Bess Hardwick: First Lady of Chatsworth

THU, MAY 11, 2006 (1:11:03)

Mary S. Lovell explores the life of Bess Hardwick, an ambitious figure who became the matriarch of one of the most powerful family dynasties in England and died one of the wealthiest in England’s history. Bess Hardwick, the fifth of six daughters of an impoverished English nobleman, did not have a particularly auspicious start in life. Born in 1527 into the most brutal and turbulent period of England’s history, she was widowed for the first time at sixteen, married three more times, and outlived four monarchs. By the time Bess’s first child, Frances, was six years old, three of her illustrious godparents had been beheaded. She survived through England’s violent political and social upheaval, bore eight children, and built an extraordinary empire that included the great houses of Chatsworth and Hardwick. Through journals, letters, court reports, inventories and account books, Lovell charts the rise of an astonishingly tenacious woman, one who loved extravagant furnishings and fine clothes and who inspired passionate uxoriousness in her husbands; a woman who was generous, hardheaded and brave. What is revealed is not simply an intimate portrait of one woman but also of all Tudor society.

+ BIO: Mary S. Lovell

Mary was an accountant and company director for 20 years before becoming a writer. She wrote her first book in 1981 at the age of 40, while recovering from a broken back which was the result of a riding accident. Mary S. Lovell has written acclaimed biographies of Beryl Markham, Amelia Earhart, Jane Digby, Sir Richard Burton, Betty “Cynthia” Pack, the Mitford Girls and Bess of Hardwick. She returned to accountancy but during the following 5 years she also published two further non-fiction books that were written in her spare time. After a subsequent meeting, Mary decided to write Markham’s biography and Straight on Till Morning, researched and written in under a year, became an immediate international bestseller. Mary decided to retire from accountancy at this point to write full time. Most of the books she has written since then have made the non-fiction best-seller lists, and The Mitford Girls (titled The Sisters in the USA) a biography of the celebrated Mitford sisters, first published in September 2001 (paperback August 2002) has been another international best-seller. Her latest book, Bess of Hardwick, was published in the UK in 2005 and is now selling well in paperback. Four of her books are optioned for films. She is presently writing a family biography of the Churchills. Mary is particularly noted for her intensive research methods and all her non-fiction books are extensively annotated. She feels strongly that “biography is history” and deplores biographies in which contentious statements are made about a subject without any verifiable attribution. She also dislikes the increasing trend for biographies which set out to destroy reputations. She regards herself as “a storyteller, rather than a literary writer. Everybody enjoys a good fast-paced story and that is what I try to write, only my stories are fact, not fiction. For me there is always an added frisson of enjoyment when I know that what I’m reading about actually occurred, and is not simply a figment of someone’s imagination.”

Boston Athenaeum
Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work Series