I finished up a nonfiction book this week, Devices and Desires, which is a biography of sorts on Bess of Hardwick, who was a contemporary of Elizabeth I. The book also is a deep dive into upper class culture in the late Tudor period, particularly architecture, of which Bess was a fervent patron. Born the daughter of middle class gentry, through careful marriage alliances (and 4 husbands – she outlived all of them), she worked her way up to become Countess of Shrewsbury. A strong personality who seems to be either adored by her husbands or, in the case of her 4th husband, eventually loathed, Bess was a shrewd businesswoman who utilized her “widow’s shares” and smart investments in property to amass large estates which she ran for a profit. She also used her wealth and income to rebuild and eventually create new buildings on almost all of her properties, including both the refurbishment of Old and New Hardwick Halls. A stickler for detail, account books and letters of all kinds (to stonemasons, her property overseers, her sons and daughters, her contacts at court), Bess was definitely a Renaissance woman who kept ahead of new fashions in both clothing and architecture and embroidery and many other social presentations of wealth. She and the Count of Shrewsbury were tasked with keeping Mary, Queen of Scots, under house arrest for the final decade-plus of her life, and Bess faithfully presented Elizabeth I with a new dress each holiday season. At one time, Bess’s granddaughter, Arbella, was second in line for the English throne after James of Scotland, although James did inherit while Arbella made a poor marriage match and died young. Filled with tons of details about the period and this remarkable woman, I really enjoyed this one. (4-star read).
Currently, I am finishing up VE Schwab’s first published book, The Near Witch, a retold fairy tale with a sweet love story, and have just started an ARC of The Ancient Gate, an epic fantasy by RS Penney, kindly provided to me by the author’s publicist. More to come on both of those!
7 thoughts on “Reading Wednesday: February 8, 2023”
This book sounds right up my alley!
Very interesting read and I had never even heard of this Bess! Would you like my paperback copy? Happy to send it on to you if so.
Oh my goodness. That would be amazing! I could return the favor with Keeper of the Queen’s Jewels if you’re interested. Do you have my address?
Just sent you an email (hopefully) since I don’t have your address! I would love to read Keeper if you’re willing to send it.
That sounds like a neat nonfiction book! I know so very little about that period.
I really enjoyed it but it’s also a period I focused on in college. I feel like someone needs to write a historical fiction version of Bess’s life so everyone can learn about her!
I do wish more school history classes had fun ways to teach history. I had a few fun segments, but in general it was always “memorize this date” and there was no motivation to remember anything past the test.