(C. Shrewsbury)

Born: 1521, Ault Hucknull, Hardwick, Derbyshire, England

Died: 13 Feb 1607/8, Hardwick Hall

Buried: Allhallows, Derbyshire, England

Father: John HARDWICK of Hardwick (Esq.)

Mother: Elizabeth LEKE

Married 1: Robert BARLOW of Barlow (Esq.) (b. ABT 1522 - d. 24 Dec 1545) (son of Arthur Barlow and Elizabeth Chaworth) ABT 1543

Married 2: William CAVENDISH of Chatsworth (Sir) ABT 20 Aug 1545/1547, Bradgate Manor, Leicestershire, England


1. Henry CAVENDISH of Tutbury Castle

2. Frances CAVENDISH

3. William CAVENDISH (1 E. Devonshire)

4. Charles CAVENDISH of Welbeck Abbey

5. Elizabeth CAVENDISH (C. Lennox)

6. Mary CAVENDISH (C. Shrewsbury)

7. Temperance CAVENDISH (b. 10 Jun 1549 - d. 1550)

8. Lucrece CAVENDISH (b. 1557 - d. 1557)

Married 3: William St. LOE of Tormarton (Sir) (b. ABT 1522 - d. Feb 1565) (w. of Jane Bayntun) 1559

Married 4: George TALBOT (6 E. Shrewsbury) 9 Feb 1567/8

Hardwicke, Bess(C.Shrewsbury)01.jpg (202578 bytes)

Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury

Elizabeth Hardwick, better known as Bess of Hardwick, was the daughter of John Hardwick (b. 1495 - d. 29 Jan 1528) and Elizabeth Leke. Bess started her life relatively poor. She married four times, had six surviving children of her own and many step-children. She was sent to the Tower twice by the Queen for her attempts to promote herself in wealth and prosperity.

Bess was a born as the fourth daughter in a family of four girls and one boy. Their father died when Bess was young, leaving a Will with a small wedding dowry for the four daughters.

Bess's mother remarried Ralphe Leeche, a young son of the Leeche's of Chatsworth.

At the age of 12 years, she went into service in the household of a great Derbyshire family, Sir John and Lady Zouche of Codnor Castle. Her service began in London, where Bess met her first husband, Robert Barlow, son of Arthur Barlow and Elizabeth Chaworth. Robert was also in service, but fell ill with chronic distemper. Bess nursed Robert in his illness. He fell in love with her and they married. Bess was 13 years old and Robert not much older. Robert died soon after they were married and Bess gained a customary widows' jointure, which was a third of Robert's income.

Hardwicke,Bess(C.Shrewsbury)03.jpg (61051 bytes)

Bess's second marriage was to Sir William Cavendish, a Royal Commissioner employed in the business of disolving monasteries. He was granted church land for his services and was able to buy other land cheaply. He was highly respected and the Treasurer of the King's Chambers. Bess and William Cavendish were married at Bradgate Manor, the house of Henry Grey, Marquis of Dorset, and his wife Frances Brandon, at the unearthly hour of 2 am, 20 Aug 1547. The marriage was happy and successful, even though William was 22 years older than Bess and had three daughters from two previous marriages. Bess and William had eight children, of which six survived (Frances, Henry, William, Charles, Elizabeth and Mary).

He pleased Bess by selling his existing property and buying buildings in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. The first riot with villagers they had to deal with occurred in 1548 due to the closing of waste land. This did not deter Bess as she enclosed land and even depopulated villages throughout her lifetime. Bess acquired her experience of accounting and estate management from Sir William, lessons that she never forgot and set her in good stead for her future wealth.

In 1557 Sir William Cavendish became seriously ill in London. Bess travelled to nurse him better, to no avail, as he died on 25 Oct 1557. Bess's interest in Chatsworth and other properties was promoted throughout the rest of her life.

