Bess of Hardwick
Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury (c. 1521 – 13 February 1608), known as Bess of Hardwick, was the daughter of John Hardwick, of Derbyshire and Elizabeth Leeke, daughter of Thomas Leeke and Margaret Fox. She was married four times, firstly to Robert Barlow, who died in his teens; secondly to the courtier Sir William Cavendish; thirdly to Sir William St Loe; and lastly to George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, sometime keeper to the captive Mary, Queen of Scots. An accomplished needlewoman, Bess hosted Mary at Chatsworth House for extended periods in 1569, 1570, and 1571, during which time they worked together on the Oxburgh Hangings. In 1601, Bess ordered an inventory of the household furnishings including textiles at her three properties at Chatsworth, Hardwick and Chelsea, which survives, and in her will she bequeathed these items to her heirs to be preserved in perpetuity. The 400-year-old collection, now known as the Hardwick Hall textiles, is the largest collection of tapestry, embroidery, canvaswork, and other textiles to have been preserved by a single private family.
Early life 
"Bess of Hardwick" was born "Elizabeth Hardwick" to John Hardwick and his wife, Elizabeth Leake, in the early 1520s. The family lived on an estate of about 5,000 acres (20 km2) in the parish of Ault Hucknall on the north-east border of the county, looking over Nottinghamshire. John Hardwick died around forty years of age, leaving a widow, son (and heir), and four daughters. His widow, Elizabeth, then married the son of a neighbouring family, the Leches of Chatworth. Bess grew up fairly educated, as compared to her female peers of the Elizabethan Era, as indicated by her later letters. She also became familiar with city life and the Tudor Court after being sent to live in the London household of Anne Gainsford at Codnor Castle at the age of twelve. Here, she was influenced by Lady Zouche. Also, her marrying life now began.
First marriage 
While in London, Bess contracted the first of four marriages, in 1534, with the 13-year-old Robert Barlow, heir to a neighbouring estate, and became Elizabeth Barlow. It is thought that the couple lived at his ancestral manor house, Barlow Woodseats Hall, before his death in 1535. The marriage was never consummated because of their youth and Robert's sickly health. As Robert's widow, Bess was entitled to one-third of the revenues of the Barlow estate.
Second marriage 
On 20 August 1547, Bess married the twice-widowed Sir William Cavendish, Treasurer of the King's Chamber, and became Lady Cavendish. The wedding took place at two in the morning, at the home of the Grey family, friends of the Cavendish duo. Sir William was more than twice Bess' age and the father of two daughters. His fortune had been made by the dissolution of monasteries; as an official of the Court of Augmentations, he was able to select choice properties for himself. Possibly acting on Bess' advice, Sir William sold his lands in the south of England and bought the Chatsworth estates in her home county of Derbyshire.
Eight children were born of the marriage, two of whom died in infancy:
- Frances Cavendish (18 June 1548 - January 1632), wife of Henry Pierrepont.
- Temperance Cavendish (10 June 1549 - 1550), died in infancy.
- Henry Cavendish (17 December 1550 - 28 October 1616); he left several illegitimate issue.
- William (27 December 1552 – 3 March 1626).
- Charles Cavendish (28 November 1553 - 4 April 1617).
- Elizabeth Cavendish (31 March 1555 – 21 January 1582), wife of Charles Stuart, 1st Earl of Lennox.
- Mary Cavendish (January 1556 - April 1632), wife of Gilbert Talbot, 7th Earl of Shrewsbury.
- Lucrece Cavendish (born and died 1556), probably twin of Mary.
William was the forebear of the Dukes of Devonshire and Charles of the Dukes of Newcastle. Elizabeth I was godmother to their first son, Henry, and Queen Mary I of England was godmother to their third son, Charles. Sir William Cavendish died on 25 October 1557, leaving Bess widowed a second time.
Third marriage 
In 1559, Bess married a third time, to Sir William St. Loe (St Lowe, Saintlowe, or Sentloe), and became Lady St Loe. Her new husband was Captain of the Guard to Elizabeth I and Chief Butler of England. He owned large West Country estates at Tormarton in Gloucestershire and Chew Magna in Somerset, while his principal residence was at Sutton Court in Stowey. When he died without male issue in 1564/5, in suspicious circumstances (probably poisoned by his younger brother), he left everything to Bess, to the detriment of his daughters and brother. In addition to her own six children, Bess was now responsible for the two daughters of Sir William Cavendish from his first marriage. However, those two daughters were already adults and otherwise well provided for.
Sir William St. Loe's death left Bess one of the wealthiest women in England. Her annual income was calculated to amount to £60,000, (£13.8 million as of 2013). Further, she was a Lady of the Bedchamber with daily access to the Queen, whose favour she enjoyed. Still in her late 30s, Bess retained her looks and good health, and a number of important men began courting her.
