Cast of Thousands: Bess of Hardwick

Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury, more commonly known as ‘Bess of Hardwick’, was born on the Hardwick estate in 1527, in a small manor house where the Old Hall now stands. After a series of very clever marriages; each of which gained her more wealth and power, Bess became Countess of Shrewsbury and the second richest woman in the country after Queen Elizabeth I.

After her 4th husband, George Talbot, died, Bess started to build Hardwick Hall, despite the fact that she was still building what is now known as the Old Hall. Built by Robert Smythson, Hardwick Hall is a statement to Bess’ status, and the huge number of windows – an innovative thing at the time – shouted out her wealth to the world.

Bess in her later years wearing some fab pearls

A prophecy was made that Bess would never die whilst she was building. Unfortunately, the winter of 1607/8 was so cold that building work had to stop, and Bess, aged 81, passed away. Spooky!

During her life, she held many roles; wife and mother, lady-in-waiting and landowner in her own right, guardian of a queen and grandmother to a royal heir, businesswoman and builder.

Whatever else can be said about Bess, she lived her life to the full.

Find out more about Bess at our ‘So You Think You Know Hardwick?’ event which runs from 22 – 26 February at Hardwick Hall.

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