heard of the woman who was born Elizabeth Hardwixk in 1527, she is known simply as "Bess of Hardwick" and forever coupled to the jingle, "Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall'.
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Little Bess Hardwick never knew her father.
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Published in England as Bess of Hardwick: First Lady of Chatsworth
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'Bess of Hardwick' is a biography of one of the most remarkable women of the Tudor era - next to Queen Elizabeth, the most powerful woman in England.

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