Bess of Hardwick

Bess of Hardwick (birth name: Elizabeth Cavendish) appeared a few times throughout the Mary, Queen of Scots series. And today, we’re diving into just how this low(ish) born woman became the second-wealthiest woman in Tudor England (after Queen Liz I).

We spill all the tea: the four husbands, the attempted poisonings, the embroideries, her dealings with the Grey family, the house building, the useless sons (and step-sons) and the LATE BREAKING NEWS.


Devices and Desires: Bess of Hardwick and the Building of Elizabethan England by Kate Hubbard

Recommended podcast:

Dwarfism History with Aubrey Smalls

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Vulgar History Podcast

Bess of Hardwick

August 30, 2023

Ann Foster:
Hello! Hello and welcome to Vulgar History, a feminist women’s history comedy podcast. My name is Ann Foster and it’s just you and me today. There’s been lots of guests and lots of things happening this season and some people have asked me a few times, [soft meow] when is going to be the next just Ann-only episode? [chuckles] [another meow] I don’t know if you can hear that but Hepburn, also here, so technically, I do have a guest and I’m petting her head.

Anyway, I wanted to say this because sometimes I forget that any episode could be someone’s first episode of this podcast. So, if you’re new, welcome. Just know that this show, we’re all about vibes, historical vibes. I talk very conversationally. In fact, that’s one of the meanings of the word vulgar, the vulgar tongue, it means talking like the everyday people do. That’s what this podcast is. I do a lot of research and then I put it into words that I understand so that you can hopefully understand the stories I’m telling you because history, sometimes, can be overwhelming, it can be intimidating… To me! I’m just talking about me where I’m like, “Who? What is happening? Who is this?” So, even for me, before I was doing this podcast, when I was reading stuff, I would just honestly break it down to myself to be like, “Who is this? Who is this?” and making up little nicknames for people so I could tell them apart and that’s what we do on this podcast. So, I mean, just so you know what you’re in for, that’s the vibe, that’s what’s happening and if that’s not for you, I mean, god bless and, you know, go read a textbook or whatever.

Anyway, my name is Ann Foster, did I say that? That’s my name. Hepburn is my cat. And we’re here doing an episode that’s part of our extremely long, somewhat chaotic, but very fun, Mary, Queen of Scots season, There’s Something About Mary, Queen of Scots. We’re talking about Bess of Hardwick today who is a person who has come up a few times, most notably toward the end of Mary’s story when Bess’s husband, who we call Mr. Bess, became sort of like the jailor of Mary, Queen of Scots. But we said in that episode, Bess of Hardwick, there’s a lot to talk about. I had written an essay about her a while ago and I was like, “Oh this is fine, easy peasy. I can just look at that essay and just record myself reading it”, basically. Guess what? No. Because there’s so much I didn’t include, it was a very short essay I wrote. So, I read a very in-depth biography of Bess of Hardwick and I’ll tell you what the references are in a minute.

A couple of other things. I wanted to give you a recommendation which is a podcast that I just became aware of – in my defense, it just started – that I think is great and it’s called Dwarfism History. So, it’s a podcast hosted by Aubrey Smalls, who you might know from TikTok and Instagram, @AubreySmalls. This is a podcast about people with dwarfism throughout history which is such an interesting and great topic and I’m excited that someone like Aubrey, by which I mean, someone who is cool and can break things down in a really understandable way, is doing this podcast because I think it’s great. I’m really excited to learn every week from Aubrey. Here’s how the show is described:

Dwarfism can be traced back to the biblical days, yet stories of little people are rarely told. So, in this new podcast series, Aubrey Smalls is changing that. Join us weekly as we uncover new and exciting stories of iconic people with dwarfism throughout history. 

So, I’ll put a link to that in the show notes for this episode but honestly, I’ve been listening, and you should all listen. Dwarfism History with Aubrey Smalls. So good, very needed, really interesting, and also just Aubrey, I’ve also just recently discovered him on Instagram, he does these hilarious videos. Anyway, one of my new favourite people, Aubrey Smalls.

And today, one of my favourite people from history, Bess of Hardwick. Unlike everyone we’ve talked about in this season so far, I think she’s not a royal person. She is non-royal so there are definitely things that come up in her life that are similar to what we’ve seen other people go through but it’s also different because there’s not, “And she’s the Queen,” at the same time. So, we know her as Bess of Hardwick, technically her name is Elizabeth Hardwick. She was one of five daughters in a family of minor gentry, she was born in and around 1527. Because she wasn’t a royal, we don’t actually know when she was born exactly because there are a lot of kids being born in a lot of places and if you’re not royal back then, you just didn’t record people’s birthdates that much.

So, for perspective, 1527, around when she was born. This was about six years before Queen Elizabeth I was born, so the two of them, they have some dealings and they’re a similar age. In terms of how I think of Tudor history sometimes, it’s like, which wife was Henry VIII on at this point? And it’s still Katherine of Aragon era, so pre-Anne Boleyn. In terms of other people we’ve talked about on this podcast, this is about 10 years before the birth of Lady Jane Grey who Bess also knew and about 15 years before the birth of Mary, Queen of Scots. So just, like, right in the middle of what we think of as the Tudor era.

So, Bess and her family, trying to describe how wealthy she was or not is a challenge for me because I don’t super understand the different types of levels of people in Tudor England because there can be people who have this huge ancestral home and stuff, but they could actually themselves be very poor. Or there could be people who are able to work themselves up and have more money but because they don’t have a title, they aren’t considered upper class. So, the trajectory of her life, she ends up, I mean, you know what? Spoiler in a good way, she lives a much longer life than most people we talk about on this podcast, which is why this episode is going to maybe be kind of long. But she ended up a whole lot better off than she was before, she really set her family up for success.

So, she was born into what I’m going to consider for myself, even though this wasn’t exactly the term then, a middle-class family. They had some connections to some royals but kind of everyone did and no one had any titles. Their ancestral land, Hardwick, is a place where they lived in a modest manor. Again, you’re like, “Manor. Ooh, so they were, like, rich and fancy.” It’s like, not really. And when you have that many children, you have to have money to feed them all. And then if they’re daughters, she’s one of five daughters, you have to pay the money when they get married. Anyway, I don’t want to be like, “Oh, they were poor and begging on the streets.” No. But they were not super well off. So, their ancestral land, Hardwick, is in the county of [phonetic] Derby-shure, potentially pronounced [ph.] Derbyshire. I mean, correct me British members of the tits-out brigade which, new listeners, is what we call listeners of this show.

So, her father died when she was very young, leaving a very small dowry to be split between Bess and her sisters. Her brother was set to inherit the Hardwick lands, so basically what they needed to do was to make themselves seem as appealing matches as possible for prospective husbands and so, with that in mind, to try and just make connections with important people and make these girls seem like great, great catches, Bess was sent when she was around 12 years old, to serve in the household of their distant relation Lady Zouche, which is a great name, [ph.] Zed-O-U-C-H-E, or as Americans might say, Zee-O-U-C-H-E. That felt very strange for me to say. To new listeners, I am Canadian. Anyway, Lady Zouche was at Codnor Castle which was nearby. And so, this was a thing that happened a lot to people in her status. This sort of appointment, the purpose of it was almost like an internship, to allow young people from less notable families the opportunity to meet influential people in order to improve their stations. So, if you have a relative, even if it’s a really distant relative, you’re like, “Can I send my daughter to your house just to help out there please and read your books and whatever?”

So, remember, Bess was born pre-Anne Boleyn. The wives of Henry VIII, it’s like Katherine of Aragon for a long time, Anne Boleyn for a short time, Jane Seymour for an even shorter time. At this point, he was on his third wife, Queen Jane Seymour. Lady Zouche was currently in service, she was a lady-in-waiting to Jane Seymour, at the time that Bess came into service for her. So, this probably meant that Bess, as part of that household, would travel with Lady Zouche to and from the royal court of Henry VIII which would give her, sort of, open her eyes. She grew up in this small community just kind of seeing the wider world but also just kind of how fucked up things were. While in service to Lady Zouche, Bess met a teen aristocrat named Robert Barley and these two got married in 1543 when she was about 16 years old, and Robert Barley died, like, a year later.

So, just to contextualize this, there’s a misconception that I myself fall victim to sometimes, I have to remind myself, “Wait, that’s not actually what happened,” that people in this era or in many past eras in countries would get married when they were young teenagers, especially young girls. Not true. It was kind of weird when that happened, and it was unexpected when that happened. The average age for women marrying at this time was I think something like 25, or something like that, older than we assume based on, I don’t know, Romeo and Juliet, or whatever. I think of people in this era getting married when they’re really young because you hear about that with like the people who are most written about which are royals and those marriage negotiations happen when they’re children, sometimes toddlers, because their parents, the kings and queens really need to cement these alliances, so people are married when they’re really, really young. To normal people like Bess, this would be weird, that two 16-year-olds got married to each other.

And so, what this was probably about is that Robert Barley’s dad was ill and seemed to be dying and Robert Barley would inherit everything when the father– And this is going to come up later in the story so I’ll try to explain it as best as I can understand it at the moment. When the father of a household in this place and time died and the heir, their oldest son, was not old enough to inherit – which, I’m not sure if that means 18 or 21 – then that child would become a ward. There’s a wardship council and different families can almost buy these children and stuff. So, just to sort of protect the family’s interests, it was in their best interest for the son, Robert Barley, to get married because that just changed the family connections, and it would change the wardship situation because it seemed like his dad was going to die. So, his dad did die but then also Robert Barley died, and I just remembered, I forgot to say my sources.

The biography that I read to make my notes was called Devices and Desires: Bess of Hardwick and the Building of Elizabethan England by Kate Hubbard. This book has got all the details, especially if you’re interested in architecture because we’re going to get into a lot of house-building talk, some HGTV: Tudor Era talk. I also got information from Hardwick Hall’s website at and a news article from the BBC, but I’ll get to that at the end. As we’ve had several times this season already, could not be more late breaking news. I’m recording this in August 2023, there was news about Bess of Hardwick.

