Devices and Desires: Bess of Hardwick and the Building of Elizabethan England

Devices and Desires: Bess of Hardwick and the Building of Elizabethan England

by Kate Hubbard


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The critically acclaimed author of Serving Victoria brilliantly illuminates the life of the little-known Bess of Hardwick—next to Queen Elizabeth I, the richest and most powerful woman in sixteenth-century England.

Aided by a quartet of judicious marriages and a shrewd head for business, Bess of Hardwick rose from humble beginnings to become one of the most respected and feared Countesses in Elizabethan England—an entrepreneur who built a family fortune, created glorious houses—the last and greatest built as a widow in her 70s—and was deeply involved in matters of the court, including the custody of Mary Queen of Scots.

While Bess cultivated many influential courtiers, she also collected numerous enemies. Her embittered fourth husband once called her a woman of “devices and desires,” while nineteenth-century male historians portrayed her as a monster—”a woman of masculine understanding and conduct, proud, furious, selfish and unfeeling.” In the twenty-first century she has been neutered by female historians who recast her as a soft-hearted sort, much maligned, and misunderstood. As Kate Hubbard reveals, the truth of this highly accomplished woman lies somewhere in between: ruthless and scheming, Bess was sentimental and affectionate as well.

Hubbard draws on more than 230 of Bess’s letters, including correspondence with the Queen and her councilors, fond (and furious) missives between her husbands and children, and notes sharing titillating court gossip. The result is a rich, compelling portrait of a true feminist icon centuries ahead of her time—a complex, formidable, and decidedly modern woman captured in full as never before.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062302991
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/26/2019
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 1,257,528
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

After leaving Oxford University, Kate Hubbard worked variously as a researcher, a teacher, a book reviewer and a publisher’s reader and a freelance editor.  She currently works for the Royal Literary Fund. She is the author of the acclaimed historical biography Serving Victoria and lives in London and Dorset.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi

Map xiii

Family Tree xiv

Introduction xvii

Prologue: Hardwick Hall, 1590 xxvii

1 Derbyshire Beginnings 1

2 Sir William Cavendish 14

3 Acquisition 26

4 'Every man almost is a builder' 39

5 'My honest swete Chatesworth' 51

6 'This devil's devices' 65

7 Countess of Shrewsbury 78

8 The Scots Queen 92

9 A Dubious Honour 105

10 'Close dealing' 117

11 'Great turmoil doth two houses breed' 129

12 'The old song' 144

13 'Send me Accres' 158

14 'Civil wars' 171

15 Mocking and Mowing 183

16 The Old Hall 196

17 Smythson's Platt 213

18 London, 1591 226

19 'More glass than wall' 237

20 'Houshold stuff' 250

21 'A scribbling melancholy' 265

22 'It doth stick sore in her teeth' 277

23 'Not over sumptuous' 288

Afterword: Hardwick Post Bess 300

Acknowledgements 303

Notes on Sources 305

Notes 307

Select Bibliography 329

Index 335

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