Mary S. Lovell
Copyright Date: 2005
According to the cover of Bess of Hardwick:
Bess of Hardwick, born into the most brutal and turbulent period of England's history, did not have an auspicious start in life. Widowed for the first time at sixteen, she nonetheless outlived four monarchs, married three more times, and died one of the most powerful women the country has ever seen.
The Tudor age was a hazardous time for an ambitious woman: by the time Frances, Bess's first child, was six, three of her illustrious godparents had been beheaded. Plague regularly wiped out entire families, conspiracies and feuds were rife. But through all this Bess Hardwick bore eight children and built an empire of her own: the great houses of Chatsworth and Hardwick.
I bought this book something like a year ago now, so A: I don't remember exactly what I was thinking at the time, although it was probably something like"hey, this looks interesting, and I've got a gift-card begging to be used", and I might have been inspired by having seen the movie Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and B: Bess of Hardwick fits as one of the books filling the TBR challenge that I'm participating in.
Regardless of all that, I found, the first time I picked up the book to read (soon after I bought it), that it was absolutely fascinating. I didn't finish it at the time, mostly because I was reading it on one of my trips where I go through a used bookstore. I always intended to read it through though, and I finally got to it this past week.
Although the Tudor and Elizabethan periods are a bit later than my true interest area, I found this biography to be full of fascinating tidbits of information, not just on the life of Bess Shrewsbury, but also on life in general for the upper classes of the day. Mary Lovell has included all kinds of little snippets on furniture, clothing, education, food, finance and more, all of which helped to bring the characters and time-period to life for me as I was reading.
Mary Lovell also freely included quotes from letters, account books and other documents of the day, both official and personal, in the book, all of which helped to demonstrate the atmosphere of the time period.
Despite the fact that Bess and her family are the primary figures in the biography, there is plenty of information about other notables of the period, including the numerous Royal figures she outlived: Elizabeth, Henry VIII, Edward, and Mary. Also, Mary, Queen of Scots has a sizable role in Bess's life.
Even though the period of Bess's life, the mid/late fifteen-hundreds and the first decade of the sixteen-hundreds is after the main thrust of the period I've done the most reading about, I still found in interesting to note the continuation of trends and attitudes from the earlier period, such as the remains of the feudal structure of society.
One of the classes I took last semester spent a fair amount of time examining the feudal system in England. I think that that background knowledge only helped in reading Bess of Hardwick in the understanding of some of the feuds and the like, although it wasn't necessary at all in terms of the understanding of the book as a whole. It just seemed to enhance things for me a bit.
Overall, if you're interested in the Tudor and Elizabethan periods of English history, I highly recommend this book. Not dry in the slightest, and highly readable, Bess of Hardwick also includes two sections of illustrations, photos and paintings, most of which are in full color.