So, she’s a teen, she was married, and her husband died; she was a 16-year-old widow who had been married for a year. And why was she chosen? Is an interesting question and no one really knows but maybe they wanted to marry this guy Robert Barley because his father was going to die and for all these inheritance reasons and maybe Bess just kind of seemed, she was there, I don’t know how much at this point she was making herself stand out or she did stand out but for family reasons. “She should have been entitled to a portion of his family’s estate as the widow of this son, but the Barley family refused to provide it to her.” So, guess what she did? And this is just setting up her whole personality yet because we haven’t really delved into that yet. So, she’s 17 years old and she took them to court. “She pursued the matter in a series of court battles and finally was awarded around £30 a year.” So, she had this marriage, he died, she’s 17 years old, and they’re like, “I’m sorry teenager, we’re going to not give you the money.” And she’s like, “Fuck that, give me my money,” because she deserved it. She should have got it. She wasn’t going for money she wasn’t owed. And she won. This is a theme we’re going to see a lot in her life because she would not take things sitting down, is that the saying? If someone tried to take advantage of her, she would take them to court and generally, she would win.

So, she was still not wealthy but already, this £30 a year, she was much better off than she had been as a child. With this money, and with her experience now with Lady Zouche and the books she read and the etiquette she was taught, she figured out, “I’m going to move up in this world bitches. Look out.”

In 1545, she was placed in a position in the household of Lady Frances Grey, the marchioness of Dorset at Bradgate House. So, Lady Frances Grey is someone we have talked about before, I did a whole season about Lady Jane Grey, and this is her mom. So, Frances Grey was the daughter of Henry VIII’s sister, Mary Tudor. She was the mother of three daughters: Lady Katherine Grey, Lady Mary Grey, and Lady Jane Grey. Bess is 10 years older than Lady Jane Grey. So, if Bess is, like, 20, Jane is 10 and Katherine and Mary Grey are quite a bit younger. But Bess of Hardwick is cool with people of all ages. She became friends with Jane Grey, she became friends also with Jane’s mom, Lady Frances Grey. So, Bess was kind of like a cool older sister to the Grey girls and maybe like a cool younger sister to Lady Frances Grey. So, they’re all just pals, they’re friends. The reason that she wound up there is again, because the Grey family, if you look in the family tree, they’re vaguely related, somehow to Bess of Hardwick. So, she was sent there again, as a distant relative. So, she hung out there and she remained close to the Grey family throughout the next tumultuous era. So, they clearly hit it off in a genuine way.

So, the Grey family was into what is described as “New learning,” which is the Reformation Protestant vibes, AKA what we call in this show, the Renaissance Reformation Girl Squad which is just cool people who are into being Protestant. This is what’s happening in the household. Bess of Hardwick, nothing I read about her made me think that religion was as important to her as it was to, for instance, Jane Grey or to Mary, Queen of Scots. But she was like, “I get it, this is what’s happening, and I’m cool with it.” Because she was there with the Grey sisters, the Grey sisters we know all got a really humanist, I think it’s called, education, and Bess was around that but none of this really rubbed off on her because that’s not her deal. She’s not into, you know, reading the classics or whatever. We’re going to see what her deal is, but it’s not that. But she did have very, very neat italic, it’s called, handwriting, Bess. So, she might have perfected that handwriting there with them because we know that Lady Jane Grey also had, similarly, very neat handwriting.

It was while she was around this household, because that’s what she’s about, is finding a wealthy husband to move up in this world, she first met William Cavendish who would, spoiler, become husband number two. So, Bess is a young widow from Derbyshire, she had no fortune or prospects, as Jane Austen might write. Even though she had this money from her first marriage, she was still just kind of like, “Who is she? I don’t know her.” And this guy, William Cavendish, who we’re going to call WC, was a rising man at court, based out of London and he was a real catch for her.

So, he was Treasurer of the King’s Chamber, which was a highly influential role in Henry VIII’s court, he had been widowed twice before. The number of people in this story who have had numerous marriages, it’s not weird to them to have been married numerous times and people die all the time and that’s because there were a lot of plagues of smallpox, the sweating sickness. There are various reasons people died but also if you’re married when you’re 16, maybe you’ll have numerous spouses. Anyway, he’d been widowed twice before but I don’t want you to think, “He’s a weird guy,” or whatever, it’s just kind of, everyone was. He had two daughters already who were about Bess’s age, which is where I mention, Bess is like 20 and WC is about 42. So, they were married at Bradgate which is the house where she was staying, Frances Grey’s house, and because of his rank, Bess now became Lady Cavendish. He was so wealthy that she was now able to entirely change her lifestyle.

It’s interesting that this is who he chose to marry. Part of it is probably, like, she’s young, she’s 20. He has these older children, but he knows he could have more children with her because she’s, presumably, just at the beginning of her fertile era of life. But also, lots of people he met would have been. So, something about Bess made her stand out even though she was, you know, she had no fortune, she had no prospects. Last week – I believe, the order that these episodes come out – I had the interview with Yunte Huang about his book about Anna May Wong and this, it just reminds me in that sense of somebody who comes from a non-impressive background, somebody who doesn’t have connections or whatever, the opposite of a nepo baby who is just so charismatic and interesting and engaging that everyone around them just notices and they get opportunities, or they make themselves opportunities. They find the opportunities and then they have the charisma to follow through on them. We’re going to see that in Bess’s life as well.

There are some portraits of her that you can see if you just do an image search for “Bess of Hardwick portraits.” And we see she looks, I would say – not fully comprehending the understanding of beauty in Tudor England – to me she looks similar to Queen Elizabeth or to Mary, Queen of Scots or to anyone, but she’s never written about as being a beautiful, gorgeous person. It’s funny because Mary, Queen of Scots, for instance, was always written about being this beautiful, captivating, engaging person and I’m sure she was. But also, she was the Queen so you kind of had to say that. But Bess of Hardwick, I’ve read in a couple of different sources, I don’t want to put the author of this book on blast, but I think it might have been in this book, she was not beautiful. When you look at her portraits, that’s not the expectation of what a beautiful woman would have looked like back then.

So, it’s interesting that she snagged this guy when she wasn’t the young, hot person in the room. But I would say, first of all, portrait is subjective. Second of all, if you have a really interesting personality, a sense of humour, and are intelligent, and smart, that often can supersede what you look like in a still photograph, right? And there’s clearly something about Bess that made her so engaging and interesting that not just this guy, not just WC, but so many people around her were just fond of her and enjoyed her. Some of the writing about her is like, “It was so interesting because she wasn’t even beautiful!” And like, [chuckles] beautiful people are not necessarily interesting or charismatic. She was interesting, she was charismatic and that made her hot. So, she’s married to WC.

So this, fortuitously for her, was 1547, this is a few years after Henry VIII had dissolved the monasteries as part of the Protestant Reformation. Not to get into that but so that Henry VIII could marry Anne Boleyn, he decided to make the country be not-Catholic anymore but instead to start the Anglican religion, the Church of England, which was Protestant. As he did that, that was a way that he could also take all the Catholic monasteries and just be like, “Sorry, no more Catholic monasteries. This is a house and I’m going to sell it to my friend,” or whatever. What this meant was that all the highly valuable land previously owned by religious orders could now be taken over by rich people in search of land. And WC and Bess, because now they’re married, they’re a combo, they’re a power couple, they were powerful enough that they got first pick of which property they wanted. So, of all the property that they could have taken, what they ended up taking was property in Derbyshire, which is near where Bess grew up. So, you have to presume that that was her suggestion. She liked it there, was maybe a part of it, she wanted to go back to a place she was familiar with and/or she just wanted to go back there and show off to everybody how she had improved herself so much.

So, they started construction of a home that’s still around today that you can visit that’s called Chatsworth House and that was Bess’s favourite. She has numerous homes we’re going to talk about during this whole story, during her life, but that’s where she would return to when she’s in crisis or when she’s not in crisis, when everything is kind of sorted out, she’s like, “I’m going to go back here.” This really was her home, the area where she was from was very close to her and very important to her. Also, she liked the house they built.

So, you know, what their relationship was like. They really liked each other. Later on… I’ll tell you this fact now instead of when it happens chronologically because by then you might have forgotten who WC even is. Years and years and years, decades later, Bess was spending some time hanging out with Mary, Queen of Scots doing embroidery and together they made a hanging that is now known as the Cavendish hanging. And so, we know from the various episodes we’ve done this season about embroidery and symbolism. The Cavendish hanging shows tears falling onto smoking quick lime and in Latin, translated it says, “Tears witness that the quenched flame lives.” In the border around this hanging are the initials of Bess and WC, the Cavendish arms, which is his last name, and assorted emblems of love; a cracked mirror, three broken rings, and a glove. Bear in mind at the time she was making this, WC was dead, she was married to someone else. So, clearly, the relationship stuck with her and was important to her.

This is a lot of the sources we have about her, there are a lot of letters that she wrote to and from various people. The ones from WC to her are all like, “Oh, my love, I adore you so much. You are perfection itself.” And hers are like, “You need to negotiate a better price from the guy doing the window finishings.” And that’s her love language, you know? What they had in common, they were consumers. They really liked stuff, they really liked beautiful, aesthetic things including architecture and house and door trimming and windowpanes. They also like getting new things, shopping and acquiring things and they both liked gambling. They were really rich, and they were living their rich life and they both enjoyed it, you know?

So, WC went to London all the time because of his job for Henry VIII. So, Bess, again, got to hang out more at royal court, but now from a higher-up position than when she was there before. This helped shape her aesthetic tastes, just being exposed to more fancy homes and different furnishings, and different things like that. She got into studying classical texts; I said before, she didn’t do that, but in fact, she did do that. I guess what I was thinking, she was scholarly but in a really sort of aesthetic way. She wasn’t sitting around like the Grey family or Jane Grey, I picture them just sitting around, reading the Bible, and really thinking heavily about spiritual things. And Bess was more like, “I like well-rounded humanist education.” She also liked architectural books, seeing what the buildings looked like in Ancient Greece or whatever. And so, clearly, she absorbed images from all the things she was reading and experiencing that would later inform the design of her houses, both outside and the interiors. It was probably in this era that she might have first heard the stories of women from antiquity, like Cleopatra, which is going to come up later, believe it or not.

So, she and WC started having kids right away, this is why I suspect one of the reasons, besides her just being the coolest person in the room always, was that she was young, and he wanted to have more children. Their first child was a daughter named Frances, I believe named after Frances Grey who was also one of her godparents. One of baby Frances’s other godmothers was Katherine Willoughby, who we did an episode about in the Jane Grey season, she’s also a member of the Renaissance Reformation Girl Squad. Bess just started basically having a baby every year for the next eight years, that is what she was up to. But the godparents that they chose for the various children were a very clear statement. Naming a godparent wasn’t just like, “Oh, these are my friends.” Especially when you have this sort of role and this sort of status, it’s really showing who your allies are at royal court. So, this was really showing that WC and Bess were fully aligned with the Grey family and therefore with Protestantism which was the religion of England at the time.

