BESS OF HARDWICK by David N. Durant


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Born five years before her friend Elizabeth I, Bess of Hardwick was for 80 years a ""fighter"" who built the richest set of assets held by a Tudor woman and operated skillfully in the marriage markets on behalf of herself and her descendants. As a sixteen-year-old widow, the daughter of a hardscrabble Derbyshire squire, she married the none-too-honest Crown official Sir William Cavendish, another ""upwardly mobile"" type. It was from him that Bess learned accounting and estate management, while making contacts at Court. After the convenient deaths of Sir William and a successor who paid his debts, Bess struck what amounted to a business merger with the Earl of Shrewsbury, one of England's wealthiest noblemen, and they shared the assignment of guarding Mary Queen of Scots for Elizabeth Tudor. A great deal of ""complicated strife"" involving both Mary and property ensued; as the Earl's widow, Bess indefatigably monitored the marriage prospects of her royal-blooded granddaughter Arabella Stuart, while transforming the Chatsworth, Hardwick, and Owlcotes holdings. Durant, a specialist in architectural history, has not only examined the building and rebuilding of Bess' great houses with an enthusiastic eye, but minutely scrutinized her financial records. Thus the book is more substantial than the two earlier 20th-century studies (Rawson's Bess of Hardwick and her Circle, 1910, and F.C. Williams' Bess of Hardwick, 1959), though all three make a prehaps excessive attempt to give the scheming Bess the benefit of every doubt. Minor but rewarding for both researchers and amateurs of Tudor life.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Atheneum