Fourth marriage 
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Despite being courted by several suitors, Bess remained single for a relatively long time, until 1568, when she married for the fourth time to become Countess of Shrewsbury. Her new husband, George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, was one of the premier aristocrats of the realm, and the father of seven children by his first marriage. Indeed, two of his children were married to two of hers in a double ceremony in February 1568: Bess's daughter Mary Cavendish, aged 12, was given in marriage to Shrewsbury's eldest son Gilbert, aged 16; while Bess's son, Sir Henry Cavendish, aged 18, married Shrewsbury's daughter Lady Grace Talbot, aged 8.
The Stuart connection 
In 1574 Bess took advantage of a visit of the Countess of Lennox to marry her daughter Elizabeth to Charles Stuart, the younger son of the Lennoxes and brother of Henry, Lord Darnley, the second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. The marriage ceremony took place without the knowledge of Shrewsbury, who — though he was well aware of the suggested match some time prior to this event — declined to accept any responsibility. As the Lennox family had a claim to the throne, the marriage was considered potentially treasonable as no royal assent had been obtained. The Countess of Lennox, mother of the bridegroom, went to the Tower for several months, and Bess was ordered to London to face an official inquiry, but she ignored the summons, and remained in Sheffield until the row died down. The child of the marriage was Arbella Stuart, who had a claim to the thrones of Scotland and England.
For many years (1569–1584), the Earl and Countess of Shrewsbury acted as 'guardians' to Mary, Queen of Scots, when the Queen was imprisoned on one or another of their estates, but it was not until Mary was removed to another jailer, Sir Amias Paulet, that she got into the trouble that cost her life. Around the same time Mary was removed from his custody, Shrewsbury and Bess separated for good — they had been apart off-and-on since about 1580, and even Queen Elizabeth had tried to get them to reconcile. Mary seems to have aggravated, if not created, their problems by playing them off against each other. The Countess believed he had been in a relationship with Mary, a charge which has never been proved or disproved, but seems unlikely given Shrewsbury's disposition and increasingly poor health. On his death in 1590, Bess became Dowager Countess of Shrewsbury.
Arbella was at times invited to Elizabeth's court, but spent most of her time with her grandmother away from it. A BBC documentary  showed that Bess very much desired Arbella to become Queen, even imprisoning the young lady to prevent her from eloping. Arbella blamed her grandmother for this, and the two fell out irrevocably when Arbella attempted to run away and marry a man who also had a claim to the throne. Bess cut Arbella from her will and begged the Queen to take her granddaughter off her hands. Arbella's royal claim was never recognized but Bess eventually ended up with a descendant on the throne: Queen Elizabeth II.
Bess became famous for her building projects, especially two of them: Chatsworth, now the seat of the Dukes of Devonshire (whose family name is still "Cavendish", because they are descended from the children of her second marriage), and Hardwick Hall, of which it has been said: "Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall", because of the number and size of its windows. She was interred in a vault in Derby Cathedral, where there is a memorial to her.
Bess of Hardwick is a character in The Other Queen, by Philippa Gregory, as well as the title character of A Woman of Passion by Virginia Henley. She also features prominently in the book The Captive Queen of Scots by Jean Plaidy, in the short story "Antickes and Frets" by Susanna Clarke, in her 2006 collection The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories and The Secret Confessions of Anne Shakespeare by Arliss Ryan, and is the main character in the Jan Westcott historical/biographical fiction novel The Tower and The Dream.
- William Cavendish, 1st Earl of Devonshire was the forebear of the Dukes of Devonshire. The title of Duke of Devonshire is extant.
- Sir Charles Cavendish married Catherine Ogle, 8th Baroness Ogle. Their son William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne is the forbear of the Dukes of Newcastle. The title Earl of Lincoln is extant, due to a very distant relative. However, the title of Duke of Newcastle has been extinct since 1988, while the Barony of Ogle is in abeyance, as more than one person has a legal right to claim the title. Also of this family line is the Earl of Portland, whose titles are extant.
- Elizabeth Cavendish married Charles Stuart, 1st Earl of Lennox. Their daughter, Lady Arbella Stuart, 2nd Countess of Lennox, married William Seymour, 2nd Duke of Somerset. The title of Duke of Somerset is extant.
- Henry Cavendish married Grace Talbot. An illegitimate son, Henry Cavendish, is the forbear of the Barons Waterpark. The title of Baron Waterpark is extant.
- Lady Alatheia (or Alethea) Talbot, who married Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Norfolk. The title of Duke of Norfolk is extant.
- Mary Talbot who married William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke. The title Earl of Pembroke is extant.
