Elizabeth, known as Bess, started her life relatively
poor. She married four times, had six surviving children of her own and
many step-children. She was sent to the Tower twice by the Queen for her
attempts to promote herself in wealth and prosperity. Her grand-daughter,
Arabella Stuart, also was in line for the Throne.
Bess was a child born in a family of four girls and one boy. Their father died when Bess was young, leaving a Will with a small wedding dowry for the four daughters.
Bess's mother remarried Ralphe Leche, a young son of the Leche's of Chatsworth.
At the age of 12 years, she went into service in the household of a great Derbyshire family, Sir John and Lady Zouche of Condor Castle. Her service began in London, where Bess met her first husband, Robert Barlow. Robert was also in service, but fell ill with chronic distemper. Bess nursed Robert in his illness. He fell in love with her and they married. Bess was 13 years old and Robert not much older. Robert died soon after they were married and Bess gained a customary widows' jointure, which was a third of Robert's income.
The advancement of wealth through a second marriage
Bess's second marriage was to Sir William Cavendish, a Royal Commissioner employed in the business of disolving monasteries. He was granted church land for his services and was able to buy other land cheaply. He was highly respected and the Treasurer of the King's Chambers. Bess and William Cavendish were married at the unearthly hour of 2 am, 20th August, 1547. The marriage was happy and successful, even though William was 22 years older than Bess and had three daughters from two previous marriages. Bess and William had eight children, of which six survived (Frances, Henery, William, Charles, Elizabeth and Mary).
He pleased Bess by selling his existing property and buying buildings in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. The first riot with villagers they had to deal with occurred in 1548 due to the closing of waste land. This did not deter Bess as she enclosed land and even depopulated villages throughout her lifetime. Bess acquired her experience of accounting and estate management from Sir William, lessons that she never forgot and set her in good stead for her future wealth.
In 1557 Sir William Cavendish became seriously ill in London. Bess travelled to nurse him better, to no avail, as he died on 25th October 1557. Bess's interest in Chatsworth and other properties was promoted throughout the rest of her life.
Lady St. Loe
Bess was appointed lady-in-waiting to the Queen of England. The ideal place to find a suitable, wealthy and respectable husband was at court. In 1559, Bess married Sir William St. Loe. He was a wealthy widower that had been married twice previously and had children. He proved to be a most generous husband. St. Loe called her his 'honest sweet Chatsworth' and his 'own sweet Bess'. He took on her debts from her previous marriage to William Cavendish.
Queen Elizabeth was a good friend of the St. Loe's, as he had aided her when her life was threatened. He was awarded Captain of the Guard and Butler to the Royal Household.
However, all was not well as Bess was sent to the Tower for seven months in 1561. This imprisonment occurred due to being involved with Lady Catherine Grey. Catherine confessed that she had married the Earl of Hertford secretly against the Queen's wishes and was pregnant. Bess refused to break the news to the Queen and wanted nothing to do with the matter. The Queen was most displeased and Bess was punished.
The heir to Sir William St. Loe should have been, by rights, his brother, Edward. William and Edward did not see eye to eye and on one occasion Edward attempted to poison Bess and William.
Sir William died five years into the marriage and left all his lands to Bess and her children.
The search for a fourth husband
After St. Loe had died, Bess returned to Court. Slander had been spread throughout Court regarding Bess by the tutor of her sons. The Queen ordered that he was to be punished by corporal or otherwise, openly or publicly for his actions. The type of slander is not known, but it was very vindictive for such punishment to take place.
In 1567 Bess married George Talbot, the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. He was a widower with six children. He was regarded as the richest nobleman in England. It was not only Bess who was married; the family combined with two other marriages. Mary Cavendish (12 years old) was married to Gilbert Talbot, Henery Cavendish (18 years old) was married to Grace Talbot (8 years old). The Earl of Shrewsbury had eight principal houses; Sheffield Manor, Sheffield Castle, South Wingfield Manor, Rufford Abbey, Welbeck Abbey, Worksop Manor, Buxton Hall and Tutbury Castle. He also owned two properties in London.
