#6 Bess of Hardwick
Bess of Hardwick is the only woman on the Tudor power list without a direct connection by blood or marriage to the monarchy, but as an ordinary woman born into a family of minor gentry who eventually became the Countess of Shrewsbury, amassed great wealth and land and oversaw the building of some of the great Elizabethan houses such as Chatsworth and Hardwick Hall, she deserves a mention.
Some might dismiss Bess as a canny gold-digger but this is far from the case. In the period as a woman if you didn’t manage to elevate your family through marriage you were deemed a failure, so Bess’s marital mountaineering was more about clever negotiation than seductive pulchritude. Her final marriage contract with George Talbot the Earl of Shrewsbury, one of the primary nobles in the land, was cleverly constructed to include the marriage of her son and daughter, from an earlier union, to Shrewsbury’s son and daughter, meaning that her children and their progeny would also become part of the illustrious Talbot line.
Shrewsbury managed his money badly and lost a fortune as Elizabeth’s jailor to Mary Queen of Scots, who he was impelled to house, with her vast queen’s entourage, for nearly twenty years. Bess in the meantime shored her fortune up, cultivating powerful friends, building houses and accumulating land in Derbyshire. But her ambitions were greater and she managed to marry one of her daughters to Charles Stuart, the grandson of Margaret Tudor, meaning that the daughter of that union, Arbella Stuart, was a strong contender for the English throne after Elizabeth. Bess’s hopes of becoming the queen’s grandmother were, however, dashed when Elizabeth handed the crown to Arbella’s cousin James VI of Scotland.
The granddaughter that Bess raised, Arbella Stuart, is to be the protagonist of my next novel – out 2016. For more information see ElizabethFremantle.com