Today I have the immense pleasure of presenting to you a fabulous post by ,
Gillian Bagwell, author of VENUS IN WINTER.
Bess of Hardwick’s Husbands: No. 1 of 4!
By Gillian Bagwell
Bess of Hardwick is best remembered today for building Hardwick Hall and for having survived four husbands. She inherited property each time she was widowed, eventually becoming the wealthiest andmost powerful woman in Tudor England after Queen Elizabeth.But that could hardly have been foreseen from her early life or her first marriage.
Bess was born, probably in 1527, at what was then Hardwick Manor, which she later rebuilt into what would become known as Old Hardwick Hall. Her father died when she was a baby, her mother remarried, and when she was about eleven, her father was imprisoned for debt, leaving Bess’s mother with eight children to care for.
Around the age of twelve, Bess became a lady in waiting to Anne Gainsford, Lady Zouche, a distant relative. Such an arrangement was the standard way of preparing well-born children for life, introducing them to potential mates and a circle of people who would help them rise in the world. Also in Lady Zouche’s service was a boy named Robert Barlow or Barley, who was also from Derbyshire, and distantly related to the Hardwicks.
Bess and Robert were married in spring 1543, probably in May, when he was thirteen and she was probably fifteen. The impetus for the marriage was probably the desire of Robert’s father, Arthur, to preserve his estate from the clutches of the Court of Wards. If he died leaving Robert an unmarried minor, the crown would take control of the property and whoever bought Robert’s wardship would be able to marry him to someone of their own choosing.
Arthur Barlow died soon after Bess and Robert were married, but his plans didn’t go off quite as he had intended. Poor young Robbie Barlow died on Christmas Eve 1544, leaving Bess a sixteen-year old widow, and the family property passed to Robbie’s twelve-year-old brother George. The Court of Wards took control of the estate, and Sir Peter Frecheville bought George’s wardship, and did exactly what Arthur Barlow had been afraid of: he married George to his own daughter, and the Barlow family effectively lost control of its land and property.
As a widow, Bess was entitled to a widow’s dower, a third of the rents and revenues of the property throughout her lifetime. But Sir Peter Frecheville tried to deny her this income, asserting that part of what was supposed to be the Barlow estate wasn’t really theirs but only leased, and that Bess had not truly been married to Robert because the young couple hadn’t consummated the marriage. He offered Bess a small settlement if she would give up her dower rights, and she accepted it because her family was in desperate straits.
But someone must have rallied to Bess’s side, because she went to court to get what she was entitled to. By this time she was in the household of Frances Brandon Grey, the Duchess of Suffolk, and in my novel Venus in Winter I have made this savior Sir William Cavendish, a friend of the Greys who would later become Bess’s second husband.
The court battle went on for years, but eventually Bess succeeded in winning the income to which she was entitled, as well as punitive damages. It was her first step toward financial independence.
Gillian Bagwell’s novel about Bess of Hardwick, Venus in Winter, is released , today, July 2.
To find links to Gillian’s posts on Bess’s other husbands and other subjects related to the book,
please follow her on Twitter, @GillianBagwell