Bess of Hardwick: Empire Builder

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Overview

"The best account yet available of this shrewd, enigmatic and remarkable woman."—Sunday Times [London]
From the author of The Sisters, a chronicle of the most brutal, turbulent, and exuberant period of England's history. Bess Hardwick, the fifth daughter of an impoverished Derbyshire nobleman, did not have an auspicious start in life. Widowed at sixteen, she nonetheless outlived four monarchs, married three more times, built the great house at Chatsworth, and died one of the ...

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Overview

"The best account yet available of this shrewd, enigmatic and remarkable woman."—Sunday Times [London]
From the author of The Sisters, a chronicle of the most brutal, turbulent, and exuberant period of England's history. Bess Hardwick, the fifth daughter of an impoverished Derbyshire nobleman, did not have an auspicious start in life. Widowed at sixteen, she nonetheless outlived four monarchs, married three more times, built the great house at Chatsworth, and died one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in English history.
In 1527 England was in the throes of violent political upheaval as Henry VIII severed all links with Rome. His daughter, Queen Mary, was even more capricious and bloody, only to be followed by the indomitable and ruthless Gloriana, Elizabeth I. It could not have been more hazardous a period for an ambitious woman; by the time Bess's first child was six, three of her illustrious godparents had been beheaded.
Using journals, letters, inventories, and account books, Mary S. Lovell tells the passionate, colorful story of an astonishingly accomplished woman, among whose descendants are counted the dukes of Devonshire, Rutland, and Portland, and, on the American side, Katharine Hepburn.

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Editorial Reviews

Sunday Times Book Review
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
Adam Goodheart - Sunday Times Book Review
“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 Goodhart
An experienced biographer of formidable women (including Beryl Markham, Amelia Earhart and the Mitford sisters), Mary S. Lovell evocatively describes the society in which Bess moved.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Born into the minor nobility, Bess of Hardwick rose to become one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in England, second only to Queen Elizabeth I. Lovell (The Mitford Girls) presents Bess's life as a study in how education, connections, marriage and property management shaped the life of women in the 16th century. Bess served in noble and royal households at key points in the tumultuous years of Henry VIII and his three children, helping her fourth husband guard Mary, Queen of Scots, and raising her own granddaughter Arbella Stuart with aspirations to England's throne. Becoming a successful manager in partnership with her second husband, William Cavendish, she built up properties and incomes through the rest of her life. Lovell assumes that Bess had a charm that drew people to her, yet it's hard to sense that personality in this account. The reader is repeatedly taken away from Bess by background stories, including a variety of court matters and detailed accounts of the Scottish queen and the career of Bess's somewhat obscure third husband. Family squabbles over property and incomes and the spectacular breakdown of her marriage to the Earl of Shrewsbury dominate the latter part of the book. While all these elements give a good sense of the times, Bess herself is only beginning to emerge on her own. B&w illus. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In a time when women found their education and legal rights severely limited, Elizabeth "Bess" Hardwick rose from her position as the fifth daughter of landed, though not especially moneyed, minor gentry to become the second most powerful woman in Elizabethan England. Lovell (The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family) traces not only Bess's remarkable success, which paralleled progressively advantageous marriages, but the resentment it inspired in some of her contemporaries, resentment that Lovell feels has unfairly tarnished Bess's reputation. She also sheds new light on the earlier, less well known periods of Bess's life and succeeds in bringing great humanity to a woman who has sometimes been wrongly portrayed as avaricious and conniving. Especially welcome are the care with which Lovell differentiates between similarly named or titled people in her story and her help with the idiosyncrasies of Tudor spelling. For those caught up in the story's supporting cast, Lovell has also graciously provided a brief overview of the fates of some of Bess's descendants. A meticulously researched and riveting tale, this title is recommended for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/05.]-Tessa L.H. Minchew, Georgia Perimeter Coll., Clarkston Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Biographer of the Mitford sisters, Amelia Earhart and Beryl Markham, among others, Lovell offers here a thoroughgoing, readable account of an extraordinary matriarch of Elizabethan times. Bess Hardwick (1527-1608) started out respectably enough, but would have gotten lost among the numerous progeny of her well-born but improvident family of gentlemen farmers had she not been married off brilliantly at age 15, only to be widowed two years later by her even younger husband. She made a greater match with Sir William Cavendish, treasurer of King Henry VIII, and together the two became opportunistic buyers of land, most notably the manor of Chatsworth in Derbyshire. The Cavendishes were masterly at navigating a place next to successive monarchs, from boy-king Edward, to brief, tragic Jane Grey, to the Catholic Queen Mary, and finally Elizabeth, with whom Bess shared an iron will and intelligence that warranted a lifetime of respect between the two women. With Cavendish's death, the wily Bess married Sir William St. Loe, an early ally of Elizabeth (as well as a distant relation to the author, apparently); the match seems to be the passionate love of her life. With his mysterious and sudden death in 1564 (perhaps poisoned by his envious brother), Bess was again an eligible widow, with numerous children and stepchildren, attracting her most glorious husband yet, the Earl of Shrewsbury, "arguably the richest man in the country." The role of the Shrewsburys was most famously as custodians of the troublesome Mary, Queen of Scots, and for the next 15 years she would be virtually imprisoned in one or the other of their estates. Ambitious Bess would try Elizabeth's patience with the secret marriage ofher daughter to Margaret Lennox's younger son, producing the royal next-in-line Lady Arbella (see Sarah Gristwood's Arbella, 2005). Lovell has synthesized admirably a staggering amount of information here (in lineage alone), and she presents it with verve. A fascinating life within an endlessly fascinating era.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393330137
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/11/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 608
  • Sales rank: 646,063
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet 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.

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Table of Contents


The Family Tree of Bess of Hardwick     x
Introduction     xiii
Merrie England 1520-40     1
Child Bride, Child Widow 1540-7     18
Lady Cavendish 1547     34
Family Matters 1547-51     52
Dangerous Times 1552-6     77
'Your Poor Friend' 1556-8     94
Sir William St Loe 1518-58     116
'My Own Sweet Bess' 1559-61     142
Lady St Loe in Trouble 1561-5     169
A Very Eligible Widow 1565-9     188
A Difficult Guest 1569-73     210
A Dangerous Match 1574-5     240
Raising Arbella 1576-8     259
Enough to Alienate the Heart 1578-81     279
Discord 1582-4     297
No Winners 1585-6     317
Death of a Queen 1586-90     336
The Dowager Countess 1590-2     365
More Window than Wall 1592-9     389
'In Perfect Health and Good Memory' 1600-02     416
Sharper than a Serpent's Tooth 1602-03     429
End of an Era 1603-08     447
A Long Arm...1608 et seq.     471
Appendices
Discussion of Bess of Hardwick's Date of Birth     481
The Office of Wards     483
SirWilliam Cavendish's Statement to the Star Chamber, August 1557     485
What happened to Bess's Children and Grandchildren     488
Extract from Tree Showing the Relationship between the Brandons and the Hardwicks     496
The Stepchildren of Bess of Hardwick     497
Family Tree: Selective Tree Showing the Heirs of Henry VII     498
Notes     499
Bibliography     529
Acknowledgements     536
Picture Credits     538
Index     541
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Customer Reviews

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