Bess of Hardwick

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Bess of Hardwick, around 1555
Elizabeth Hardwick Coat of Arms
Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury, 1592

Elizabeth Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury (also Hardwicke ; * 1527 ; † 1608 ), was an English noblewoman. She became known as the Bess of Hardwick .

Origins and marriages

She came from a family of the English gentry and was the daughter and heiress of John Hardwick, lord of Hardwick Old Hall in Derbyshire , and his wife Elizabeth Leeke.

Bess was married for the first time at the age of fourteen. Her husband was only twelve years old Robert Barlow, heir to a neighboring estate. The marriage was probably not consummated because both were very young and Robert was seriously ill. After his early death, Bess inherited a third of his property.

In 1547 she married Sir William Cavendish , a widower of two who was more than twice her age and who brought two daughters into the marriage. The marriage had eight children, of whom three sons and three daughters survived the first few years. Only two children died as infants - a small number during a period of high infant mortality.

William Cavendish died in 1557. In 1559 Bess married her third husband, Sir William St. Loe , a large landowner and servant of Queen Elizabeth I. St. Loe also had two daughters from a previous marriage. In 1564 or 1565 William St. Loe died under mysterious circumstances; he was probably poisoned by his younger brother. St. Loe bequeathed all of his property to Bess, who was now responsible for ten children - her own six and the two stepdaughters of their deceased husbands.

Bess was now a wealthy widow, and St. Loe's connection to the court brought her the position of Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Elizabeth. She was still an attractive woman and in good health, so that many applicants flocked to her.

With the consent of the Queen, Bess married her fourth husband, George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury , the most senior earl in England in 1568 , who brought seven children into the marriage. A son of Shrewsbury married a daughter of Bess, and a daughter of Shrewsbury married a son of Bess. It was through him that Bess earned the courtesy title of Countess of Shrewsbury .

Bess' granddaughter Arabella Stuart

In 1574, Bess married her daughter Elizabeth, without the knowledge of the Queen and Shrewsburys, to Charles Stuart , the younger brother of Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley and thus brother-in-law of Maria Stuart . Charles Stuart's family had a claim to the English throne, which is why no member could marry without the Queen's permission. Potential descendants posed a threat to Queen Elizabeth, whose legitimacy was in question throughout her life. Charles Stuart's mother stayed in the Tower for some time, and Bess was also summoned to London, but did not do so and waited until the riot had subsided. The marriage arranged by her had a daughter, Arabella Stuart .

The prisoner Maria Stuart

Bess and Shrewsbury achieved special fame through their "guest" Maria Stuart, who spent fifteen years (1569–1584) of their English captivity with the Shrewsburys. Bess and Shrewsbury had marital problems for some time, which Mary's presence made worse. Bess apparently believed in a relationship between her husband and the prisoner, but this is unlikely, given Shrewsbury's strict moral standards and poor health. Last but not least, the care of the Scottish Queen meant an enormous financial burden for the Shrewsburys, because Queen Elizabeth placed great importance on proper accommodation for her cousin and thus countered the accusation of hostility.

In 1584 Maria Stuart was brought into the care of Amias Paulet . At this point, Bess and her husband were already living apart.

Construction projects

Bess became known for her building projects, especially Hardwick Hall (“Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall”) and Chatsworth House , the current seat of the Dukes of Devonshire , who are descendants of Bess and her second husband, still bearing the Cavendish family name.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Bedrich Rohan: England Scotland Wales. Reich Verlag AG, Lucerne 1991.

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