In 1568, Shrewsbury was summoned by the Queen of England regarding his Bolsover tenants. They had been causing trouble in the area and written a petition to the Queen.
The Guardian of The Queen of Scots
Bess was delighted when she heard her husband was to be the Guardian of Queen of Scots; it was a gesture from the Queen of England that they were in favour.
In 1569, Mary Queen of Scots arrived at Tutbury Castle, a dull dwelling which was originally a hunting box. It was damp, cold and half ruined. Mary Queen of Scots remained in the Earl of Shrewsbury's custody until 1584.
They moved between the many houses, mainly Sheffield Castle, Sheffield Manor, Wingfield Manor, The Lodge at Buxton and Bess's house, Chatsworth. Each time a threat was made to rescue Mary, or harm her, they changed location. Bess loathed to leave Chatsworth and longed to return when elsewhere.
Bess was jealous that her husband spent so much time with Mary Queen of Scots so she decided to become her best friend. They spent much of the day undertaking embroidery, tapestry and chatting.
Shrewd and Cunning to gain the best for her family
The Earl of Shrewsbury became ill at Wingfield Manor. He needed to be taken to Buxton to recover. Bess did not have time to ask the Queen of England's permission to leave the Queen of Scots. Queen Elizabeth was most displeased regarding this matter and demanded that they return to Wingfield Manor. They wrote to the Queen regarding William's health and in return she sent a physician to Buxton to aid his recovery.
Queen Elizabeth thought they ought to feel disgraced for their actions. Bess wrote to the Queen suggesting that she had no choice, but to choose her husband's life against the consent of Her Majesty The Queen. The Queen played the forgiving sovereign knowing that the couple would not outrightly disobey her wishes again.
In October 1554, Bess went to Rufford with her daughter, Elizabeth Cavendish. they had invited the Countess Lennox and her son, Charles, to stay at Rufford Abbey, which Bess had renovated to her taste. Charles Lennox was the younger brother of Mary Queen of Scots' husband, Lord Darnley, who had met his death so mysteriously in Kirk O'field. Countess Lennox fell ill for five days. Bess nursed her to health and Elizabeth and Charles were left to entertain each other. The young couple fell madly in love. The Countess Lennox wished her son happiness and Bess wanted her family wedded into the Royal Family with or without Queen Elizabeth's consent. Queen Mary of Scots advised them to be married and face the consequences after, which is exactly what happened. As the Queen of England was furious, she sent for both women. Countess Lennox was sent to the Tower, Bess was seriously warned of her actions and Mary Queen of Scots stayed at Sheffield Castle. The atmosphere changed as soon as she entered it, "it was as though a sharp wind blows through the house". Bess was not happy about her experience and ridicule of being in the Tower, the only revenge she could muster was to spread gossip and slander she had heard regarding the Queen.
Elizabeth and Charles were in line to succession to the Throne and had a daughter Arabella Stuart in 1575. Bess felt less kindly towards Queen Mary of Scots after Arabella's birth. Arabella's father died in 1576, Countess Lennox in 1578 and Elizabeth in 1582, leaving the child in the entire care of Bess.
The Queen allocated £200/year for the child.
Bess wished to discredit Mary from the right to the Throne, so that Arabella would be closer to the position. Queen Mary spent a great deal of time with the child and became fond of her. When she found out Bess's plans for Arabella to inherit the English Throne, the relationship between the two women became very bitter.
Bess discovered that her husband was showing affection towards a serving wench, Elenor Britton. Bess investigated and watched unfaithful deeds for herself, in her husband's quarters, and began to plot revenge upon her adulterous husband.
Bess and her two Cavendish sons were reported to have spread rumours that Sir William St. Loe and Mary Queen of Scots were having an affair and that she had two children through this adultery. In 1583, these rumours were soon heard in Court. Queen Mary and Shrewsbury were angered by these reports of untruths.
The Queen of England sent for Bess and her sons. They appealed to the Court on their knees that the stories were malicious rumours and they signed a declaration that Mary Queen of Scots had not had a child since being in England.
