Thursday, May 11, 2006

A Biography of a Powerful English Lady

Listening to this afternoon's lecture made me wish that I knew more about the Tudor Period in England. Bess of Hardwick lived from 1527 until 1607, which was a very long life in that era. Historians had given her a bad reputation as a "shrew" (whatever that is supposed to mean), and Mary Lovell, the author of the recent biography, wanted to set the record straight. Although three previous biographies had been written about Bess, Ms. Lovell read many original love letters between Bess and her four husbands, as well as court documents, and other original sources. The story that emerged from Bess's long and complex life was hard for me to follow. Although born into a very poor noble family, and having little formal education, she navigated her life through the troubled times of King Henry the VIII, King Edward VI, Mary Queen of Scots, And Queen Elizabeth I. In fact she outlived all four of them.

Bess must have been a very charming woman, because many powerful men and women were extremely fond of her. Her friends helped her immensely during her life. At least two of her husbands were passionately in love with her. She liked large houses, fine furniture, and silver. Not only did she enjoy high living, she also knew the legal system very well and defended her rights and wealth. She improved Hardwick Hall and Chatsworth, both of which became very large estates. She mined slate on her lands, built a glass factory, and had large revenue from agriculture . Bess understood finance and business as well as courtly behavior and entertaining. Mary Lovell's talk about her book "Bess of Hardwick: First Lady of Chatsworth" was accompanied by very good slides and a dry wit. I did not mind sitting for nearly ninety minutes, as she was a very engaging speaker.


Post a Comment

<< Home