Their second daughter was named Temperance, which was interesting because they both liked to gamble and live extravagantly. Jane Grey was one of Temperance’s godmothers. One of Temperance’s godfathers was the Earl of Shrewsbury, who is the father of Mr. Bess who we will meet later on. Temperance sadly died within the year, but more babies just keep coming. Next came their first son Henry who would grow up to be… [chuckles] Bess once described him as “My bad son, Henry.” He sucked. His godmother was Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth I. So, like, anyone could say “Queen Elizabeth is the godmother of my child,” but this is like, they actually knew her.

Interestingly, at around this time or after this is when King Henry VIII died and his teenage son Edward was King for a couple of years and then he died and then Lady Jane Grey was the Queen famously, for nine days, and then she was pulled off the throne and then Henry VIII’s daughter Mary took over. And I did literally a season about Lady Jane Grey, not time to retell that all right now. But all that happened, Mary I became Queen. She was like, “I’m going to make England Catholic again,” and this is the time at which Bess had her third son, Charles. And godmother to Charles was in fact Queen Mary and the godfather, Jane Grey’s dad. This seems interesting because of how fraught it was between Protestants and Catholics, but this shows Bess being just so good at playing both sides of things and always being in the good books of whoever was in control. Queen Mary had always been close to Frances Grey, who was her cousin, so they were probably just all part of that girl squad. And just timing-wise, Charles’ christening was held two weeks after Jane Grey was tried and found guilty of treason and baby Charles’s godfather was Jane Grey’s dad. Like, unbelievable time going on here.

So, Bess. Remember she’s 10 years older than Jane Grey but they had met each other when Jane was 8 and Bess was 18 and they hung out together and they practiced handwriting together. Jane had been godmother to Temperance, so they were close to each other and what I found really touching and interesting, because we don’t know a lot of Bess’s inner life, and you know, whose inner life does anyone know? But we do know that Bess kept a portrait of Jane in her bed chamber at Chatsworth for the rest of her life, for the rest of Bess’s life. So clearly, that affected her, what happened with Jane. So, then she had a daughter, whose name was Elizabeth, and you might remember Bess of Hardwick’s real name is Elizabeth, so this is a “Naming daughter after self” moment, for those of you playing on the Vulgar History Bingo card at home. Godmother to Elizabeth was Katherine Grey, Jane Grey’s younger sister, even though by now the Grey family was thoroughly disgraced because Jane’s dad had joined this rebellion. So, it’s interesting, the loyalty that Bess shows to the Grey family, despite what their status was. She was a true friend to them; she didn’t abandon them when all this drama happened.

1557, so she’s 30 years old, mother of six surviving children. So, WC fell ill, and Bess rushed to be with him in London, he was there, and she’d been at one of the other properties, probably with their von Trapp brood of children. He died so Bess was a widow again but now she also was, guess what? Responsible for the considerable debt he had left because apparently, they couldn’t quite afford the extravagant lifestyle that they had been enjoying. She could have settled these debts by selling off some of their estates, but she did not want to do that. She knew she had to find a new husband, so by now on the throne is Elizabeth, who is the godmother of one of her children. Everything is Protestant again; England is Protestant again. Catholics are still very much there. Anyway, she knew she had to find a new husband, someone even richer than WC to help pay off these debts and to help her ascent. She had gotten used to this rich life and wanted to keep going. I don’t know, I imagine her looking around the court being like, “Who is here? Who do I choose?”

Anyway, the best option, the person she chose, and when she chooses a person, that person chooses her back because she’s Bess of Hardwick and you’re not going to do any better. So, it’s a guy named Sir William St. Loe. He was serving in Elizabeth’s household, which is likely where Bess met him because she would have been hanging out there, and next thing you know, these two got married. So, each of Bess’s husbands, and this is husband number three, was more politically powerful and wealthy than the previous one and William St. Loe was truly a catch for her. He was Elizabeth I’s Captain of the Guard and Chief Butler of England, which was apparently a very prestigious thing to be, although it makes me think of the butler from Downton Abbey, well, that was very prestigious. Anyway, he’s not a butler like that. Butler clearly meant a different thing then.

Anyway, like WC, William St. Loe owned a lot of prestigious estates and land and property, so Bess was able to continue her new real passion, which was building homes, renovating homes, but not flipping them, like, selling them to other people, but just having them to herself, adding them to her real estate portfolio. And then of course, when they owned property and land, the people who lived on that land would pay them rent because they were also landlords.

So, we see from William St. Loe’s letters to Bess, that he was also truly smitten with her. He adored her and wrote things like, “My own, more dearer to me than I am to myself.” And she wrote back to him being like, “Please negotiate a better price for the window fixtures,” and he loved her for that. I love that she finds these guys who get who she is, and she doesn’t have to compromise who she is, she’s just being herself and they’re cool with it. The vibe is really like, she’s Bess and he’s just Ken with these marriages.

So, normally in this context, where the husband was, the wife would go be with him also. But William St. Loe got that Bess needed to be at Chatsworth overseeing the renovations of this house in Derbyshire. In one letter he even referred to Bess as “My honest, sweet Chatsworth,” like, he called her the name of the house because he knew how much it meant. It’s like, “You know Bess, how much you love this house? I love you that much, you as a person.” In a moment that I found, again, it’s like, what was inside her heart? It’s interesting. One of Bess’s letters was signed “Elizabeth Cavendish,” which was her previous surname with WC and then she crossed off Cavendish and wrote, “St. Loe.” Like, ha-ha just kidding, that’s my new last name.” She was too busy wheeling and dealing for renovation materials, getting a good deal on limestone or whatever to remember what her surname even was. Or she was just remembering how much she liked WC. And she was hands-on with all of it, she was choosing the craftsmen, she was figuring out the design, she was really invested in this and involved in this. But also, some scandal was around the corner.

So, William St. Loe had a brother called Edward and Edward wanted to inherit all the St. Loe estates and money. William St. Loe had been married before and had children from a previous marriage, but they were all daughters. So, Edward, his brother, knew that he would be the heir when William St. Loe died. So, he saw Bess as a threat because she was 32, young enough that she might have a son and if there was a new baby St. Loe, Edward wouldn’t inherit anything. And so, he decided to murder her.

Edward, I just want to say, was, as we say on the show, a “wrong’un.” He had experience with poisoning people to get what he wanted. For instance, he married a woman named Bridget Scutt, described as a “Lusty young woman,” so I like her already. She was pregnant when they got married but the timing of it was like… So, Bridget Scutt had been married to a 90-year-old husband who died from being poisoned. Bridget Scutt was pregnant and then married Edward St. Loe and then after they got married, within two months, Bridget also died, probably also being poisoned. And Edward married another woman who he had had dealings with who was related to the 90-year-old man. Anyway, Edward is just a practiced poisoner, but no one could ever get enough proof of what he was doing. But when he’s like, “I’m going to kill Bess of Hardwick,” it’s like, he knows what he’s doing.

What happened was Edward and his new wife came to visit Bess and William St. Loe and shortly after they left, she fell very sick with the symptoms of being poisoned. Everyone immediately assumed Edward had poisoned her because that was just his deal. William St. Loe believed it was true, their mother thought it was true. But Bess’s condition improved because, you know what, even poison was like, “Oh fuck, it’s Bess of Hardwick! I, poison, am going to not kill you because you have so much more to do.” She didn’t die, there was an investigation. The investigation found that Edward had been working with a necromancer but he was not sent to jail because Bess hadn’t died and also, people fell sick for lots of reasons back then, they couldn’t prove it was poison so everyone just agreed to move on apparently, except for Edward, who was still determined to cut Bess out of the will to make himself the only heir.

So, Edward brought William St. Loe to court and the verdict was that Edward’s wife Margaret could inherit one of the manors, as long as she lived. I guess, maybe they were just subtly trying to make Edward not kill his latest wife. So, what happened is that William St. Loe had his will rewritten so that Bess would inherit everything from him, leaving nothing for Edward. So, whether or not Bess had a new baby, Edward was cut off entirely. Fuck you Edward, you get what you deserve.

During this time period, Bess of Hardwick was on good terms with the Queen, she kind of always was but at this point, she received a royal gift for the new year and the royal gift was that Elizabeth agreed to waive all of the debt that Bess still owed on behalf of WC. So, between just being good and charming and manipulative, but in a good way, she gets what she wants. There clearly was something about Bess of Hardwick where people just liked her and that’s very powerful. So, debts paid off, she’s married to a new, rich husband, she wasn’t poisoned and she’s going to inherit everything from William St. Loe whenever he dies. She spent much of her time overseeing construction at Chatsworth House, I just picture her going over blueprints and being like, “Mm, do we like this grout? I don’t know.” While William St. Loe just was at royal court being the butler and whatever.

So, 1560 is when Bess’s friend, godmother of one of her children, Lady Katherine Grey, who we did an episode about, also in the Jane Grey season, there’s a lot of overlap here, had a super-secret sexy marriage to Ned Seymour and got pregnant. This was a real scandal because Katherine Grey was in the line of succession to maybe be the next monarch but Ned Seymour kind of also was, or something like that. Anyway, Katherine Grey couldn’t just marry whoever she wanted, was the situation, and she was pregnant.

She confided in somebody who was called Elizabeth St. Loe. Now, you tell me, listeners, because I did an episode about Katherine Grey and some sources mistakenly assume when it says, “She confided in someone called Elizabeth St. Loe,” that that means Bess of Hardwick because remember her name is Elizabeth, she’s married to Mr. St. Loe, her name is Elizabeth St. Loe. But the thing is, William had a sister called Elizabeth St. Loe and that’s who Katherine Grey confided in. So, I’m not sure what I said in that episode, but different sources say different things but what we now know, and this is the thing, history grows and changes and things I’ve said in previous episodes might now have been proven to be not true. Anyway, Elizabeth St. Loe, not Bess of Hardwick. Bess of Hardwick not involved in this mess.