Bess was appointed lady-in-waiting to the Queen of England. The ideal place to find a suitable, wealthy and respectable husband was at court. In 1559, Bess married Sir William St. Loe. He was a wealthy widower that had been married twice previously and had children. He proved to be a most generous husband. St. Loe called her his 'honest sweet Chatsworth' and his 'own sweet Bess'. He took on her debts from her previous marriage to William Cavendish.

Queen Elizabeth was a good friend of the St. Loe's, as he had aided her when her life was threatened. He was awarded Captain of the Guard and Butler to the Royal Household.

However, all was not well as Bess was sent to the Tower for seven months in 1561. This imprisonment occurred due to being involved with Lady Catherine Grey. Catherine, daughter of Besss friend Frances Brandon and sister of the unfortunate nine days Queen, Jane Grey, confessed that she had married Edward Seymour, Lord Hertford secretly against the Queen's wishes and was pregnant. Bess refused to break the news to the Queen and wanted nothing to do with the matter. The Queen was most displeased and Bess was punished.

The heir to Sir William St. Loe should have been, by rights, his brother, Edward. William and Edward did not see eye to eye and on one occasion Edward attempted to poison Bess and William.

Sir William died five years into the marriage and left all his lands to Bess and her children.

After St. Loe had died, Bess returned to Court. Slander had been spread throughout Court regarding Bess by the tutor of her sons. The Queen ordered that he was to be punished by corporal or otherwise, openly or publicly for his actions. The type of slander is not known, but it was very vindictive for such punishment to take place.

In 1567 Bess married George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. He was a widower with six children. He was regarded as the richest nobleman in England. It was not only Bess who was married; the family combined with two other marriages. Mary Cavendish (12 years old) was married to Gilbert Talbot, Henry Cavendish (18 years old) was married to Grace Talbot (8 years old).

In 1568, Shrewsbury was summoned by the Queen of England regarding his Bolsover tenants. They had been causing trouble in the area and written a petition to the Queen.

In Oct 1568, lady Shrewsbury received a letter from her sister, Mary, Mrs. Wingfield, mother of Anthony Wingfield. That lady husband had taken the Queen a present of some game. Quite casually Elizabeth enquired of Mr. Richard Wingfield when Shrewsbury was going to put in appearance at Court. She extended the invitation to include the Countess: "I have been glad to see my my lady St. Loe, but am now more desirous to see my lady Shrewsbury". The Earl took the seemingly casual enquire of his sovereign as a strong hint that he should present himself as the Queen wished to discuss some matter of importance. Bess was delighted when she heard her husband was to be the Guardian of Queen of Scots; it was a gesture from the Queen of England that they were in favour.

In 1569, Mary Queen of Scots arrived at Tutbury Castle, a dull dwelling which was originally a hunting box. It was damp, cold and half ruined. Mary Queen of Scots remained in the Earl of Shrewsbury's custody until 1584.

They moved between the many houses, mainly Sheffield Castle, Sheffield Manor, Wingfield Manor, The Lodge at Buxton and Bess's house, Chatsworth. Each time a threat was made to rescue Mary, or harm her, they changed location. Bess loathed to leave Chatsworth and longed to return when elsewhere.

Bess was jealous that her husband spent so much time with Mary so she decided to become her best friend. They spent much of the day undertaking embroidery, tapestry and chatting.

The Earl of Shrewsbury became ill at Wingfield Manor. He needed to be taken to Buxton to recover. Bess did not have time to ask the Queen of England's permission to leave the Queen of Scots. Queen Elizabeth was most displeased regarding this matter and demanded that they return to Wingfield Manor. They wrote to the Queen regarding George's health and in return she sent a physician to Buxton to aid his recovery.

Queen Elizabeth thought they ought to feel disgraced for their actions. Bess wrote to the Queen suggesting that she had no choice, but to choose her husband's life against the consent of the Queen. The Queen played the forgiving sovereign knowing that the couple would not outrightly disobey her wishes again.

