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.