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Bess of Hardwick Biography

Bess of Hardwick was one of the most influential English women of the 16th Century. She was born Elizabeth Hardwick in 1527 in a small village called Hardwick in Derbyshire.

Who was Bess of Hardwick?

Bess was the daughter of John Hardwick, a wealthy landowner, and Elizabeth Leeke. Bess was the fourth daughter with three older sisters and one younger brother.

Bess of Hardwick
Bess of Hardwick

Though Elizabeth was born to a noble family, they were relatively poor. After her father’s death at the age of 40, Bess’s mother Elizabeth Leeke remarried and she had three more children out of that marriage.

Why was Bess of Hardwick famous?

Bess of Hardwick was mainly famous for the large and beautiful buildings she built. With the fortune she gathered throughout her life, Bess of Hardwick invested everything in sticking architecture and built some of the most remarkable structures of her time.

The houses symbolise her wealth and power.

Did Bess of Hardwick build the Chatsworth Hall?

Bess of Hardwick built the Chatsworth when she was the Countess of Shrewsbury. It was, therefore, jointly built by Elizabeth Talbot and her then husband George Talbot, Sixth Earl of Shrewsbury.

Marriage and Family Life

Who did Bess of Hardwick marry?

Bess at the age of 12 was sent to a rich family of Derbyshire, Sir John and Lady Zouche of the Codnor Castle to serve in their household.

This was a very common practice for young women at that time where they learned how to socially represent themselves in noble families and also had an opportunity to find suitable husbands for them.

Bess of Hardwick tomb
Bess of Hardwick tomb

It was believed that Bess met her first husband Robert Barlow here while she was in her first service in London. Robert, while in his service fell seriously ill and it was Bess who nursed and took care of him. Soon they were in love and the couple married in May 1543.

Bess was only 13 years old at that time. Unfortunately, the marriage lasted only for a year and Robert died on 24 December 1544. Bess eventually owned a huge inheritance and started living a comfortable life.

William Cavendish, 1st Earl of Devonshire

Bess married for the second time to Sir William Cavendish on 20 August 1547. Sir William was the royal treasurer to the king at that time. Though William was almost 22 years older than Bess, they led a happy married life and had six surviving children.

William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle
William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle

They named them Frances, Henry, William, Charles, Elizabeth, and Mary. Sir William died in the year 1557 and Bess was only 30 years old at that time. After the death of her second husband, Bess started to work at the household of Queen Elizabeth.

Bess of Hardwick Family Tree
Bess of Hardwick Family Tree

Bess of Hardwick: Facts

It is here when she met her third husband Sir William St. Loe. St. Loe was the Captain of the Yeoman Royal Guards of Queen Elizabeth and the butler of the household at that time. He was married twice before and also had children. He was a loving husband and very kind to Bess and tried to keep her happy in every possible way.

It was a brief marriage and Sir William died after six years in 1565. It is believed that he was probably poisoned by his own brother due to a dispute in the will of his property.

Bess of Hardwick
Bess of Hardwick

However, St. Loe left everything to Bess and she was now the sole owner of the property, which left her incredibly wealthy. Although rich and quite comfortable in her wealthy life, Bess again decided to marry for the fourth time.

This time her husband was George Talbot the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury and they got married in the year 1567. George Talbot was one of the richest men in England at that time and had six grown-up children of his own. But, this marriage was not a happy one.

Mary Queen of Scots

In 1569, Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned and she was held captive in the Tutbury Castle. Queen Elizabeth entrusted George Talbot, the Earl of Shrewsbury to take care of the Queen of Scots. The Earl spent almost all of his time looking after her in case she escapes.

Mary Queen of Scots
Mary Queen of Scots

They even have to change locations once in a while as there were always threats of rescuing her. Bess started to stay away from home and focus more on her new ventures of business. Soon, the marriage began to fall out and Bess and Sir Talbot separated in 1584. George Talbot died in 1590, leaving Bess incredibly rich.

Bess of Hardwick and Hardwick Hall

Bess now 63, devoted her entire time and wealth-building the home of her dreams the “Hardwick Hall’’ close to her hometown. She moved there in 1597. Bess was a shrewd businesswoman and used her money and skills into developing and managing her business. She soon became one of the richest women of her era.

Hardwick Hall
Hardwick Hall

Bess of Hardwick has in fact built houses, which have grown to be masterpieces and even admired today. She was educated, hardworking and a very keen businesswoman and had the ability to take risks and think beyond her times.

She will always be an inspiration to us. She died at the age of on 13 February 1608 at the age of 80 and is buried in the Derby Cathedral.

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