So, Elizabeth St. Loe the sister of William St. Loe was one of Elizabeth’s privy chamber women and she wasn’t any help at all when Katherine Grey confided in her, apparently, she fell into great weeping and that’s the sign that this is not Bess of Hardwick. First of all, I don’t think Katherine would have told Bess of Hardwick because Bess of Hardwick doesn’t seem like a friendly ear to cry on. But also, Bess of Hardwick I don’t think is someone who would fall into weeping when confronted with some sort of tragedy. Anyway, Katherine Grey was sent to prison, her husband was sent to prison, they got to share a room, and she got pregnant again. Eventually, Katherine Grey died. I did a whole episode about that, if you want to hear that, it’s in the Jane Grey season. Elizabeth St. Loe, the sister, was dismissed from the privy chamber and spent six months in the Tower. Bess of Hardwick meanwhile, just building houses, doing fine.

But then, in 1564, she was called back to London because her husband had become very ill. He died before she even got there and she was fairly certain he’d been poisoned by his horrible brother, Edward. I assume the same. But the thing is, whether Edward poisoned him or not, Edward didn’t know about the will change and that he was cut out of the inheritance altogether. But remember, William St. Loe also had daughters, so they also, because everything went to Bess, so his daughters were unhappy that they didn’t inherit anything. So, how it worked was the property went to Edward’s wife and the money went to Bess. So, this whole thing made Bess kind of look a little bit like a gold digger/black widow. Edward took her to court to contest the terms of the will. I feel like the courtroom is just like, “Oh Bess of Hardwick, please come this way. You have an express lane, you’re here so often.” But nothing changed. Margaret St. Loe, the wife of Edward still got the house, Bess still got the money, Edward got the nothing. Good riddance, honestly.

So, glad to have that all behind her, we can assume, Bess headed off to Derbyshire to oversee construction projects because she was a real estate/house building maven. She was rich, wealthy and influential and could have chosen to live out the rest of her life as a widow just based on her widow’s pension and the inheritance she got from William St. Loe but that’s not her style, man. She returned to royal court in 1566 and everyone was like, “Oh my god, it’s Bess of Hardwick, the coolest person. Is she going to take a new husband? Who is she going to choose?” And so, she was so rich at this point, so different from the person with no fortune and no prospects. Now, it’s just like, she could have whoever she wanted. I mean, she always could but now she could because of money. And so, she decided that she was going to marry, with royal permission – she went through Elizabeth, no secret sexy weddings here – George Talbot, the Earl of Shrewsbury and the son of one of her children’s godfathers. We called him in the previous episode Mr. Bess and I’m still going to call him that because like, she’s everything, he’s just Ken.

So, Mr. Bess was the richest man in England. The richest man. Not just one of them, he was the richest man in England and marrying him meant that Bess now got the title of Countess of Shrewsbury and so, being a countess put her up in a whole new league of just, sort of like, fanciness. The wealth and status were also helpful for the interest of her children, she wanted her children to get good marriages. She’s not just like, “I, Bess, want to be rich and whatever.” She’s like, “I want to look out for my family, I want to elevate them.” And this is something I wanted to talk about in this episode. We’re getting into it, so I will now, just the concept of money trauma.

So, there’s a course called The Trauma of Money which I’ve not taken but I’ve heard about and I’m strongly considering. I heard about it first… There are two Canadian financial influencers I follow on Instagram; Bridget Casey is one and she talks about this a lot. And so, I was just looking up in the name of the other… Anyway, there’s a podcast called Money Feels Podcast, they talk about this a lot, Bridget Casey and the other influencer is called Mixed Up Money. Anyway, it’s the issue of, like, if you grow up without a lot of money and then become a person who has money, the trauma of growing up without money could turn you into a person who is really single-mindedly focused on money and that can become problematic in some ways, psychologically. And you could also become a person who, even when you have money you feel weird about it; you feel weird about spending it or you can’t stop amassing it, or you feel like you have to always be working.

I think part of that is what’s playing out with Bess here. It was just interesting to be consuming their content while I was reading about Bess of Hardwick where I’m like, “Oh, she’s got money trauma.” She is so wealthy, but she wasn’t, to begin with. She knew after her father died – and we didn’t talk about that a lot, but it does in the biography I read – it was really challenging for them, for her mother, for her and her siblings to survive. So, the fact that she bought land in Derbyshire and is building this house and needs to keep consuming and constructing. Is there something about, she needs to build a home? I don’t know. But also, at the same point, I don’t want to be like, “And that’s why she married this guy.” It’s like, she’s an ambitious person. She couldn’t just be like, “I’m going to be a home builder. The end.” It’s like the only way that she could elevate herself is by marrying a man again. So, she finds the best man to marry, like the richest man in England. Anyway, this is how her ambition was able to manifest because she wasn’t able to get a job and she’s not like other people we’ve talked about where it’s like, she’s a queen or whatever.

So, her new husband, Mr. Bess was close-ish to her age, he was six or seven years younger than her. And he was also best friends, interestingly, with William Cecil, who we’ve talked about a lot in the Mary, Queen of Scots episodes. So, it’s nice to see a softer side of William Cecil just being bros with this guy. Mr. Bess also has, even for a person from this time and era, incredibly hard-to-read handwriting which might be because he had rheumatism and arthritis in his hands. He wrote a lot of letters, and my empathy goes out to the archivists and the writers who need to try and understand what words he said, and also to his friends at the time because apparently, it’s just really indecipherable handwriting. So, he owned lots of land all over the place, I think partially through the whole dissolution of the monasteries thing, including, he owned some land in Derbyshire. He also owned lots of property including Tutbury Castle, which you’ll remember from the Mary, Queen of Scots episodes as the swamp house.

So, he was already the father of seven children from his previous marriage and as part of their marriage settlement, and it sounds like Bess probably worked out the marriage settlement herself because she’s just apparently an amateur lawyer by now. One of the things that was part of this was that they married four of their children to each other. So, Bess’s daughter Mary was married to George’s son Gilbert, and Bess’s son Henry, her bad son Henry, was married to George’s daughter Grace. So, this is a thing that people did at that time, and it seems weird to us now. Everyone wasn’t doing this then, but this was not super weird then, it was just a way to really cement the entwining of the two households. There were caveats listed in this arrangement that if any of these children died before the marriages were consummated – Bess’s daughters were quite young so the marriages weren’t going to happen for several years – their marriages would then be moved onto the next younger sibling in each family.

Anyway, with this new title came new lands and money and Bess was just like, “You know what I’m going to do with these lands and money? Build goddamn houses.” So, in this extremely rich family, building their houses, Mary, Queen of Scots suddenly came by. So, if you want to know her story, I’ve done like 20 hours of content on it but just to briefly remind you what part of the story this is, Mary, Queen of Scots is in England and Elizabeth doesn’t want her to take over the throne so she’s kind of in house arrest but they have to find someone for her to live with and it’s really expensive for Mary, Queen of Scots to be your house guest because she had like, 16-course meals three times a day or whatever. And so, they’re like, “Who are we going to get to be the jailor/babysitter of Mary, Queen of Scots?” And the person who they chose was Mr. Bess. And this is partially because he was very trustworthy, partially because he was so rich and Elizabeth, the Queen, looked at the various properties owned by these two and was like, you know which seems like the best property to send Mary to, that’s it’s going to be hardest for people to come rescue her or for her to escape from? Is Tutbury, the house built on a swamp.

Of this house – and this is a quote I hadn’t seen before, but it was in this biography of Bess – Mary, Queen of Scots wrote about this house, “It is so damp that you cannot put any piece of furniture in that part without its being, in three or four days, covered with mould. Privies had no drain which meant a continual stench.” So, this is, like, a shitty house, literally. Mary, Queen of Scots didn’t want to be there, Bess didn’t want to be there. It was more just like, they owned it, but they didn’t want to live in it. But then one of the rules of being the babysitter of Mary, Queen of Scots was that none of their children were allowed to be under the same roof as Mary. So, this meant that Bess and Mr. Bess had to figure out which of their other houses all of their various children should live in, which I guess is helpfully, four of the children are married to each other so that’s just one house instead of two. And Mr. Bess was required to be in permanent attendance to Mary, so wherever she was, he had to be. And I mean, we’ve already seen that Bess didn’t feel the need to acquiesce to the societal convention that a wife should be where a husband is, but she didn’t want to be in the swamp house. But, you know, this is a royal guest so it’s sort of a privilege to be her jailor. So, at least at first, Bess was on the scene.

Mary was 26 years old when she arrived, and Bess was 42; not a huge age gap, all things considered, but just something to keep in mind. It cost a lot of money to keep Mary there, they had to pay her personal servants, and every time they moved her from one house to another house had to transport all of her stuff, and food for her personal chefs to prepare her meals. So, the costs were substantial and even though they were rich, they didn’t want to be spending money on this, right?

So, they’re like, “Let’s move out of the swamp house and into Chatsworth House of Derbyshire.” So, Mary spent a lot of time there in an apartment now known as the Queen of Scots Room and she and Bess both did embroidery. They were both really skilled at embroidery. If you listen to the episode I did where I interviewed Clare Hunter about her amazing book about Mary, Queen of Scots and embroidery, she talks about how Bess of Hardwick, you can see her embroideries, a bunch of them are in various museums and homes in England. They’re really good. Bess of Hardwick was really good at embroidery, like, perfect even stitches. Mary, Queen of Scots, her embroidery is more passionate. I think if I did embroidery, it would be more like Mary, Queen of Scots where it’s just like, you’re really into it for a minute and then you daydream and then you get back into it. But Bess of Hardwick was really good at it.

We talk about this in the conversation with Clare Hunter and in her book she does as well, sitting and stitching is a really social thing to do, you really get to know other people while you’re doing this sort of task. And it’s not just the two of them together, there are other servants, Mary brought her personal embroiderer there. So, there’s a whole group of people just having a nice stitch and bitch session, really.

So, if you go to visit most museums in England… Okay, there’s a lot of museums in England. If you go to, like, it’s the National Gallery, the National Archives, the V&A, if you go to Hardwick Hall, which we haven’t talked about yet, they did a lot of stitching. And you can tell who stitched what because Mary’s have her initials on them and Bess’s have her initials on them, her initials at this time being ES because her name was Elizabeth Shrewsbury, technically.