In Oct 1574, Bess went to Rufford with her daughter, Elizabeth Cavendish. they had invited the Countess of Lennox and her son, Charles, to stay at Rufford Abbey, which Bess had renovated to her taste. Charles Lennox was the younger brother of Mary Queen of Scots' husband, Lord Darnley, who had met his death so mysteriously in Kirk O'field.

The Countess of Lennox fell ill for five days. Bess nursed her to health and Elizabeth and Charles were left to entertain each other. During the five days that the couple were thrown together, Elizabeth fell completely under the spell of the easy manner of the sophisticated Charles. She was enchanted with him and fell deeply in love. For his part Charles was taken with this naive, unspoiled virgin who obviously adored him. And at the end of five days, by which time Lady Lennox had 'recovered', Elizabeth Cavendish was no longer a virgin. The two Countesses pecked over the situation and felt they could not stand in the way of true love. They were in agreement that their children should be married at once. The Countess of Lennox wished her son happiness and Bess wanted her family wedded into the Royal Family with or without Queen Elizabeth's consent. Queen Mary advised them to be married and face the consequences after, which is exactly what happened.

Repercussions were immediate and terrible. The Queen's anger was such that even Lord Burghley feared what she might do; he who had experienced the royal temper at its worst. She could think of nothing bad enough to say of Lady Shrewsbury, of whom she had once declared, '... there is no lady in this land that I better love or like'. Her opinion of that lady, when the Queen heard of the marriage, would not bear repeating.

While her husband and friend penned abject letters, the Countess of Shrewsbury maintained close-lipped silence. Her daughter was legally married to an heir to the throne, and there was not a thing anyone could do to change that.

As the Queen of England was furious, she sent for both women, together with the young bride and groom. After a dreadful journey in the worst of the winter weather, shivering in sleeting gales and held up by floods in the Midlands, the disconsolate party limped into London in Dec 1574. The Countesses were told to go to their respective houses and given strict instructions to stay there. Bess probably went to Shrewsbury House in Chelsea; Margaret Lennox to her house in Hackney. Of the two ladies the least perturbed was Lady Shrewsbury. She was uneasy, of course, for the crime she had committed warranted a lifetime's imprisonment, and the Queen, in her present mood, was capable of imposing just such a punishment. But Bess, with some justification, judged that Elizabeth would find it embarrassing to keep the wife of Mary Stuart's gaoler confined too long. The two offending ladies were summoned to the presence of the Queen Elizabeth, and when the interview ended, as Bess had expected and Lady Lennox feared, with both ladies being consigned to the Tower. Charles and Elizabeth Lennox were placed under house arrest at their house at Hackney and ordered, on pain of close imprisonment, neither to communicate by letter nor to converse with any persons unless authorized by the Council. A commission of enquiry was set up under Francis Walsingham to elicit where, when and by whom the marriage negotiations were started in the first place. Both the Shrewsbury and Lennox households were examined minutely. The Earl of Huntingdon was instructed to question both ladies as well as every servant in their employ. Even the humblest kitchenmaids did not escape the probing examination of the commission. But by Jan 1575, the Countess of Shrewsbury was back at her home in Sheffield. There was simply not enough evidence of treasonable activity to keep her a prisoner of the State. Her thoughts can only be guessed at as she left the Tower, a free woman once again.

The Countess of Lennox was sent to the Tower, Bess was seriously warned of her actions and Mary Queen of Scots stayed at Sheffield Castle. The atmosphere changed as soon as she entered it, "it was as though a sharp wind blows through the house". Bess was not happy about her experience and ridicule of being in the Tower, the only revenge she could muster was to spread gossip and slander she had heard regarding the Queen.

Elizabeth and Charles were in line to succession to the Throne and had a daughter Arabella Stuart.

Bess felt less kindly towards Queen Mary of Scots after Arabella's birth. Arabella's father died in 1576, the Countess of Lennox in 1578 and Elizabeth in 1582, leaving the child in the entire care of Bess. The Queen allocated 200/year for the child.

