Bess of Hardwick, An Elizabethan Tycoon
Bess of Hardwick was one of the most remarkable people who lived in England in the late Tudor period. Born a daughter of a relatively humble Midlands family, she was married and widowed four times, on each occasion raising her social status until she ultimately became the Countess of Shrewsbury.
Whilst she lived at a time when the laws and customs of the land made it difficult for women to exercise any real form of economic or social independence, Bess succeeded in acquiring a personal fortune which made her the second wealthiest woman in the kingdom after Queen Elizabeth I which served as the financial bedrock upon which her descendants would continued to build, in some cases right up to the present day.
Wyn Derbyshire originally trained as a research chemist, gaining a PhD from the University of Cambridge before qualifying as a lawyer. He has for many years been interested in financial history and has written a series of biographies of tycoons.
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A portrait of Bess of Harwick in the style of Rowland Lockey (around 1587), hangs in our current exhibition Unseen Treasures. The 6th Duke of Portland showing it to an American guest, remarked, “She didn’t do so badly, four ropes of pearls – one from each husband, I suppose!”. Learn more about Bess of Hardwick in an article by Dr. Fiona Clapperton