I didn’t mention this before but one of Bess’s hobbies was sort of like Emma from the book Emma by Jane Austen, she just loved matchmaking other people, usually with the Queen’s permission. She really liked pairing people off. So, we’re going to get into the Scheming Grannies portion of this saga because we’re skipping past 15 years because that is how much time Mary, Queen of Scots was there. So, this was getting kind of in the way of Bess’s marriage to Mr. Bess, Mary’s presence, but also the matchmaking is happening. So, Bess had one unmarried child left. So, while she’s having to, like Mr. Bess is with Mary, Bess is building houses but also matchmaking and she wanted to matchmake for her youngest daughter Elizabeth. There’s a lot of Elizabeths in this story so we’re going to call the daughter Lizzy. So, Bess had been trying to figure out the perfect husband for Lizzy. One option was Peregrine Bertie, the son of Katherine Willoughby, who we talked about in an episode years ago. Mr. Bess, like she ran this plan past him, and he was like, “Yeah, that sounds good.” But those plans fell through which led Bess to an even better plan which was to marry Lizzy to Charles Lennox. Who is Charles Lennox?

So, Charles Lennox is the younger brother of Darnley, Mary, Queen of Scots’s second husband who was a disaster, who got blown up and strangled. Charles’s mother was Bess’s friend Margaret Douglas, who we’ve also done an episode about. Margaret Douglas was anxious to find a wife for Charles. This is both, not the mothers, the grandmothers– Or no, I guess Margaret is a grandmother, Bess is the mother, but we’re still going to call them Scheming Grannies because it’s cute. So, Margaret Douglas wanted to find a wife for Charles who had a really good dowry because Margaret Douglas needed some money and the person who had money was Bess of goddamn Hardwick.

So, Charles was kind of an heir to the throne of England so if he had a child with Lizzy that child could maybe be the next monarch which would make Bess and Margaret grandmothers/great-grandmothers to the next king or queen. So, they’re like, “Yes, how do I make this happen?” Mr. Bess was not consulted with this plan. I love this plan! This is what happened. So, Margaret, the grandmother– Oh no! They’re both mothers. Why do we call them grannies? Oh, because they’re both grandmothers of the child who is born later. Still, I’m not going to change it, it’s the Scheming Grannies.

Margaret and her son Charles, they’re like, “We’re just going to go on a trip to the north of England, super casual, no big deal.” And then while they’re in that part of the country, they happen to get an invitation from Bess of Hardwick being like, “Why don’t you come visit me where I’m staying at Rufford Abbey,” which is one of the dissolved abbeys that Mr. Bess had acquired to turn into a house, “It’s near where you are,” and Bess happened to be staying there herself. So, once Margaret and Charles arrived, Margaret “Fell ill” and needed to lie in bed for five days. During those five days, Charles and Lizzy fell in love and then got married right there at Rufford Abbey. They didn’t get permission or anything, everyone was just like, “This wasn’t a scheme it’s just a sick granny, two young people happened to fall in love and get immediately married. This is just a true love story, no schemes here, no.”

Mr. Bess, who had been cut out of this planning was like, “This is clearly a scheme, what the fuck did you do? I’m an important person at royal court, Elizabeth is going to be so mad.” So, he had to like, save face with Elizabeth being like, “I was super not involved in this, I didn’t know anything about this.” But Lizzy was pregnant, and they couldn’t annul the marriage or anything, this had happened. Margaret Douglas, Charles’s mom, was sent to the Tower of London for her role in this but Bess was not punished. So, previously and from another source I read– This is the thing with history reading, one source says this, one source says this, I do not know which is true. Both of them agreed that Bess didn’t really face any repercussions. One of them said Elizabeth summoned Bess and Bess just didn’t go and that was fine. This one just says that Bess wasn’t punished at all. So, maybe Mr. Bess’s pleading paid off with Elizabeth or maybe Elizabeth just liked Bess because Bess was cool? Whether or not Bess was sent for, the reason she was not punished is because she was the wife of Mr. Bess, Mr. Bess was the jailor of Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth needed Bess with Mr. Bess for jailor purposes.

So, Lizzy had a baby, the two women became grannies, and the baby was a daughter whose name was Arbella Stuart, who I’ve also done an episode about, but don’t worry, we’re going to recap her story, coming right up. So, Charles died of tuberculosis, a real theme this season. So, Lizzy was now a widow. There’s a question of what’s going to happen? Who is going to raise Arbella? Especially because three years later, Margaret died, so there’s a thing about well, is Arbella now the heir to the Lennox family inheritance? Who is going to watch after Arbella? And the answer to this is basically Bess of Hardwick because that’s what she wanted to have happen so that’s what happened. But that’s not what usually happens because there’s a whole thing with like wards and people can buy the wardship of people. Anyway, Bess was just like, “Fuck all this, I’m going to be guardian of Arbella.” Or no! She is going to be eventually.

First, Charles died. Lizzy is now a widow. The mother is still there, we don’t have to worry about who is going to take care of Arbella. But when Margaret Lennox died, there’s the thing about the inheritance. Arbella should have legally gotten the Lennox family inheritance, but Elizabeth I was like, “Or what about not?” So, the title wound up with Esmé Stuart, who we talked about in a previous episode, I don’t have time to get into it. James, Mary, Queen of Scots’s son, took all the jewels that Arbella should have inherited. Bess is just like, “This is some bullshit.” And so, she got her allies together to try and restore Arbella’s inheritance. Who were the allies? Well, her husband’s bestie Cecil, Francis Walsingham and Robert Dudley, Queen Elizabeth’s boyfriend, AKA Bobby Duds. Bess also appealed to Elizabeth directly. The ultimate result was that Lizzy, the daughter, was awarded custody of Arbella rather than the whole wardship being sold scenario. Both Arbella and Lizzy were provided with pensions from the Lennox family fortune.

The other thing that Bess– She’s just like, “Mm, but I also want more things,” so she kind of hoped that if Elizabeth saw that Arbella who at this point was like, three years old and really cute, there’s a portrait of her looking really cute, that Elizabeth’s heart would soften and maybe she’d give them some more stuff, but not really.

Meanwhile, Bess had her own disaster son, Henry, who was a wrong’un. He didn’t have any legitimate children with his wife, Grace, but he did have numerous illegitimate children with various women, such that he was known as “The common bull of Derbyshire and Staffordshire.” He’s just like [laughs softly] the rooster of the chickens who were women in that area. So anyway, he and his wife Grace had to live in the Tutbury swamp palace, so maybe that’s part of why he was mad all the time. Life was not great; He was often in debt, and he appealed to his mother, Bess, to help out, but she did not.

Bess and Mr. Bess; they own all these houses and also property and the people who live in the land of this property were their tenants, they were landlords. And apparently, they were not cool landlords to the point that the tenants teamed up to protest their leases being revoked, rents being raised, and people being evicted. This kind of union of tenants went to court under the leadership of the amazingly named Ottwell Higginbotham. So, they went to court and Mr. Bess was like, “No, no, no. The people who I evicted were lude persons and they deserved to be evicted.“ But the court was like, “You suck, we find in favour of the lude persons.” And so, this was sort of stressful for Elizabeth, the Queen, because having unhappy tenants posed a security risk to Mary, Queen of Scots because constantly, there were all these people who wanted to maybe free Mary, Queen of Scots from this house and any sort of, like, tension was something that the Catholic supporters could maybe use to their advantage.

Mr. Bess, honestly, at this point he’s just over it, he’s over all of it. He’s been watching Mary, Queen of Scots for, whatever, 15 years or something. He also, various things have happened to him, mental health-wise. So, he became paranoid, convinced that his son Gilbert and Gilbert’s wife/stepsister/Bess’s daughter, Mary, were all in cahoots with Bess against him. They kind of were because he was not doing great. So, their marriage kind of fell apart to the point that everyone knew about it. All the servants were taking sides and the presence of Mary, Queen of Scots was just exacerbating existing tensions about money. Mr. Bess felt that Bess was asking him for too much money for her various building projects which sucks because she had her own money, but she also had to ask him for money because of the whole thing where women couldn’t own money. She had her own money from the income from William St. Loe, but as a married couple she should have access to their joint money, but she had to go through Mr. Bess to do that. And he was like, “No, we’re spending so much money on Mary, Queen of Scots and her 32-course meals,” and whatever.

The tension in the marriage was also concerning to Elizabeth because again, Mary, Queen of Scots security threats; maybe the tension in the marriage could be exploited by supporters of Mary, Queen of Scots. At this point, every single servant in all of their houses, Bess and Mr. Bess’s houses was on the payroll of either the Catholics or of Walsingham or both. At this point, Bess was not seeing Mary, Queen of Scots as much anymore, no longer are they having their little embroidery bitch sessions because Mr. Bess had to be with Mary and Bess was just like, “I feel like avoiding Mr. Bess because he’s like losing his goddamn mind.”

Christmas 1581, Bess’s daughter Lizzy, Arbella’s mom, died. So, what happened sort of before was that Arbella got a bit of a pension and Lizzy got a bit of a pension. So, Bess was like, “I feel like the amount of pension Lizzy had been getting should now go to Arbella.” So, she wrote to Walsingham and Cecil asking, “Can Arbella get that money now too?” And Elizabeth said no.

Mr. Bess, meanwhile, kept busy on a building project of a house called Worksop. I don’t know his age specifically at this point, but it feels like a midlife crisis house. He’s building kind of to spite Bess because she had been building on Chatsworth for so long and he knew that she loved houses so he’s like, “Even though I have a lot of houses and unpaid bills,” and is always whining on how he doesn’t have enough money, he wanted to build a grand house, better than Chatsworth to outdo Bess. So, this just kind of shows that he’s a piece of shit. They were warring, they were arguing, but they were still sometimes together until– And this is like, I’ll explain this as I read it, it doesn’t entirely make sense to me. What does make sense is Mr. Bess was having some real mental health-type things. He might have had some strokes that might have affected his brain because the level of hatred that he was expressing for Bess… People around him were being like, “Dude, what are you doing?” Mr. Bess is just not doing well.

So, they were together at their house in Sheffield and then Bess left that house. So later, Mr. Bess would claim that she left voluntarily, but Bess would say that she’d been sent away. Mr. Bess had assured her he would send for her again soon, but he never sent for her again and from the moment she left, Mr. Bess stopped paying her £1,000 annual allowance and claimed that she had sold some land without his agreement so he would make up the money from rents from her lands. So, her tenants should pay him rent. Those tenants refused to do that because that’s some bullshit. Mr. Bess sent a bailiff to demand that they pay him and not Bess. He had effectively declared war on Bess of Hardwick which, like, it’s just not what you do. He saw everyone around him as either Team Him or Team Bess, he raged constantly against her to anyone he ever saw, even though everyone was always encouraging him to reconcile with Bess, including Queen Elizabeth. But his behaviour was erratic and illogical, and he refused.

