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Bess of Hardwick

Elizabeth Hardwick (or Hardwicke) (152x - 1608) married four times: First to Robert Barlow when they were too young, and he too sick, to consummate their marriage before he died. Second, in 1547, to the twice-widowed Sir William Cavendish (who had two daughters), with whom she had eight children, two of whom died in infancy. Third, in 1559, to Sir William St. Loe (or St. Lo) who, when he died in 1564/5, left her with responsibility for his two daughters from his first marriage, in addition to her own six children and two stepdaughters from her second husband. Fourth, in 1567, to George Talbot 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, one of the premier earls of the realm, with seven children from his first marriage; two of his children married two of hers in a double ceremony in February 1568. (There were rumors at the time that she was so fond of the great ropes of the "Talbot pearls" the Countess got to wear that she wanted to keep them in her family by marrying her daughter to the Earl's oldest unmarried son, his second one because his eldest was already married. It worked, because her daughter did eventually become the Countess.)

For many years (1569-1584), the Earl and Countess had to keep Mary Queen of Scots imprisoned on one or another of their estates, but it was not until that poor woman was removed to another jailer that she got into the trouble that cost her her life. Around the same time she was removed from his custody, the Earl left Bess for good -- they had been separated off-and-on since about 1580, and even Queen Elizabeth had tried to get them to reconcile. (Queen Mary seems to have aggravated, if not created, their problems by playing them off against each other.) Bess's daughter Elizabeth Cavendish married Mary's brother-in-law Charles Stuart, and their only child Arbella Stuart had a claim to the thrones of Scotland and England.

Bess became famous for her building projects, especially two of them: Chatsworth, now the seat of the Dukes of Devonshire (whose family name is still "Cavendish," because they are descended from her children from her second marriage), and Hardwick Hall, of which it has been said for 400+ years now: "Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall," because of the number and size of its windows. She was interred in a vault in Derby Cathedral, where there is a memorial to her.

Bess Hardwick is the subject of Jan Westcott's novel The Tower and the Dream (1974).