Shrewsbury refused to forgive his wife, even though she persisted to write to him to take her back. He thought her to be malicious, wicked and evil. He is reported to have called her "that sharp bitter shrew". Queen Mary's execution brought the couple together for a short while, living at Wingfield Manor. He left and his agreed provisions for her dwindled, along with his visits. He went to live at Hansworth Manor, Sheffield, with Elenor Britton.
Hardwick Old Hall
In 1583, Bess bought Hardwick in her son William's name from her brother, James, who had been heavily in debt for many years, for a sum of £9,500, with the intention that after her death that this should be his estate. She took furniture from Chatsworth to furnish the building.
Bess replaced the old house with what is known as Hardwick Hall from 1585. She built this and furnished it for a future Queen of England, which she hoped Arabella to be. Others say that she built this house to be "a craddle to her birth place". She wanted her house to be unlike any before or after it. It became the home of the Cavendish family after her death and is the only remaining building of Bess's to survive unaltered.
Bess was a hard mistress to work for, but rewarded and appreciated good service. John Balehouse (painter) was a favoured servant, paid £2/year and had a farm on Bess's land at Ault Hucknall. His wife was robbed and Bess gave her 20 shillings to compensate for this. When the servants married, they received a lump sum of a cash gift and their wages increased.
The Death of her Fourth Husband
In 1590, Lord Shrewsbury died and Bess regained all her lands, Wingfield Manor, its iron works, Smithies and glass works, Bolsover Castle and its coal pits, the parks at Alveton in Staffordshire, Shirland in Derbyshire and Over Uden in Yorkshire for their pastures. Minerals and timbers in her tenure were exploited and she gained a large widow' jointure. She was now the richest woman, other than the Queen, in England.
Pits at Hardstoft and Tibshelf were let out. Bolsover pit was run by herself. Wagons were used to transport the coal to Handsworth and Clowne Moor to obtain a better price than in Bolsover.
Bess's estates became the management of 17 bailiffs, who collected rents and arrears from tenants.
On 17th January, 1593, Bess signed a contract with Edward Savage to buy the Manors of Health, Stainsby and Owlcoates for £3,416. Bess was building a solid ownership of the lands around Hardwick.
Between 1594 and 1597 heavy rains caused there to be no harvest, famine, starvation and disease throughout England. Bess had a 25% drop in income, but carried out her building of Hardwick. She built fish ponds at Hardwick, Wingfield and Shirland stocked with pike, carp, tench, bream and perch. These only became useful in 1600, after the crisis had ceased.
Charles Cavendish started to build a house in Kirkby in Nottinghamshire, but the house was never completed, as he was attacked and shot in the leg by people on horse back. He used the stones to build Bolsover Castle, which he bought from Gilbert Talbot in 1608.
In 1600 Bess's gross annual income was £10,000, not including money given to William and Charles Cavendish. This wealth is incredible, remembering she started her life an average Yeoman's daughter.
My Jewel Arabella
Arabella's father's connections to the Throne put her in line to rule England, alongside James VI of Scotland. If Arabella had been a boy the chances of reaching the throne of England would have been increased tremendously. Her money and jewels left by the family had disappeared to Scottish and English rulers. Arabella's life was restricted by her grandmother; teachings and daily routines had to be adhered to.
Arabella had been betrothed to Leicester's son, Robert, at an early age, but, unfortunately, Robert died in July 1584. No other marriage agreements were undertaken after this as to not tempt fate.
During the summer of 1587, Arabella was staying in London with Mary Talbot. At the age of 12 years she went to Court and dined with Her Majesty The Queen of England.
In 1588 Arabella returned to Court. This is recalled as a disgrace, Arabella insisted that she was more important than others in the Queen's presence, which caused conflicts and her being ordered from Court by the Master of Ceremonies.
In 1592, marriage of Arabella to Raunutio Farnese, a son of the Duke of Parma, was discussed, but the Duke of Parma died shortly after, leaving all plans of marriage for Arabella shattered once again.