Bobby Duds, of all people, was called in to mediate; no success, I’m not surprised. That’s not who I would call in to mediate. So, it was a marital civil war. This went on for years and it was largely to do with property and money, and they were just going through line items in their shared budget being like, “You owe me $2 from this. You owe me $3 from this.” The main overarching thing is that Mr. Bess thought that Bess and her sons and his son were trying to take all his money and Bess was saying that she wanted to hold on to what was rightfully hers and he was trying to take that. He also had gout, which is a disease that is painful and maybe that was exacerbating or making worse his whatever was going on with him mentally. But he was not okay. The vibes I’m getting are like latter-years-Henry-VIII-vibes, who also had gout. But Bess remained still calm, resolute, like that picture of Selena Gomez in the blanket, Bess is just like, “You know what? I know I’m in the right, so let’s just move on.”

So, she decided to buy some more land, which she did. In 1583, she bought the Hardwick estate. So, Hardwick was the place where she had been born. She wanted to build a house that she could enjoy independently of any husband because she was effectively single, they were super estranged. Simultaneously, she’s also plotting marriage for Arbella. We’re zipping through the years. If you’re like, “Wasn’t she just plotting marriage for Arbella?” No, she was plotting marriage for Lizzy but now, Arbella, she wanted to figure this out. So, one plan was to marry Arbella to Bobby Duds’s two-year-old son by his wife, Lettice Knollys, who I’ve also done an episode about. If we drew a picture of this episode and how many crossovers, it’s a big spiderweb. Arbella has this claim to the throne, but Bobby Duds has all these political connections and so this would be a really powerful match, therefore, Elizabeth, the Queen, was not told about it. But Mary, Queen of Scots heard about it, and she used her secret cipher letters to inform Elizabeth about it. Anyway, this two-year-old son died as a young baby and so this marriage did not happen.

But Bess is still thinking about this. Mr. Bess is just chaos, he hates her, he’s got this real incel energy. And then rumours of an affair between Mr. Bess and Mary, Queen of Scots became widespread by 1584. Mary, Queen of Scots was writing, she’s just like, “No. I would never.” Mr. Bess was like, “No. I would never.” And they both were like, “I’m pretty sure Bess of Hardwick and her sons had started these rumours.” Which is like, I don’t know if they started the rumours, but I don’t think they shut down the rumours because these rumours made Mr. Bess look bad and they wanted to make Mr. Bess look bad. But Mary was firmly in Team Mr. Bess at this point, so she claimed that Bess had offered to help her escape. She really threw her under the bus, she was like, “Bess’s son offered to be my spy! Bess’s servants and Bess herself had delivered secret cipher letters to me!” Bess may have helped start these rumours or helped spread the rumours but anyway, by the end of that summer, Mr. Bess was removed as Mary’s custodian after 15 years.

The level of importance that these two people had to society is wild to me because a commission was held examining their marriage and the finding was a victory for Bess. Because the whole thing is that Mr. Bess was just like, “Fuck you, Bess. Never come back here. I hate you. You’re trying to take my money.” And Bess is like, “Calm down.” And Mr. Bess is like, “Arghhh! Don’t tell me to calm down!” And Elizabeth and everyone was like, “You just need to take her back.” And Bess was like, “I would go back to him, but he won’t let me.” So, the finding of this commission was that Mr. Bess “had to reconcile with Bess. He had to also return the money he’d seized in rent from her tenants, and he had to drop all pending legal suits against Bess’s sons and servants.” He did not do those things. They did not reconcile, and he kept making lawsuits against Bess’s servants and sons.

So, they returned to court the following year. Both of them appealed to William Cecil as a friend and you know, like when you have two friends who were a couple and then they split, you have to choose sides. So, Cecil is really in the middle. In one letter that Bess wrote to William Cecil, she signed off at the end as, “Your lordship’s poor friend, greatly oppressed.” So, even though she was so rich and so powerful, Mr. Bess was still so powerful and so she wasn’t able to get everything she wanted.

A second commission was held to try and get them to reconcile. Mr. Bess was again ordered to end all conflict with Bess, but everyone knew that wouldn’t work because he just was too stubborn or whatever. One observer wrote it was “More likely that the wars in the low countries would come to an end than these civil discords between him and her.”

Then, 1586, Mary, Queen of Scots is executed. Mr. Bess attended the execution, what this means for Bess is that her granddaughter Arbella is now second in line to the throne, wildly, after Mary, Queen of Scots’s son James, King of Scots. So, Liz, Elizabeth, in my notes I call her Liz but I’m trying to be formal in talking on this podcast. Elizabeth I made one final attempt to reconcile Bess and Mr. Bess. You know, God bless but like, that did not work. Mr. Bess had by now taken up with a mistress who was his housekeeper, Eleanor Britton. Bess had found a new love as well, her building project, Hardwick Hall.

So, these days Hardwick Hall is open to visit, it’s one of the most gorgeous buildings in England but when we talk about Hardwick Hall now, that’s actually Hardwick Hall 2.0, it’s Hardwick New Hall. The first project that Bess did in this area is what’s now called Old Hardwick Hall which is next to it and currently mostly in ruins because it was sort of abandoned. So, she built two houses next to each other. We’re going to talk about this one first. Before any of those were there, there was Hardwick House which was where Bess had grown up and that had been originally built by her grandfather, but it was too small for her needs and her current tastes, so she wanted to build her new I’m-an-independent-woman home, without any specific plan or anyone overseeing her.

So, Old Hardwick Hall is kind of chaotic, but she’d spent, like, 30 years overseeing renovations at Chatsworth, so she knew where to get good deals on materials and labour, she knew what she liked and didn’t like in terms of ceiling height or whatever. While this was happening, Arbella was now, like, 12 years old and she was sent to royal court to meet Elizabeth and try to make a good enough impression that maybe she’d be named heir or get a really good marriage arranged for her. But “Arbella disgraced herself by insisting on taking precedence over ladies of higher rank as they walked to chapel and she was sent home,” back to Derbyshire. By 1590, Bess had mostly completed building the Old Hall, but it was weird, incoherent and oddly unbalanced, kind of like the Tudor mansion version of Weird Barbie’s house in the Barbie movie.

And then in fairly quick order, Bobby Duds died, Walsingham also died, and these are two of Bess’s allies. The only ally she had left in the old guard was Cecil, it was all new younger people there now. Then Mr. Bess died, thank god, aged 62. His mistress/housekeeper Eleanor Britton – who I have to say, sounds pretty great just in a dirtbag sort of way – promptly set about removing money, jewels, furniture, and bedding from the home along with, he used to keep a bunch of silver and gold in his room just to have money on hand like Scrooge McDuck. And Eleanor Britton allegedly took all of that as well and this became a whole thing.

So, Mr. Bess’s heir was his son Gilbert who is married to Bess’s daughter, Mary, and there’s a whole thing about like… So, all this money was taken, and no one could find Eleanor Britton. Again, good for her, get your bag, whatever. But Mr. Bess had more than just these gold and silver, he had homes and properties and stuff and there’s a whole thing about who is going to be the executor of the estate. Gilbert, his son, just appointed himself sole executor. He discovered his father had died with debts, gilbert had debts of his own, so he declared war on Eleanor Britton, as well as his own brothers and Bess because he just wanted money and he felt like he deserved it. I hate that he’s called Gilbert because the name Gilbert to me, I think of Gilbert from Anne of Green Gables and that’s, like… The Gilbert from Anne of Green Gables, the Megan Follows series is just one of my original childhood crushes and I hate that this guy is called Gilbert because it’s just like…

Anyway, one of Gilbert’s shenanigans was at one point, he challenged his brother to a duel. The brother declined and then Gilbert claimed that the brother had tried to murder him with poison gloves, like, he’s a mess and not in a fun way. So, he used to be Bess’s ally, back when she was helping loan him money and stuff but now, he was like Mr. Bess 2.0, Mr. Bess Junior, he was her nemesis, her enemy. Part of why he was mad at her was because he had to provide her £3,000 annually as her widow’s pension but he was like, “No, I need that money to pay off my debts, I’m a dirtbag.” Whatever.

So, she was still busy working at Hardwick Hall 2.0. Hardwick Hall 1.0 wasn’t even finished yet and a few hundred yards away, she started Hardwick Hall 2.0. Because she saw Old Hardwick Hall and she’s like, “This is great, my house is cool but also, it’s crazy. Let’s build a house that’s more symmetrical and looks nicer.” So, she wanted the new house. The first one was a kind of dress rehearsal, the second one was going to be architecturally coherent, and she hired Robert Smythson, who is apparently the first English architect. So, this home was the first time in England that an architect was commissioned to design a building, apparently.

If you go there or if you look at pictures of it, Hardwick Hall, this is the building people now call Hardwick Hall. The way that it looks now, each floor has a higher ceiling than the floor below it. There are so many windows, huge windows everywhere. And this was an era where windows were a sign of wealth. Houses couldn’t afford windows in general, and this is just all windows. There’s a saying, “Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall,” which is true if you see a picture of it. There are turrets at the top of it, and what I love about this is that her initials, ES, Elizabeth Shrewsbury, are carved into the building itself out of stone. If you see a picture of Hardwick Hall, it’s this beautiful symmetrical house and at the top, there are little sticking up bits and if you zoom into those sticking up, it’s her initials with a little crown on top. This bitch… I love it. I love it, she’s just like, “This is my house, and I am the coolest person.” And it’s true and she was.

So, to furnish her two new homes, she moved over some of the finest furnishings from Chatsworth, but she needed more, especially tapestries, because as maybe a stylistic choice or maybe as a cost-saving, she was only doing wood panelling on half of the walls and the rest there would be large tapestries. So, in 1591/1592 she went to London for an eight-month shopping spree and while she was there because she was always multitasking, she was hanging out at royal court, seeing who was who, and how she could elevate Arbella’s position maybe better.

Also, Gilbert was taking her to court to get money so she’s like, “Okay, if we go to court in London, I don’t know if we’ll win or not. But if we go to court in Derbyshire, where everybody loves me/are my tenants, I’ll probably win. So, how can I get the court case to be in Derbyshire instead of London?” And what she did is she hired every lawyer in London so Gilbert couldn’t get a lawyer, so they had to do the court case somewhere else. This is similar to, if you listen on my Patreon to Vulgarpiece Theatre, we did an episode on Tombstone the movie, the Western, where there’s a whole thing where Kevin Costner wanted to do another movie on the same topic so the guy who was doing the costumes for Tombstone just rented every wild west costume in all of America so that the Kevin Costner movie couldn’t get any costumes. This has the same vibe to me.

