Bess of Hardwick was born Elizabeth Hardwick to John Hardwick of Derbyshire and Elizabeth Leeke. She had an elder brother James, born in 1525 and three sisters. Her father was a minor landowner and the family were quite poor.
John Hardwick died. Bess was left a small sum of money for a dowry.
Bess entered the household of Anne, Lady Zouche, former maid-of-honour to Anne Boleyn, at Codnor Castle.
Bess of Hardwick married her cousin, Robert Barlow.
Robert Barlow died leaving Bess of Hardwick a widow. Bess was astounded when Robert’s family refused to hand over her dower payment and took the matter to the courts.
1547 (28th January)
King Henry VIII died and was succeeded by his son, Edward VI
1547 (20th August)
Bess of Hardwick aged 20 years married William Cavendish aged 42 years, at Bradgate Manor. Despite the age difference the marriage was a happy one. Cavendish was Treasurer of the King’s Chamber for Edward VI and had gained property following the dissolution of the monasteries.
William Cavendish taught Bess accountancy and land management skills.
1548 (18th June)
A daughter, Frances, was born to Bess of Hardwick and William Cavendish.
Bess of Hardwick finally won her case against the Barlow family and received her dower payment.
1549 (10th June)
A daughter, Temperance, was born to Bess of Hardwick and William Cavendish.
Bess’s daughter, Temperance, died.
1550 (17th December)
A son, Henry, was born to Bess of Hardwick and William Cavendish.
1552 (27th December)
A son, William, was born to Bess of Hardwick and William Cavendish.
1553 (6th July)
King Edward VI died. Prior to his death he had signed the ‘Devise for the Succession’ which nominated his second cousin, Protestant Jane Grey
to succeed. Neither Edward nor the Protector John Dudley
, Duke of Northumberland wanted Catholic Mary to be Queen.
1553 (15th July)
Jane Grey was removed from the throne and imprisoned in the Tower of London by Mary Tudor who took the throne as Mary I
1553 (28th November)
A son, Charles, was born to Bess of Hardwick and William Cavendish.
1555 (31st March)
A daughter, Elizabeth
, was born to Bess of Hardwick and William Cavendish.
1556 (17th December)
A daughter, Mary, was born to Bess of Hardwick and William Cavendish.
William Cavendish was accused of embezzling Crown funds.
1557 (25th October)
Sir William Cavendish died in London. His charge of embezzlement had not been settled and his death left Bess in debt to the Crown.
1558 (17th November)
Queen Mary I died. She was succeeded by her half-sister who took the throne as Queen Elizabeth I
Bess of Hardwick married Sir William St Loe, a widower with children. Sir William was Captain of the Guard to Elizabeth I. St Loe managed to intercede with Queen Elizabeth to have Bess’s debt to the Crown negated.
Bess, now Lady of the Bedchamber, had learned that Katherine Grey
, sister of Jane Grey, had married Edward Seymour without Queen Elizabeth’s permission. When Elizabeth discovered that Bess had not revealed the marriage, she sent Bess to the Tower of London.
William St Loe died. He left his entire estate to Bess of Hardwick.
Bess married George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, a widower with six children. Bess gained the title Countess of Shrewsbury. Shrewsbury owned a number of properties including Tutbury Castle, Pontefract Castle, Sheffield Castle and Sheffield Manor.
Bess’s daughter Mary Cavendish married Shrewsbury’s son Gilbert Talbot and Bess’s son, Henry married Shrewsbury’s daughter Grace in a double wedding celebration.
1568 (16th May)
Mary Queen of Scots
crossed the Solway Firth into England where she sought the protection of Queen Elizabeth I
. The Scots Queen had fled to England seeking refuge and support after being implicated in the murder of her husband, Lord Darnley. However, Elizabeth saw her as a threat and wanted her carefully watched. She was taken to Wokington Hall.
1568 (18th May)
Mary was escorted to Carlisle Castle where she was placed under virtual house arrest.
1568 (mid July)
Mary was moved to Bolton Castle which was further from the Scottish border, and placed in the care of Francis Knollys. Elizabeth I had ordered an inquiry to determine whether she had played a part in Darnley’s murder. The inquiry was held at York.
Bess and George Talbot, were informed by Queen Elizabeth that they were to be guardians of Mary Queen of Scots at Tutbury Castle. The castle was one of the Shrewsbury’s most derelict properties.
Mary Queen of Scots was keen to meet her cousin, Queen Elizabeth, face to face, but Elizabeth delayed the meeting wanting clear proof that Mary had played no part in Darnley’s murder before agreeing to the meeting.