Bess always suspected that James never intended that Arabella should ever inherit the Lennox earldom. She wrote angrily to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester:

'The Bishop of Katnes to whom it seems that the King has granted the Earldom, is a very old man, sickly and without child, and I can not but think this is only compassed for him to that end that Daubigny in France being his [James'] next male heir should succeed him...'

Bess was perfectly right. The Bishop died and Esme Stuart, Lord d'Aubigny, carne from France to Scotland to take up the inheritance for which the almost moribund Bishop had served as a locum tenens.

After the young Countess of Lennox death, Bess pay Arabella's servants and tutors, but the thought that money was slipping away obsessed her. Acidly, she reminded Lord Burghley that the Queen retained the income from Margaret Lennox's English estates which should, by rights, be Arabella's.

'It pleased the Queen's Majesty, my most gracious sovereign, upon my humble suit, to grant unto my late daughter, Lennox four hundred pounds, and to her . . . only daughter, two hundred pounds yearly, for her better maintenance assigned out of a parcel of land for her inheritance. Whereof the four hundred is now at her Majesty's disposition ... I am now my good lord to be a humble suitor... that it may please her to confirm that grant of the whole six hundred pounds yearly, for the education of my dearest jewel Arabella.'

Bess went on to emphasize that Arabella's education must be of prime importance in view of her kinship to the Queen. To the Queen's Secretary, Walsingham, she wrote:

'She is of very great towardness to learn anything and I am very careful of her good education, as if she were my own and only child and a great deal more for the consanguinity she is of to her Majesty'

Also, she cunningly observed that, 'the charge will so increase [as Arabella grew older], as I doubt not her Majesty will well conceive, the six hundred pounds yearly to be little enough, which as your Lordship knoweth is but as so much in money for that the lands be in lease'. Elizabeth ended the uncertainty of Arabella's income by cancelling the late Lady Lennox's 400. She considered Arabella's personal allowance of 200 sufficient provision for a child of eight years old.

Hardwicke,Bess(C.Shrewsbury)02.jpg (359528 bytes)

Bess of Hardwick

by an unknown artist

Bess wished to discredit Queen Mary from the right to the Throne, so that Arabella would be closer to the position. Mary spent a great deal of time with the child and became fond of her. When she found out Bess's plans for Arabella to inherit the English Throne, the relationship between the two women became very bitter.

In 1583, Bess bought Hardwick in her son William's name from her brother, James, who had been heavily in debt for many years, for a sum of 9,500, with the intention that after her death that this should be his estate. She took furniture from Chatsworth to furnish the building.

Bess replaced the old house with what is known as Hardwick Hall from 1585. She built this and furnished it for a future Queen of England, which she hoped Arabella to be. Others say that she built this house to be "a craddle to her birth place". She wanted her house to be unlike any before or after it. It became the home of the Cavendish family after her death and is the only remaining building of Bess's to survive unaltered.

Bess was a hard mistress to work for, but rewarded and appreciated good service. The painter John Balehouse was a favoured servant, paid 2/year and had a farm on Bess's land at Ault Hucknall. His wife was robbed and Bess gave her 20 shillings to compensate for this. When the servants married, they received a lump sum of a cash gift and their wages increased.

But Queen Elizabeth remained obstinately silent on the subject of her successor. Despite Bess's optimism, she concluded that matters must be pushed a step further. Arabella must make a suitable marriage. Lady Shrewsbury, experienced match-maker that she was, cast about for a husband for her 'jewel'. Her choice for Arabella was Lord Denbigh, the son of the Earl of Leicester' and Letticce Knollys, widowed Countess of Essex, who was just two years old. Leicester saw in the marriage arrangement a way of staying close to the throne. Should Arabella succeed he would be in the enviable position of being the Queen's father-in-law. Latterly. Arabella and Lord Denbigh were formally betrothed. Arabella sent a present to the little boy together with a miniature of herself. She listened gravely as her grandmother explained that it would be some years before she was wed, and then trotted obediently back to her books.

