The remarkable story of Bess of Hardwick, her ascent through Elizabethan society and the houses she built that shaped British architectural history.
Born in 1521, Bess of Hardwick, property tycoon, businesswoman, money-lender and four-times wife, lived an astonishing eighty-seven years. Through canny choices and a will of steel she rose from country squire’s daughter to Dowager Countess, establishing herself as one of the richest and most powerful women in England, second only to Queen Elizabeth.
Bess forged her way, not merely by a judicious choice of husbands, but by shrewd exploitation of whatever assets those husbands brought her. At a time when women were legally and financially subordinate to their husbands, Bess succeeded in manipulating hers to her own, and her children’s, advantage, accumulating great riches and estates in the process.
But her greatest passion was for building and Bess kept a beady eye on every stage of the creation of her four houses. Hardwick New Hall, her sole surviving building, is stamped all over with Bess’s identity and her initials, both outside and in. Hardwick is a celebration of one woman’s triumphant progress through Elizabethan England.
In this new biography, Kate Hubbard examines Bess’s life as a builder within the context of the Elizabethan building world, dominated as it was by men. Devices and Desires traces the building of Hardwick, but also of other houses that Bess knew, visited and coveted; Longleat, Holdenby, Theobalds. Throughout, it seeks to locate Bess within Hardwick, the lasting monument she left behind her.