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Bess of Hardwick: Empire Builder Hardcover – 8 May 2006

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Co.; 1st American Ed edition (8 May 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039306221X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393062212
  • Product Dimensions: 23.9 x 17.6 x 4.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 370,276 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Mary S. Lovell was an accountant and company director until she began writing in 1980 following a serious riding accident which left her temporarily disabled. Now an internationally acclaimed biographer, she has written best selling biographies of Beryl Markham, Amelia Earhart, Cynthia Pack, Jane Digby, Sir Richard and Isabel Burton, the Mitford sisters and Bess of Hardwick. Her latest biography is a family saga of the Churchills. Her books have been translated into foreign language editions, in French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Danish and Finnish. Her biography of Amelia Earhart was made into a movie starring Hilary Swank and Richard Gere in 2010, and she has four further titles optioned for film treatments. Until 2011 she led reader groups interested in Jane Digby around Syria every year, to follow in the exciting footsteps of this favourite subject of hers. She has recently completed promotional tours in the USA and UK, and is now working on the final chapters of 'the Riviera Set'.

Product Description


"Bess was...more than a match for Elizabeth I. And Bess's life story, though hardly typical, may better capture the bumptious energies and bold new possibilities of the Elizabethan era...Lovell evocatively describes the society in which Bess moved." -- Adam Goodheart "Lovell has synthesized admirably a staggering amount of information...and she presents it with verve. A fascinating life within an endlessly fascinating era." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Mary S. Lovell's best-selling biographies include Straight on Till Morning (Beryl Markham) and The Sisters (the Mitford family). She lives in England. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By D. J. Cooper on 25 April 2010
Format: Paperback
Having read Lovell's Bess of Hardwick:First Lady of Chatsworth, I did wonder if this was a sequel. I'd found the original book informative, well researched, and a very good read - in fact I've read it more than once. Fortunately, having spotted the publication date of Empire Builder was rather close to First Lady of Chatsworth, I did a bit of digging round, and was found that Empire Builder is actually the same book, but published in America under the different title.

So if you already have First Lady of Chatsworth, this book is the same, but if you don't, then I highly recommend it if you enjoy reading about the Tudor Period. The referencing and bibliography are good, so worth getting for its factual content as well.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ms. L. Rodgers on 4 Nov. 2009
Format: Paperback
The seminal book on Bess of Hardwick, really need this for my dissertation. A very interesting read!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
absorbing.well written mine of information.hard to put time we go to Hardwick Hall we will enjoy it all the more
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Very interesting& put history of the Tudors into contect. Easy to read by the style in which it was written.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 33 reviews
45 of 45 people found the following review helpful
A true rags to riches story that really happened. 25 May 2006
By Rebecca Huston - Published on
Format: Hardcover
When I found out that there was to be an extensive biography of one of Tudor England's non-royal women, that title zipped to the top of my must-read-it-now list. And I was delighted to discover that this book did not disappoint at all. Author Mary S. Lovell is entertaining to read, with a narrative style that doesn't get too bogged down in the minuitae, and stays on topic.

Born as the younger daughter of a family of 'gentlemen farmers,' Elizabeth Hardwick -- always called 'Bess' -- was neither particularly pretty or wealthy. Deprived of her father, and with a mother who remarried quickly and had more children, Bess would have been completely unnoticed if it wasn't for the fact that she had, it seemed, a remarkable charm. A slight family tie to the powerful Grey/Brandon family gave her an entree to Tudor society, and Bess married early, at about the age of fourteen to her first husband, Robert Barlow, a boy two years younger than she, and it seems rather frail. When he died, Bess had her first taste of wealth and security with her widow's portion, and discovered that it was exactly what she needed in life.

Of course, it didn't hurt that she had a friendship with Lady Frances Brandon, the wife of the Marquess of Dorset. A niece of Henry VIII, Lady Frances was one of those people who knew everyone, did it well, and took a shine to Bess. And with the help of Frances, Bess met Sir William Cavendish, one of the King's 'New Men,' and an officer that was assigned to work in the Dissolution of the Monasteries. He was smitten with Bess, and despite a wide age difference -- he was more than twenty years older than she -- she evidently adored him. They would have eight children together, six of whom survived to adulthood, and he also taught Bess the fine art of business and the wisdom of keeping careful accounts, two skills that she put to very good use in the future.