Predictably, Elizabeth was outraged when she received the news of the betrothal. Promptly, Leicester was ordered from the Court. Unfortunately, Lord Denbigh died in Jul 1584. The Countess of Shrewsbury was summoned to London. The Queen wished to hear from her own lips the explanation of her foolhardy behaviour. No documents have survived which give an account of the interview between the two elderly ladies, so alike in temperament. But, presumably, the Queen admonished the Countess and forbade her to meddle any further in affairs of State, as were marriage negotiations of a person of such consequence as Arabella. The Countess must have assured Elizabeth that she had meant no harm, and protested her loyalty convincingly enough to escape punishment. Possibly she was threatened with a spell in the Tower and, having endured that frightening experience twice, she had no wish to do so again. It is pertinent that Bess never again attempted to contrive a marriage for Arabella. She returned to Derbyshire suitably chastened knowing that, though she had played with fire, she had merely been scorched, not burnt.

Bess discovered that her husband was showing affection towards a serving wench, Eleanor Britton. Bess investigated and watched unfaithful deeds for herself, in her husband's quarters, and began to plot revenge upon her adulterous husband.

Bess and her two Cavendish sons were reported to have spread rumours that George Talbot and Mary Stuart were having an affair and that she had two children through this adultery. In 1583, these rumours were soon heard in Court. Queen Mary and Shrewsbury were angered by these reports of untruths. The Queen of England sent for Bess and her sons. They appealed to the Court on their knees that the stories were malicious rumours and they signed a declaration that Mary had not had a child since being in England.

Shrewsbury refused to forgive his wife, even though she persisted to write to him to take her back. He thought her to be malicious, wicked and evil. He is reported to have called her "that sharp bitter shrew". Queen Mary's execution brought the couple together for a short while, living at Wingfield Manor. He left and his agreed provisions for her dwindled, along with his visits. He went to live at Hansworth Manor, Sheffield, with Elenor Britton.

The passing years intensified rather than diminished the Earl's hostility towards his wife. All pretence was dropped and the couple's mutual abuse became an open scandal. The Countess removed herself from her husband's house and went to live in her own home, Hardwick Hall. With her she took her grand-daughter, Arabella.

In 1590, Lord Shrewsbury died and Bess regained all her lands, Wingfield Manor, its iron works, Smithies and glass works, Bolsover Castle and its coal pits, the parks at Alveton in Staffordshire, Shirland in Derbyshire and Over Uden in Yorkshire for their pastures. Minerals and timbers in her tenure were exploited and she gained a large widow' jointure. She was now the richest woman, other than the Queen, in England.

Pits at Hardstoft and Tibshelf were let out. Bolsover pit was run by herself. Wagons were used to transport the coal to Handsworth and Clowne Moor to obtain a better price than in Bolsover.

Bess's estates became the management of 17 bailiffs, who collected rents and arrears from tenants. On 17 Jan 1593, Bess signed a contract with Edward Savage to buy the Manors of Health, Stainsby and Owlcoates for 3,416. Bess was building a solid ownership of the lands around Hardwick. Between 1594 and 1597 heavy rains caused there to be no harvest, famine, starvation and disease throughout England. Bess had a 25% drop in income, but carried out her building of Hardwick. She built fish ponds at Hardwick, Wingfield and Shirland stocked with pike, carp, tench, bream and perch. These only became useful in 1600, after the crisis had ceased.

Charles Cavendish started to build a house in Kirkby in Nottinghamshire, but the house was never completed, as he was attacked and shot in the leg by people on horse back. He used the stones to build Bolsover Castle, which he bought from Gilbert Talbot in 1608.

In 1600 Bess's gross annual income was 10,000, not including money given to William and Charles Cavendish. This wealth is incredible, remembering she started her life an average Yeoman's daughter.