Anyway, she’s in town doing this shopping spree and so she got numerous tapestries, and she got a lot of them on sale because she knows her shit, she knows what to do, she knows how to get a good deal. She’s rich but also is into bargaining. So, she got a great deal from this estate sale, it was a guy called Sir William Hatton who was selling off stuff to pay off his own debts. So, she got various tapestries and got the price reduced on one of them because the tapestry had his arms, his signal or whatever on it and she’s like, “Mm, I’m going to have to replace that with my own, so can you please take off £5 from the price?” And he said okay, but then she got her own logo put on, but instead of embroidered on, it was just ironed on or something and only cost like £0.30 so she made money on that anyway.

Among these tapestries is a hanging featuring historical and mythical female figures intended to show Bess’s virtues. The women are all defined by their relationship to their husbands as wives or widows. 

And I just want to briefly tell you who they are because it’s a big Vulgar History type vibe to get a huge– And these are like, life-sized; people in these tapestries are the size of a person now. But just having a tapestry showing great women of history is, like, that’s what I’m all about. So, one of the people on them is Lucretia who was the loyal wife of a Roman general, she’s shown holding a knife to her breast. I looked up to see what her story was, and it was basically, that she was assaulted and then she killed herself. Because of that the Roman monarchy ended and the Roman Republic began. But she killed herself because she was married to somebody, she was assaulted by somebody else and was like, “My husband is too important to me, I’m going to kill myself.”

There’s also a tapestry– This is all one big tapestry, showing Zenobia who was a queen who lived in the 3rd century in Palmyra, Syria. She was married to the king and after he was assassinated, she ruled the kingdom as regent for her son and continued on his work. So, her noble actions are that she carried on her husband’s campaign and work after his death. One of the other people represented is Artemisia of Caria, not the one I did the episode about, this is Artemisia II of Caria. And her thing is that she and her husband created one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. “When her husband died, she was so overwhelmed with grief she put her husband’s ashes into a goblet of wine and drank it so she could be her husband’s living tomb.” And then there’s also Penelope, the wife of Odysseus in The Odyssey by Homer and her whole thing was her husband went away and he was gone for so long that people thought he was probably dead. So, suitors came every day asking to marry her, but she wanted to stay loyal to him so she was like, “Well, I can’t accept anyone’s hand until I finish my weaving,” but every night she would undo her weaving so her weaving never ended.

So, if you go there, you can see those ones, there was another one but it’s no longer there. I guess that part fell apart or whatever, but there’s also Cleopatra. So, it’s interesting that the people there are really loyal wives who were powerful because of who their husbands were but who were so loyal to their husbands. And this is a thing Bess bought from somebody else, she didn’t commission this. But it’s interesting because she’s married to this guy who she is actively at war with but maybe she’s thinking more of WC and how she’s loyal to him. Anyway, this and many of these hangings are “Some of the largest and most splendid embroideries surviving from the Elizabethan Age,” asterisk, more on that at the end of the episode with breaking news.

So, Bess also started a new business venture. In her 70s she decided to start doing money lending, which is really interesting. In the absence of banks, cash was badly needed and in short supply in Tudor England, so people needed literal money. We talked about this last year in the Doña Gracia Nasi episode where we were talking about historically, the jobs that Jewish people have had in Western European countries and a lot of times, because money lending, I think in the Christian Bible says that you shouldn’t do it. So, “good” Christians shouldn’t do money lending which is why it was a job that was available and that’s why Jewish people got into it. So, it’s interesting here that Bess was just like– But that’s the thing, she was never super religious, she was just like, “This is a business I can do and make money at? Great.”

This is similar to how Mr. Bess had had the gold and the silver in his bedroom, she kept cash in her bedroom but that was just for the Bank o’ Bess, along with a pair of scales. “She collected interest at 10%.” Legally that was the highest amount of interest you could charge. She frequently lent money on the security of land, she collected land and property as well, like, mortgages. “In one instance where a guy needed money, she got him to mortgage his property in Arbella’s name so eventually he died and then the five manors became Arbella’s.” So, Bess was just like, amassing property because there’s a bunch of people, including her son-in-law/stepson Gilbert, and her bad son Henry, she just knew that these people were shitty with money, and she could make money off of it and she did. Again, I just feel like, Bess, get your bag. In her 70s she’s like, “You know what I’m going to do? Start a new career.”

Also, now that Mr. Bess was dead, she had freedom as a widow. She did not get married again but because she had watched her various husbands and how they ran their household and their businesses, she had various skills. From Mr. Bess, she learned how not to manage your affairs. So, she’s just running her various households, building things.

Hardwick Hall 2.0 is coming along amazingly. About the windows. So, glass had been manufactured in England since the 13th century, but it was not as good as the glass manufactured in France until this one guy in the 16th century came over and brought over skilled glass makers from Lorraine and Normandy. So, it was easier to get fancier glass by the time she was doing Hardwick Hall, but Bess was like, “Not good enough for me, bitches.” She set up her own glassworks operation to make her own glass. This is how rich she is, and this is also how specific she is with her vision and what she wanted the house to look like.

So, 1597, Hardwick Hall 2.0 was mostly but not entirely done but she, unlike Penelope on her tapestry, was not patient and she just wanted to move in. So, that year, October 4, 1597, she had some of her more musically inclined members of her household play a triumphant march and she walked into the house and was just like, “Yeah, this is my house, those are my initials. Fuck you, Mr. Bess, this is what’s happening.” And we don’t know what she did for a few years, she was just vibing out I guess, just having a nice time. But also, still commissioning projects.

She started building almshouses, poor houses, places for houseless people to go, which is interesting and good of her, I’m not criticizing that at all. This coincides with her getting older and maybe wanting to do good works in the world because as much religion as she may or may not have, she probably was just like, “Let’s just do some good deeds in case heaven and hell are a real thing so I can go the direction I want to go.” She also was preparing for her death so she’s in her early 80s, I think. She commissioned Smythson, the same guy who designed Hardwick Hall to design her tomb, which she wanted to be of black stone and marble, and she also drew up her will, which she would amend several times based on the events I’m about to tell you about.

So, 1602, all hell breaks loose with her and Arbella. Arbella is by now 27 years old and has not been married; she’s had to share a room with Bess this whole time. If you go to visit Hardwick Hall there are two beds in the room, one of them is Arbella’s. She’s just like, “Get me out of here!” I did a whole episode about Arbella but basically, Arbella figured out the only way she could escape the clutches of her grandmother was by marriage and the marriage she wanted to have was to the 16-year-old descendant of Katherine Grey’s prison baby. The thing with this is that Arbella really idolized Katherine Grey and her romantic story of super-secret sexy marriage. But Arbella has this claim to the throne and then Katherine Grey’s son has his claim to the throne, so the two of them married, Elizabeth would never, it would be a super dangerous combination of people.

I do love… Arbella was a chaotic person, her plans were not good but one part of her plan that was good was she had, part of it was, “I need to trick Bess to leave the house, what will I do?” She’ll get her boyfriend to pretend to be a guy with land and property to sell because she’s like, “I know Bess will go do that.” If there’s one thing she knows about Bess is that she likes to buy property. Anyway, the plan was discovered, Bess freaked out, Arbella was put under sort of armed guard and then it was, like, war of two people in a house 2.0. Servants again took sides; some were on Arbella’s side, and some were on Bess’s side. I truly don’t know between those two why you would take Arbella’s side but whatever. Anyway, Arbella wrote letters to some of her aunts and uncles to see if they would help. Everyone said no, including Gilbert. One person said, “Okay, I’ll help you,” and that was Uncle Henry, Bess’s bad son, off in the swamp house he’s just like, “I’ll do anything.” So, he helped arrange for Arbella to escape but she was caught, you can hear all of this in the Arbella Stuart episode. At this point, Bess changed her will to remove Arbella and Henry.

Then Queen Elizabeth died, and the new king was named and it’s Mary, Queen of Scots’s son, James. So, the whole thing about, like, is Arbella going to be the new Queen? Probably not but she’s pretty chaotic anyway. So, then bad son Henry was implicated in… Here’s the thing, there were so many plots in the Mary, Queen of Scots episodes but people didn’t stop plotting just because she died. There’s a plot called the Bye Plot which was a thing where Catholics were working together with Puritans, power duo, on a plan to kidnap James and force him to allow freedom of religion. Good luck with that, did not happen or work, obviously. So, Henry was implicated in that but then there was another plot he was not involved in which happened at the same time, which was sort of like, what if the Bye Plot is step one?

So, this was the “main plot,” and this was to kidnap and murder James and his sons and then have Arbella placed as Queen. They were making this plan and then somebody told Arbella, “Hey, just FYI we are doing this plan.” They sent her a letter and she sent the letter to James being like, “FYI this is happening.” So, she was not on board with this plan. Even Arbella, chaos person, was not involved in this plan. So, bad son Henry was brought to court as a co-conspirator because he had been involved in the Bye Plot but not in the “main plot,” he was found not guilty.

Arbella, meanwhile, did manage to escape Bess’s house. She was allowed to come live at royal court, but she got there and she’s just like, “Oh, this is fucked up, I don’t like this.” Because the king is James! It’s just like people having fun and partying all the time and that’s not Arbella’s vibe either although she was named godmother of James’s daughter, Princess Mary. So, interestingly, Mary, Queen of Scots stayed with Bess and Mr. Bess for 15 years, and now we are now 15 more years later after the death of Mr. Bess and Bess and Gilbert and still feuding, they’ve been feuding for 15 years.

Then, at the same 15-year point, the Gunpowder Plot happened, which I’m not going to explain to you right now, but this is briefly, the Guy Fawkes thing, so where Catholics wanted to blow up the parliament building with James and his older son inside and then place James’s young daughter, Elizabeth as their puppet monarch but then they were discovered. I’m mentioning this not just because Bess was living for the drama of it all, she loved hearing all the details. She wasn’t living in London, she was living in Hardwick but wanted to know what was going on, the connection here is that Gilbert was implicated by association with the Gunpowder Plot because his wife Mary, Bess’s daughter, was a Catholic and she was like, friend-of-a-friend with some of the Gunpowder people but neither of them were arrested for this though.