When Sir William died, Bess found herself raising not just her own children, but also her stepchildren, all of whom she cared for a great deal, and obviously loved. Indeed, that's one of the attractive things about Bess -- she was loyal to those that she cared for, and she an instinctual urge to care for others. She was faithful to all four of her husbands, and to her friends -- among them Queen Elizabeth, who remained friends with Bess throughout both of their lives, and entrusted Bess and her fourth husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, with the care of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Lovell not just looks at Bess' life as a wife and mother, but also at her political scheming to have her granddaughter, Arbella Stuart, named as Elizabeth's heir. And then there is the remarkable building projects that Bess engaged in all of her life, including the sumptuous Chatsworth, and the remarkable Hardwick Hall, with its daring architecture and design. Lovell uses the existing records to trace Bess's ability to create, and reveals a woman who was anything but a stereotype. She was clever, manipulative as she needed to be when loaning money -- she would often take land as sureity for the loan, which was often defaulted on -- but also was a lover of fine things, charitable, and loving. Eventually, Bess has become the ancestress of most of the great families in England and Scotland, and of the current Queen Elizabeth, and her remarkable legacy of building still survives.

Lovell's writing style is engaging, and flows smoothly throughout the book. I enjoyed reading it, and this book will be staying on my 'keep' shelves.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
highly readable account, especially strong on the early years 18 Aug. 2006
By PMcC-DC - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Mary S. Lovell is a much more skillful writer and story-teller than most serious historians writing about Tudor figures; her full coverage of Bess's long life is a pleasure to read.

Lovell makes her strongest contributions in recounting Bess's early life, especially the significance of her connections with the family of Lady Jane Grey. Thanks in part to her own coincidental family connections, Lovell has also rescued Bess's third marriage to Sir William St. Loe from historical obscurity.

While the book is highly readable throughout, the later sections-- roughly from the marriage to the Earl of Shrewsbury onward-- don't really add much new ground versus David N. Durant's earlier "Bess of Hardwick: Portrait of an Elizabethan Dynast." Durant tells a more interesting account of Bess's building projects at Hardwick; provides more drama as he recounts the eventual conflict between Bess and her granddaughter Arbella Stuart; and covers Bess's mastery of the legal system in fascinating detail, something Lovell largely overlooks in her emphasis on personal relationships. Neither author has quite solved the dilemma of how to present Bess's life during the period it was dominated by her husband's custody of Mary Queen of Scots, but Lovell offers more insight and an impartial stance in assessing how and why the Shrewsburys' marriage broke down. Lovell occasionally gets sidetracked by other figures around Bess, notably the Earl of Essex at one stretch late in the book.

These are fairly minor quibbles, though. Overall, Lovell has produced a highly successful biography, a book that really paints a nuanced and persuasive portrait of Bess. This is undoubtedly the single best account of Bess's remarkable life.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
An Excellent readable biography but with some reservations 27 Dec. 2006
By A. Woodley - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Mary S Lovell has written two of my favourite biographies and I find her work generally excellent. She is very considerate of her subjects, but also very thorough, digging through screeds of papers to find information not previously discovered by other biographers. With Jane Digby and with her biography on the Mitfords she provided new and at times stunning insights into their lives.

She has done so again with Bess of Hardwick, interestingly a distant past relative of Dukes of Devonshire. Certainly she has put this woman into persepctive of her time. In her introduction to the biography she writes that Bess was the second most powerful woman in Tudor Times next to Elizabeth the first, an extraodinary feat given that woman at that time had few legal or property rights. She was born just before Elizabeth 1 and died after her, so their times were very much reflected.

However the introduction also introduces the reservations she has. Firstly that there is almost nothing written or in reference to Bess's early years, and so Lovell has had to make large jumps on faith in what what happened or what was likely. She has clearly researched the period thoroughly, the customs, the religious practices, the geographical situation she found herself in and political expediencies of the time. However as the old saying goes, "one swallow does not a summer make" - and simply because this is how things were generally done in these times does not mean that this is how Bess did them. So I found it somewhat annoying that Lovell talked with seeming certainty (and no clear documentary evidence) of how Bess would have been christened, given to a wet nurse, educated and so on. I think, that given Lovell's research it is PROBABLE, however I felt with the information given to us that it could not have been as confidently accepted as she makes out.

