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on 27 August 2017
I can't remember when I last so enjoyed a biography. Bess comes across as both a consummate operator in a man's world but also as a warm and loving mother and grandmother- often "hard" love towards the less deserving but always in the best interests of her family. The vivid picture of the society (both high and lowly) and the politics of the day also make this book an exciting page-turner. The author's meticulous research and thoughtful use of it puts her predecessors on the subject in the shade. Read it. You won't put it down.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 23 July 2015
The Elizabethan age seemed to breed remarkable women. Perhaps it was something in the air, or perhaps it was the fact that the reigning monarch was herself a remarkable woman, strong, assertive, dominant. Perhaps a woman on the throne gave a certain freedom of action to women in that era that may not have otherwise existed. Certainly Bess of Hardwick had many traits in common with Elizabeth - they both experienced deprivation and loss in their youth, they both had immense charm and control over men, they were both shrewd and canny, both wilful and domineering personalities. Their lives were intertwined over the course of four decades, from when a teenage Princess Elizabeth served as godmother to one of Bess' children, through Bess' serving at Court and her and her husband's custody of Mary Queen of Scots, and her granddaughter Arbella's fraught and tenuous position as a potential claimant of Elizabeth's throne.

It is telling that Bess, like Elizabeth, is one of the few women in history who is famous for herself, rather than her role as some famous man's wife. How many people have heard of Bess, or Chatsworth or Hardwick Hall, 'more window than wall'? And yet how many of those could name even one of Bess' four husbands? I know I couldn't. But despite this, the common belief has always been that she 'married her way up', going from husband to increasingly rich husband. Certainly her social position improved via marriage but the immense wealth and influence she wielded later in her life was entirely as a result of her own financial acumen and political touch.

I live in Derbyshire and very close to Tutbury Castle, so as a local it was fascinating to read a book that touches so much on locations and houses so familiar to me. So much English history is London-centric that it was beyond refreshing to read something focusing so much on the 'provinces', the northern counties that rarely get much of a look-in in the great events of history. Mary Lovell is an excellent writer and she has a real knack for bringing her subjects to life. One of her previous books, about Jane Digby, I can't rate highly enough - and this biography of Bess is almost as good. I felt real affection for Bess through these pages, as I'm sure Mary Lovell did, and I was sad to say goodbye to her at the end.
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on 23 July 2016
This is, without a doubt, one of the very best biographies I have ever read. It is written without the zig zagging back and forth through timelines favoured by some biographers, which is refreshing. The extensive research and detail left me feeling I almost knew this fascinating, strong woman, and the times in which she lived. Recommend highly.
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on 19 July 2017
The best biography of Bess as well as a picture of her times I have ever read. I am on the second reading now. I have known about her for years but largely from unverified slightly biased information sources or as just an incidental character in the history of Derbyshire but I feel I know her and now really admire her. Thank you.
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VINE VOICEon 16 April 2011
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.

Andrea Bowhill
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on 8 May 2014
The book follows the eventful journey Bess made to the upper echelon of Elizabethan society. But more than that you are given an insight into the everyday workings of a great Elizabethan house. From the food that was needed, the linen, the servants required for the smooth running of the establishment to how they kept the place warm with tapestries and four poster bed hangings. How the residents of a house or castle would move to another residence so the rat catchers could go in and all the floor rushes could be renewed and sprinkled with herbs. Details such as these stop the book from being just a great history lesson. The book should leave you feeling admiration for Bess but hopefully more au fait with Elizabethan times. Read and enjoy.
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on 6 June 2017
Super read very pleased with this book so very factual bit heavy at times but it was very good quality
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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...!
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on 9 March 2018
Read it when first published. Good book about an an amazing lady. Well worth a read it you are interested in reading about Bess. She and her family built some of the greatest houses in England. Easy and interesting read but it is not a novel.
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on 21 April 2010
Well - I romped through this! This is the 2nd of 3 historical books I've bought recently which has been an absolute joy and a seamless read. Very informative, but without being dry and dotted with footnotes that interrupt the narrative. (A lot of historical writers please take note!) It is a balanced, well-researched book about an interesting woman. Bess may well have been ahead of her time with her property and financial management, but I think she would hold her own very well in this day and age!

Highly recommend this book as an insight into the Elizabethan age as a whole.
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