on 1 July 2011
I didn't know much about Bess of Hardwick before I read this book, but certainly feel that I know a great deal more about her now. As one of the most powerful women, and one of the richest landowners in Elizabethan England, the story of Bess also involves some of the key characters of Elizabeth's government such as Lord Burley and the Earl of Leicester, as well as Queen Elizabeth herself and Mary, Queen of Scots.
I certainly learnt a lot about the lifestyle of the wealthy classes from this book and was particularly struck by how often they moved about the country. The author has also, without a doubt, spent a lot of time researching her subject and looking for contemporary sources for the book.
Although the book is a very interesting read, and, one to be recommended for those interested in Elizabethan England, I have two or maybe three criticisms. The first is that there does not appear to be very much written about her earlier life, indeed she gets through the first three husbands quite quickly considering that she is nearly forty by the time the third one dies. This leads onto the second criticism; there is too much of the book dedicated to the imprisonment of Mary, Queen of Scots, for whom the Earl of Shrewsbury, Bess's fourth husband, was responsible over a 15 year period prior to her execution. Whilst it was undoubtedly a key part of Bess's life, and was probably one of the causes of her estrangement from the Earl of Shrewsbury, it is a part of the book that seems to be more about the Scottish Queen and Bess's husband than Bess herself. In fact it appears that Bess spent a lot of the time of the imprisonment avoiding Tutbury and much of this section seems to be a list of places that the queen was moved between which became quite dull after a while. My final, slight, problem with the book is that it is obvious that the author admires her subject. One can get the impression that Bess was as close to perfect as possible, which, considering that she managed to make some very good deals in order to increase her wealth is not at all likely - for her to succeed in business she must have had a ruthless streak in her. I would just like a slightly more balanced appraisal of Bess, I did like her, but she can't have been that nice - nobody is!
However, criticisms apart, I did enjoy the book, I learnt a lot about an historical figure that I didn't know about before and it was an interesting and easy read (if a bit long!).
on 17 January 2012
I'd heard the name Bess of Hardwick and who hasn't heard of Chatsworth, Hardwick or Bolsover? This was a very indepth biography of the indomnitable Bess, her husbands and her very wide family. This woman was at the heart of the Tudor aristocracy and Court for a long, long time. This biography covered all of this in depth. The writer was obviously a fan but who wouldn't be of Bess, who managed to accrue great wealth, mostly through her own business acumen at a time when women had few rights. She also managed a huge and complex family - Cavendish's, St Loes, and Shrewsburys. A truly remarkable lady. Written well and in an accessible style without dumbing down, the book was eminently readable.
Only downside about the Kindle edition was that the family trees were completely unreadable - and given the complexity of Bess's family ties at the end of her life...!
on 5 March 2014
This book was suggested by a friend, and was read by our book group. We live in the East Midlands, so many of the places were known to us
Bess came very much to life for us. We were interested in the food she ate, and the clothes she wore, ( which were well described) as well as the remarkable way she coped in very dangerous and difficult times. To have survived four husbands, and ended up with so much wealth and property was truly remarkable.
Mary Lovell goes into great detail about the relationships to Royalty, and this book gives a lot of insight into Mary Queen of Scots, and the Elizabethan era.
This is a long book, but well worth the time needed to read it.
Loved everything about this Tudor biography, Bess of Hardwick is impressively researched. The Author Mary S. Lovell writes the period with a sharp eye for detail and with a very comfortable narrative. These turbulent time were also brutal and this biography shows its a realistic one.
Lots happened in Bess of Hardwick life time, and its very descriptive. We are taken on a journey from her youth at Hardwick Old Hall, Derbyshire through her prosperity of four spouses, all detailed. The love of her life is singled out through beautiful letters, holding a sense of romance, when time and distance keep them apart, a longing to see each other, written terms of endearment with codes used. The book shows depth on Bess's last, powerful marriage, till death do us part; the break down, the famous separation, she was a woman to be reckoned with, the battle of the Shrewsburys.
We are shown all signs of the times, Bess outlived four monarchs, religion and politics which were hopelessly entangled, Bess survived by cultivating friendships on both sides. Protestant families granted lands by Henry VIII from the Dissolution of the Monasteries found their rise threatened by Catholics determined to retake the monarchy or die as martyrs. The Grey family who Bess knew, were power driven after the young Edward VI death, their plots were their daughters death warrant, an upraising, she was nothing more than a pawn, the poor blinded Lady Jane Grey was left groping for the block murmuring, "What am I to do? Where is it?", stills shocks. Mary Tudor return to the Catholic faith, her marriage to Philip of Spain was acknowledge but not accepted, these were bloody times. Elizabeth I is shown presiding over a Merry England with tight-fisted benevolence, this period also covers the Anthony Babington plot, Mary Queen of Scots involvement and death.
The Author throughout the whole of this book, has thoroughly absorbed the accounting books of Bess, told in a detailed and fascinating way. Expenditures, Bess's workings of her great estates and households for which were efficiently administered. Servants, food, materials for clothes, gold and silver thread for her needlework, education costs for her children, her obsession with Building work or the extra layout from being made a custodian to Mary Queen of Scots but not just personal matters; costs were a matter of corporate status as well. Those who held or aspired to authority, in which money plays a large part, needed to justify their claims by just such an expenditure, and competitive consumption came to be the order of the day, as each sought to demonstrate that his (or very occasionally her) cultural credentials were of the highest order. If you walked straight into Hardwick Hall those credentials are visual today, rich tapestries, plaster friezes, alabaster fireplaces which colour the rooms, to the hauntingly atmospheric Long Gallery.
Bess of Hardwick her manipulative charm attracted passionate supporters, she built and furnished beautiful houses, including the first Chatsworth. Grandmother to Lady Arbella Stuart who was for some time considered a possible successor to Elizabeth I, creative match-making issued in six ducal dynasties, three earldoms and a barony. Her great stone initials E.S set on the battlements of Hardwick Hall against the Derbyshire skyline awe the visitor with magnificent self-assertion today. Bess of Hardwick full of shrewdness, she became one of the richest and most remarkable women of Elizabethan England, and this biography outlines her many roads and buildings to success.
Overall I found this outstanding, the footnotes given at the bottom of certain pages are extremely helpful and informative, creating no confusion over whose, who, fathers their sons, uncles, cousins or mothers their daughter and aunts all had the same names so these are nicely separated out. Also words that are not familiar to us all nowadays, but were popular back then are all given meaning. Inspiring, interesting and an in-depth account, highly recommended reading.