I also found some other points a bit annoying. For instance Bess lived with The Lady Frances Brandon for some time (mother of Lady Jane Grey and her sisters). Apparently she was a rather haughty rude woman and Lovell Quotes one of Lady Frances' children talking about how her mother and Father pinch and torment her no matter what she does. However it is clear that Bess got on well with her and was well treated and from this Bess must have been quite charming and politically incredibly able. After all Frances was the grand-daughter of a King. To be allied with her was politically incredibly expedient. But Bess managed to retain friendships with both herself and her children. This points to an extremely adept woman. However when it came to Bess's second marriage a couple of years later Lovell insists that it can only have been for love. The man, William Cavendish, was twice Bess's age, in his 40's with children almost her own age. A politically influential courtier and someone enormously useful for Bess. She may well have loved him, but at 19 and having lived 5 years as companion and lady in waiting in several houses I cannot imagine a young Tudor woman of Bess's age not understanding the political expediency of marrying this well. Lovell Talks about Bess not knowing if she was fertile and so not knowing if she could set up a dynasty or not. Frankly she knew that CAvendish was virile enough to have children, why she should not think that she could also have children and establish a dynasty? She was smart enough at this stage to have pursued, legally, her widows rights through the courts to her first marriage, why could she not be smart enough to see a bright future politically and financially with this man?

This is simply a few of the items I found a little annoying in Lovell's reasoning, it is almost as though she wanted Bess to be a naieve and love stricken tudor lass early but contrary, I think, to the evidence she provides.

However with reservations such as these, I still found the biography an excellent read, and the possibility of making your own conclusions to the information provided easy enough. Lovell writes well and presents her information nicely. The only other problem I had was that she keeps talking about things that will come up later in the book and so not really explaining them. Teeth Grindingly annoying at times, but necessary if you are going to present a story in a strictly chronological manner which she has.

I would recommend this book, and certainly her other works. But read with an open mind.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Wonderful book 23 July 2006
By Judith Herdeg - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is a marvelous book. I was at first worried it would be too dry and erudite for me, but I enjoyed every word. It is beautifully written with new research and strong documentation. The footnotes are intesting also. I apprecaited the way Mary Lovell referred to the present to make situations more understandable and how she explained old terms and side issues with footnotes at the bottom of the pages. Because the British nobility has so many names and titles the same, she refers back to other incidents to help keep them straight in your mind. I highly recommend this book.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
The other Bess 8 Jun. 2009
By P. B. Sharp - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Good Queen Bess was on the throne, but the indomitable Bess of Hardwick achieved what women in those days could rarely achieve unless they were royal: wealth, fame, prestige and power in their own right.

In this richly illustrated biography- portraits are included that you may never have seen before, such as one of Lady Jane Grey and a very mature-looking Edward VI- author Lovell takes you back to the Tudor era in a refreshing approach centered around the most powerful woman of her day after Queen Elizabeth. Bess of Hardwick was a woman of indomitable character. Ambitious, smart, opportunistic, but very likely charming, she was a woman who left her stamp on history and her DNA in exalted circles, that DNA being traceable right up to the present nobility including the Dukes of Devonshire.

Bess was born into the minor gentry but through a series of four strategic marriages and considerable managerial capabilities as chatelaine of great houses her fortunes spiraled upwards until she married her fourth husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury and became a member of the highest nobility, and with her husband "keeper" of Elizabeth's prisoner, Mary Queen of Scots.

The book is full of marvelous vignettes. On her way up the somewhat greasy pole, Bess knew everybody and went everywhere. We follow her through the reigns of Edward, Mary and Elizabeth. We see her as a young girl, a waiting woman in the household of Henry Grey and his horrid wife Lady Frances, parents made in hell of the girls Lady Jane Grey and her sisters Katherine and Mary. Bess became intimate friends of the Grey girls and kept a picture of the executed Lady Jane by her bedside her entire life. Can you imagine the horror Bess must have felt when that poor innocent girl was beheaded?

We see her as the mother of eight children, and as grandmother to that strange girl, Arbella, niece of Mary Queen of Scots and a political pawn and as it turned out, eventually one of Bess's major headaches. We see Bess as closely associated with the Earl of Leicester, Cecil, Walsingham, Burlegh, Essex and with Queen Elizabeth and with Mary Queen of Scots, her life interwoven in various ways with the famous men and women of her day. Her life is a mirror of the Tudor age on an upper-class level.

The book is gossipy and intimate and in following the vicissitudes of Bess of Hardwick's life, we learn about what affluent people wore, what they ate and what they said to each other, where they slept and who they slept with. We are a fly on the wall via this biography. We learn a great deal about the disintegration of the Shrewsbury's marriage. Bess was jealous of her husband's attentions to Mary Queen of Scots, fearing he had fallen for the Scottish queen's famous charms and wiles. He very likely was not impervious to Mary's charisma. The poor man had to give the signal for the executioner to strike when Mary had laid her head on the block.

Shrewsbury became mentally deranged towards the end of his life, perhaps as a result of strokes and his antipathy towards his wife never abated but festered until the day he died. Bess lived on for many years after Shrewsbury's death, outlasting Queen Elizabeth and most of her contemporaries, confident, efficient, a person to be reckoned with until the end.
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