So, by now, Bess is now in her mid-to-late 80s and doing poorly, she had arthritis that affected her ability to walk without assistance. She’s just in a lot of pain and soon enough, she like, I don’t know, just the symptoms became too much, various things were happening and she’s just like, “Okay, clearly I’m dying so let’s figure this out.” She still had her wits about her, she was still able to think very clearly. So, she redid her will, I think, one last time and then eventually she did die. So, on February 13th, age 87, her body was transported to the tomb she had commissioned where she was to be buried with the Cavendish family, WC’s family, not with the Mr. Bess family because that was the family of her heart, the Cavendishes.

What’s happened since then is that subsequent generations of the Mr. Bess family, whose last name is Talbot, didn’t thrive as well as the Cavendishes did, the WC family, because the Cavendish family, their fortune was built on the estates and properties Bess had accumulated and/or built. From that line, the Cavendishes, the Dukes of Devonshire, come from that line, one of whom married Georgiana Cavendish who is a person I will talk about in another podcast in the future, I’m sure, and that all leads to Princess Diana in some way.

Anyway, here’s the thing, when we’re talking about people on the show and we’re thinking about what is their legacy? What did their descendants do? Her descendants did amazing because she set them up to succeed and that’s, what is it, generational wealth. She overcame her money trauma to provide generational wealth to her descendants. She enjoyed spending money and having nice things but she also wanted to set up her family for success so they wouldn’t live and struggle like she did as a younger person. And she did, she succeeded because she’s Bess.

But equally important, potentially more important is the homes that she built. She was involved in home-building for 50 years. Most of the homes, like many of the other homes built at the same time, fell into disrepair, but her descendants, especially in Hardwick Hall, maintained it. So, Hardwick Hall 2.0 is now overseen by the National Trust, it is “architecturally unchanged, and its interiors are still much the same as when she lived there.” So, the Duke of Devonshire, that dukedom, those are her descendants. So, under the 9th Duke of Devonshire which is like the early 20th century, he really cared about the house, extensive repairs were done to the structure and stonework and after he died in 1938, his widow Evelyn devoted herself to the repair and restoration of Bess’s tapestries and hangings, which are still there as well.

This brings us to late-breaking news. August 2023, so headline from The Guardian, “A unique set of 16th Century tapestries have gone on display after a 24-year, £1.7 million restoration project. The 13 tapestries, which portray the Old Testament story of Gideon, were bought for Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire in 1592 by its owner 1592 by its owner,” Bess of Hardwick, during her shopping spree era. “Centuries of damage and dirt have been tackled by a team of experts working on one 6m wall hanging at a time.” So, this took 24 years to restore this thing and it just was put in like, this month.

Each tapestry was taken to the National Trust’s Conservation Studio in Norfolk. The process began with sending each tapestry to Belgium for specialist cleaning. Once back at the Studio, the team completed painstaking work to repair tears and replace stitches where possible, all by hand.

They were, to get the thread and stuff, they’re using natural dyes to match it perfectly so it would be just like how it was at the time. “The National Trust’s senior national curator, Emma Slocombe, said, “These astonishing tapestries have been in the Long Gallery since it was first decorated at the end of the 16th Century. Extraordinarily, that’s where they remain.” So, in total, the conservation stitching, lining, and reconstruction took 5,470 hours to complete, or 24 years. “Denise Edwards, former Hardwick estate general manager, oversaw the project for 20 years, retiring shortly before it was completed.” So, that’s one thing. I was working on this and then I saw, a bit ago, I follow the National Trust on Instagram and they were like, “Ooh, we have big news coming to Hardwick Hall,” and showed people carrying some long rolled-up thing and I’m just like, “What’s happening?” And then they revealed this is what it was, these tapestries were just restored and are hanging there now.

Also, this same month, August 2023, it was announced by the National Trust and English Heritage that “A new partnership agreement will see Hardwick Old Hall,” Hardwick Hall 1.0, “fully open to visitors for the first time in five years since extensive conservation work.” It’s still not a house with walls and a roof but a lot of the work is still there like the carvings and things have all been restored. So, that was just announced. Things are happening. Good work, National Trust.

So, in terms of Bess of Hardwick, she has not been in many… There have not been movies made about her. It’s a cool story to talk about. I would love to see a TV show or a movie about her, but I get that watching the story of a woman thriving and building houses and going to court repeatedly is not as exciting as maybe some other historical things might be. She was in the 2018 Saoirse Ronan, Mary, Queen of Scots movie. She’s played there by Gemma Chan, which is interesting, firstly because the movie was doing colour blind casting and whatever. But also, because Gemma Chan has recently-ish said that she’s working on an Anna May Wong biopic, where she’ll be playing Anna May Wong. So, that connects last week’s episode with this week’s episode. [Hepburn meows] Hepburn’s back, she’s got thoughts.

We need to do some scoring. So, Bess of Hardwick, the first thing is Scandiliciousness. So, this is how scandalous was she at the time? The thing is, Elizabeth always forgave her which doesn’t necessarily mean she wasn’t scandalous. The most scandalous thing she did was Scheming Grannies, getting the two of those people married without Elizabeth’s permission. But that’s not really scandalous. She went to court all the time but that wasn’t… Like, the dissolution of her marriage was maybe seen as scandalous? I don’t know. I’m going to, honestly, give her a 5 and that’s mainly for Scheming Grannies because the audacity. I’m not giving her any more points to respect the fact that she found ways to thrive without having, without being scandalous.

Scheminess is a straight-up 10 because that’s not just Scheming Grannies vibes but also, arranging all the marriages, all the court stuff. The thing where she hired every lawyer in London. Just the building plans, the schemes to build houses, to hire an architect, she thought things out. What a manager. I would read a book, well I wouldn’t read this book, but someone could write this book that’s like, Leadership Lessons from Bess of Hardwick. I don’t personally have an interest in learning leadership lessons because I don’t want to be a leader, but I think that would be good business advice for people.

The next is Significance and this is like, her descendants would say she’s very significant. Hardwick Hall itself is a very famous, notable building and she made it. It’s routinely in the list of top buildings in England just, like, the design of it, the importance of it, being the first building that had an architect. All the houses she built; I feel like financially she was significant. I don’t see her as, like, breaking down barriers for women home builders, or whatever. But being the person who built Hardwick Hall, very significant. In her lifetime was very significant. I’m going to say like a 7 for Significance, almost entirely because of Hardwick Hall.

And then I’ve been thinking about this honestly because Sexism is the last thing, how much did Sexism get in her way? And I’m going to say like, it tried to, the patriarchy tried to stop her but she, kind of like Elizabeth I, where she figured, “This is how I can play this game; I’m going to play this game.” The way that she could achieve her ambitions was to marry a series of increasingly wealthy husbands and she did. She built these houses, sexism did not super get in her way. She had all these children, she survived childbirth and everything. Out of her long life, that was eight years was just having babies. If she’d been a man, maybe there wouldn’t have been some of the inheritance issues, but she still got all the inheritances. I don’t know… Man. I’m going to say 4. I’m going to say 4 for Sexism, not because it wasn’t there but because she was able to work around it and it didn’t get in her way. And that’s what that’s for.

So, that is a 27 is her score. You can see all of the scores if you go to the website at, there’s a thing to click on that says, “Scores.” I will say, 27 is a very standard score. Nothing wrong with that. A person who scores high in some things and not high in some other things tends to get a 27. So, like, for instance, Lady Jane Grey has a 29.5, and Katherine Grey has a 29 and that’s because both of them had real scandals. Who else is around here who she knew? Lettice Knollys, Bobby Duds’s wife, 28; Cleopatra, 28. Margaret Douglas, the other Scheming Granny has a 28. Arbella Stuart, 28. And then we get to the 27s. Frances Grey is a 27, Catherine Parr is a 27. She fits right in with the people who were of her time and era and whatever.

So, what I do want to tell you as well in our little wrap-up here is that next week, we’ve got a really exciting author interview that I think you’re going to enjoy. We’re talking about linguistics which even if you’re like, “I’m not interested in linguistics,” it’s like, what about the history of feminist words? And then the week after that it’s going to be the end of the Mary, Queen of Scots episodes with a look at the Four Marys. And then the show is going to continue on after that. In past years, when I finish a season I’ve taken a hiatus, but I’ve figured out ways to keep episodes coming every week. So, don’t worry, the show is not going anywhere.

If you want to keep up with this show, we are on Instagram @VulgarHistoryPod, and also on Threads @VulgarHistoryPod. Honestly, there’s this weird diaspora of social media happening right now. I’m also on Bluesky! But like, is anyone on Bluesky? I don’t really know. I made like, a Facebook page. Truly, I’m just taking Vulgar History and putting it on various social media and just kind of seeing, just so wherever you are you can tag me. I’m also on TikTok @VulgarHistory. The main place where I’m posting shit is Instagram, @VulgarHistoryPod. If you want to get in touch with me, you can use the form at or you can email me at We also have merch available at, that takes you to the TeePublic store. If you’re living outside the US, the shipping is better if you use the Redbubble store, which is

We also have a Patreon. So, if you support this podcast with a monthly donation at, you get various cool things. So, if you pledge at least a dollar a month, you get early, ad-free access to all episodes, including past episodes. If you pledge at least $5 or more a month, you get to hear bonus episodes. So, that’s So This Asshole episodes where I talk about gross men from history and Vulgarpiece Theatre where I talk about costume dramas, like, movie recap podcasts. And then also at that tier, the $5 or more a month tier you get access to a new thing which is also where I’ve been chatting with people. We have a Discord server, the Vulgar History Salon. So, you need to join the Patreon at the $5 or more a month level to get access to the Discord server.

Chatting has been interesting. It’s just a low-key place so the tits-out brigade can talk to each other and also to me. Recently, because as I’m recording this the Elizabeth of Valois episode is what’s just come out, so we had a really nice and interesting conversation about, you know, childbirth and the dangers of it back before doctors knew they had to wash their hands, they couldn’t just touch a dead body and then put your hand up inside of a woman and deliver a baby because if you did that, you would give her horrible infections. That’s why so many women died in childbirth. So, the fact that Bess of Hardwick delivered 8 children and did not die is remarkable. And thank goodness because look at how much she did in her 87 years of life!

Anyway, thank you all for listening to this podcast, there will be more episodes, more Mary, Queen of Scots stuff in two weeks and a super special bonus episode next week. Until next time, keep your pants on and your tits out.


Vulgar History is hosted, written, and researched by Ann Foster and edited by Cristina Lumague.

Transcribed by Aveline Malek at


Devices and Desires: Bess of Hardwick and the Building of Elizabethan England by Kate Hubbard

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