There were many plots attempted to reinstate the Catholic Church on the Throne via Arabella. Bess assured the Queen of England that this would not happen. In 1602 Arabella was not getting any younger and longed for marriage. She began to plot her own marriage to Edward Seymour.
A servant, Dodderage, was sent by Arabella, on a horse provided by Henery Cavendish, with a message regarding the marriage of Edward Seymour and Arabella Stewart.
On 30th December, 1602, Dodderage was held in the gatehouse jail at Westminster for being involved in a plot against the Queen of England.
Arabella awaited the return of Dodderage and Edward Seymour her future husband.
On 7th January, 1603, Sir Henery Bronker, the Queen of England's right-hand man, arrived at Hardwick. He gave a letter to Bess and asked to speak to Arabella in private. Arabella was made to write her confession on paper. The attempt disappointed him and he eventually wrote the confession and she signed it. Arabella begged pardon from the Queen.
Bess asked that her grand-daughter be placed elsewhere to learn to be more considerate or to bestow her in marriage.
The Queen wished for her to stay at Hardwick and have gentlemen and gentlewomen watch over her actions. Bess replied informing the Queen that she could not guarantee good carriage of Arabella.
Arabella refused to eat until she was removed from Hardwick. Bronker returned and Arabella told a story of promised marriage and love which was untrue and had to be pardoned once again. Arabella wrote many incoherent letters to Bronker and it was concluded that she was insane.
Bess was asked to stop the letters. Violent scenes followed between the two women.
Attempted Escape of Arabella
On 10th March, 1603, Henery Cavendish and Henery Stapleton, a catholic, planned to help Arabella escape from Hardwick. This was not planned well. They went to Ault Hucknall to watch from the church tower for Arabella to take her exercise in front of Hardwick. However, they were unable to obtain the key from the Vicar.
Bess did not allow Arabella to pass through the porter's lodge on any occasion.
Henery Cavendish and Henery Stapleton went to Hardwick and asked to speak to Arabella. Henery Cavendish, known as the bad son, was allowed into the house, but Stapleton was not. Arabella talked with Henery and walked to the porter's lodge with him. Bess's servants did not allow Arabella's passage through the lodge, as it was then known that 30-40 men waited for them at Hucknall Village.
The Queen heard of the attempted escape and threats on her life and sent Arabella to West Park, Bedfordshire, house of the Earl of Kent and Bess was left in peace. She arranged many grandchildren's marriages until her death.
On 24th March, 1603, Queen Elizabeth died and her successor was her cousin, James of Scotland.
Bess did not include her son, Henery Cavendish or her grand-daughter, Arabella, in her Will.
In 1605 Arabella visited Bess for the peerage of William, on behalf of James VI. She was given £300 in cash and a gold cup.
Early in 1608, Bess reported to be so ill her maid could not leave her bedside, day or night. She died on 13th February, 1608.
Bess was buried at Church All Saints, now the Cathedral of Derby, three months later, 4th May, 1608.
Her effigy height is 5'3½", which is the average height for a woman in the 17th Century. Her funeral was postponed due to her wishes for William to be married to Christine Bruce, sister to Lord Leinloss.
In 1610 Arabella married Earl of Hertford, the most dangerous of possible marriages and claimants to the throne and was sent to the Tower of London where she died in 1615.
Thirty years after Bess's death, dramatist William Samson, born in the Midlands, gave Bess first place in a book of poems called 'Virtus post funera vivit' dedicated to those lately dead.
Many nobleman and royalty possess Bess of Hardwick's blood in their veins. Her family is linked to the following families.
William Cavendish, the Duke of Devonshire, now living at Chatsworth House. Charles Cavendish bought Welbeck from Gilbert Talbot and the Duchess of Newcastle, Dukes of Portland have this connection. Frances, Bess's grand-daughter is linked to the Dukes of Kingston and Earls of Manvers. Mary Talbot has many connections with the Earls of Pembroke, Earls of Kent, Earl of Arundel and Duke of Norfolk. Henery Cavendish is illegitimately linked to the Lords of Waterpark.