The New York Times
Bess of Hardwick: Empire Builderby Mary S. Lovell
"The best account yet available of this shrewd, enigmatic and remarkable woman."—Sunday Times [London]
Adam GoodhartAn 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 WeeklyBorn 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 JournalIn 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 ReviewsBiographer 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.
Sunday Times Book ReviewBess 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.”
- Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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