- Elizabeth Talbot married Henry Grey, 8th Earl of Kent. The title Earl of Kent from the Grey family has been extinct since 1740.
- Frances Cavendish married Sir Henry Pierrepont. Their children were as follows:
- Robert Pierrepont, 1st Earl of Kingston-upon-Hull married Gertrude Talbot. They had five sons including Henry Pierrepont, 1st Marquess of Dorchester and William Pierrepoint, Robert was also the forbear of the Dukes of Kingston-upon-Hull. The title of Duke of Kingston-upon-Hull has been extinct since 1773. Also part of this family are the Earls Manvers, whose title became extinct in 1955 because the last earl had no sons.
- Elizabeth Pierrepont married Sir Thomas Erskine, 1st Earl of Kellie, forbear of the Earls of Kellie. The title of Earl of Kellie is extant.
|Ancestors of Bess of Hardwick|
- Richardson, Douglas; Everingham, Kimball G. Plantagenet ancestry: a study in colonial and medieval families, Genealogical Publishing Com, 2004. pg 379.
- Digby, Elizabethan Embroidery, p. 58-63
- Levey, Of Household Stuff, p.10-11; Levey, An Elizabethan Inheritance, p. 20-39 passim
- Genealogy Database by Daniel de Rauglaudre (retrieved 23 December 2012).
- Girouard, Mark; The National Trust of England and Wales, David Durant (1989). Hardwick Hall guidebook. The National Trust of England and Wales. ISBN 978-1-84359-217-4.
- Mary S. Lovell: Bess of Hardwick, pp185-186
- UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Lawrence H. Officer (2010) "What Were the UK Earnings and Prices Then?" MeasuringWorth.
- "BBC Documentary Site".
- Batho, G. R. (1971). A Calendar of the Talbot Papers in the College of Arms. London: Derbyshire Archaeology Society / HMC /HMSO. ISBN 11 440020 Check
- Bill, E. G. W (1966). A Calendar of the Shrewsbury Papers in Lambeth Palace Library. London: Derbyshire Archaeology Society / HMC/ HMSO.
- Costello, Louisa Stuart (1844). Memoirs of Eminent Englishwomen, Vol. 1. "Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury". London: Richard Bentley.
- Digby, George Wingfield (1964). Elizabethan Embroidery. New York: Thomas Yoseloff.
- Durant, David N. (1977). Bess of Hardwick: Portrait of an Elizabethan Dynasty. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 0-297-77305-4.
- Durant, David N. (1977). Bess of Hardwick: Portrait of an Elizabethan Dynasty (American Edition ed.). New York: Atheneum. ISBN 0-689-10835-4.
- Eisenberg, Elizabeth (1985). This Costly Countess: Bess of Hardwick. Derby: Hall. ISBN 0-946404-95-X.
- Hubbard, Kate (2001). Material Girl: Bess of Hardwick: 1527-1608. London: Short Books. ISBN 0-571-20800-2.
- Kettle, Pamela (2000). Oldcotes: The Last Mansion Built by Bess of Hardwick. Cardiff: Merton Priory Press. ISBN 1-898937-39-7.
- Levey, Santina; Peter Thornton (2001). Of Houshold Stuff: The 1601 Inventory of Bess of Hardwick. London: National Trust. ISBN 0-7078-0329-2.
- Levey, Santina (1998). An Elizabethan Inheritance: The Hardwick Hall Textiles. London: National Trust. ISBN 1-905400-21-7.
- Lovell, Mary S. (2006). Bess of Hardwick: First Lady of Chatsworth: 1527-1608. New York: Norton. ISBN 0-393-06221-X; ISBN 978-0-316-72482-1 Check
- Lovell, Mary S. (2005). Bess of Hardwick: First Lady of Chatsworth: 1527-1608 (British Edition ed.). London: Little-Brown. ISBN 0-316-72482-3.
- Pearson, John (1984). The Serpent and the Stag. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston. ISBN 978-0-03-055431-5.
- Plowden, Alison (1972). Mistress of Hardwick. London: BBC. ISBN 0-563-10664-6.
- Rowse, A.L. (1983). Eminent Elizabethans. Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press.
- Westcott, Jan (1974). The Tower and the Dream. New York.: Putnam. ISBN 0-399-11128-X. [Biographical fiction]
- Williams, Ethel (1977). Bess of Hardwick. Bath: Chivers. ISBN 0-85997-238-0.
- Bess of Hardwick's Letters: The Complete Correspondence, c.1550-1608, ed. by Alison Wiggins, Alan Bryson, Daniel Starza Smith, Anke Timmermann and Graham Williams, University of Glasgow, web development by Katherine Rogers, University of Sheffield Humanities Research Institute (April 2013)