Arabella's father's connections to the Throne put her in line to rule England, alongside James VI of Scotland. Arabella had been betrothed to Leicester's son, Robert, Baron of Denbigh, at an early age, but, unfortunately, Robert died in Jul 1584. No other marriage agreements were undertaken after this as to not tempt fate. In 1592, marriage of Arabella to Raunutio Farnese, a son of the Duke of Parma, was discussed, but the Duke of Parma died shortly after, leaving all plans of marriage for Arabella shattered once again.

There were many plots attempted to reinstate the Catholic Church on the Throne via Arabella. A rumour sprang up purporting that Henry Percy, ninth Earl of Northumberland, a powerfull catholic, sought Arabella for his wife. The Percys wielded great influence in the North, where the nobles had been known to be sympathetic to Mary, Queen of Scots. Queen Elizabeth knew the Percys as potential trouble makers with a family history of plotting and double-dealing not calculated to inspire confidence. The seventh Earl had been executed as a traitor for being active in the rising in the North in 1572, and Henrys father, the eight Earl, had been imprisioned in the Tower for plotting on behalf of Mary Stuart. He had been found shot dead in his cell; the circimstances surrounding his murder were most mysterious and never solved, the general view was that he had been got out of the way. Thus Henry Percy had no cause to love the Protestant ruler of England. Bess assured the Queen of England that this would not happen. In 1602 Arabella was not getting any younger and longed for marriage. She began to plot her own marriage to Edward Seymour.

A servant, Dodderage, was sent by Arabella, on a horse provided by Henry Cavendish, with a message regarding the marriage of Edward Seymour and Arabella Stuart. On 30 Dec 1602, Dodderage was held in the gatehouse jail at Westminster for being involved in a plot against the Queen of England. Arabella awaited the return of Dodderage and Edward Seymour her future husband.

On 7 Jan 1603, Sir Henry Bronker arrived at Hardwick. He gave a letter to Bess and asked to speak to Arabella in private. Arabella was made to write her confession on paper. The attempt disappointed him and he eventually wrote the confession and she signed it. Arabella begged pardon from the Queen.

Bess asked that her grand-daughter be placed elsewhere to learn to be more considerate or to bestow her in marriage. The Queen wished for her to stay at Hardwick and have gentlemen and gentlewomen watch over her actions. Bess replied informing the Queen that she could not guarantee good carriage of Arabella. Arabella wrote many incoherent letters to Bronker and it was concluded that she was insane. Bess was asked to stop the letters. Violent scenes followed between the two women.

On 10 Mar 1603, Henry Cavendish and Henry Stapleton, a catholic, planned to help Arabella escape from Hardwick. This was not planned well. Arabella talked with Henry and walked to the porter's lodge with him. Bess's servants did not allow Arabella's passage through the lodge, as it was then known that 30-40 men waited for them at Hucknall Village.

The Queen heard of the attempted escape and threats on her life and sent Arabella to West Park, Bedfordshire, house of the Earl of Kent and Bess was left in peace. She arranged many grandchildren's marriages until her death.

On 24 Mar 1603, Queen Elizabeth died and her successor was her cousin, James of Scotland.

Bess did not include her son, Henry Cavendish or her grand-daughter, Arabella, in her Will.

In 1605 Arabella visited Bess for the peerage of William, on behalf of James VI. She was given 300 in cash and a gold cup.

Early in 1608, Bess reported to be so ill her maid could not leave her bedside, day or night. She died on 13th Feb, 1608. Bess was buried at Church All Saints, now the Cathedral of Derby, three months later, 4 May 1608. Her effigy height is 5'3", which is the average height for a woman in the 17th Century. Her funeral was postponed due to her wishes for William to be married to Christine Bruce, sister to Lord Leinloss.

Thirty years after Bess's death, dramatist William Samson, born in the Midlands, gave Bess first place in a book of poems called 'Virtus post funera vivit' dedicated to those lately dead.

Many nobleman and royalty possess Bess of Hardwick's blood in their veins.

Bess's maintenance and management of her estates and finances is impressive for a woman of her time. Household accounting and maintenance management software are taken for granted today, but all financial records in the Elizabethan era were kept by hand. 

to Bios Page to Home Page