1568 (late October)
Mary’s half-brother, Earl of Moray, gave a number of letters and documents known as the casket letters to the inquiry at York as evidence against Mary. Mary argued that they had been forged but it has never been proved whether they were genuine or not. However, the commissioners of the inquiry believed them to be genuine.
Elizabeth I decided that as the inquiry believed Mary to be guilty of Darnley’s murder that she would not meet her cousin in person. Elizabeth was also very worried that Mary would try to take the English throne.
Mary was moved to Tutbury Castle and placed in the care of George Talbot Earl of Shrewsbury and Bess of Hardwick. The Earl was lenient with Mary and allowed her to have a retinue of her trusted friends with her. Talbot’s relationship with the Scots’ Queen as well as the financial cost of housing their ‘guest’ placed a strain on Bess’s marriage.
Elizabeth I negotiated with the Scots to effect Mary’s return to Scotland but it became clear that they did not want her to return.
A number of northern Catholic nobles mounted a rebellion against the rule of Elizabeth I. They wanted to replace her with Mary Queen of Scots. However, the uprising failed when it was discovered that Mary had been moved to Coventry. More than 750 people were executed for their part in the rebellion.
Elizabeth I was increasingly concerned about the threat Mary posed. Her chief ministers, Francis Walsingham and William Cecil placed spies in Mary’s household.
This was a plot to depose Elizabeth and replace her with Mary Queen of Scots. It was led by Roberto Ridolfi, a Florentine banker from London, who had enlisted the support of the Duke of Norfolk, the King of Spain and the Pope. The plot failed after incriminating letters were discovered. The Duke of Norfolk was arrested and executed. Ridolfi was abroad when the plot was discovered and avoided capture.
Due to the number of plots surrounding Mary Queen of Scots and the potential threat of her escaping, the Shrewsburys were forced to move house frequently. Mary Queen of Scots was housed at Tutbury, Wingfield Manor, Chatsworth House and Sheffield Manor.
Bess of Hardwick and her elder daughter, Elizabeth Cavendish, were invited to stay with Margaret Douglas
, Countess of Lennox, mother of the Queen of Scots’ murdered husband, Lord Darnley
. While there Elizabeth fell in love with Margaret’s son, Charles Stuart
. The young couple married without Queen Elizabeth’s permission.
Elizabeth I was furious when she discovered that Charles Stuart and Elizabeth Cavendish had married. Bess of Hardwick, Margaret Douglas and the young couple were summoned to London.
On arrival in London, Bess of Hardwick was sent to her house in Chelsea and forbidden to leave. Likewise Margaret Douglas was sent to Hackney and Charles and Elizabeth were placed under house arrest at Hackney and forbidden to meet or communicate with any other persons.
An enquiry into the marriage of Elizabeth Cavendish and Charles Stuart found no evidence of treason.
A daughter, Arabella Stuart
, was born to Charles Stuart and Elizabeth Cavendish.
Bess’s son-in-law, Charles Stuart, died leaving Elizabeth Cavendish a widow.
Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, died.
The marriage of Bess of Hardwick and George Talbot had broken down completely and they lived separate lives. Bess spread a rumour that Talbot had an affair with Mary Queen of Scots but later retracted her story.
Elizabeth Cavendish died. Her daughter Arabella was placed in the care of her grandmother, Bess of Hardwick. Elizabeth I gave her a £200 per year allowance to care for the child. Bess hoped that Elizabeth would nominate Arabella as heir to the throne. At some point Bess negotiated for Arabella to marry Robert, son of Robert Dudley
, Earl of Leicester and Lettice Knollys. When Elizabeth discovered the arrangement, Bess fell from favour.
Bess purchased Hardwick from her brother James who needed money to clear his debts.
This was a plot hatched by Francis Throckmorton, to murder Elizabeth I and replace her with Mary Queen of Scots. The plot failed after his actions were discovered by Francis Walsingham.
Bond of Association
This was a document drawn up by Walsingham that meant anyone attempting to take the throne from Elizabeth or make an attempt on her life would be executed.
Robert Dudley, Baron of Denbigh, who was betrothed to Arabella Stuart, died.
Mary Queen of Scots was moved to the moated manor house at Chartley which was very secure. She was now placed in the custody of Amias Paulet, who kept Mary under stricter much control than the Earl of Shrewsbury.
Bess drew up plans to build a new property, Hardwick Hall. She built it as a home for Arabella who she hoped would become Queen of England.
The Babington Plot
Francis Walsingham uncovered a new plot to replace Elizabeth with Mary Queen of Scots. Anthony Babington had sent secret coded letters to Mary Queen of Scots organising her escape from imprisonment and her overthrow of Elizabeth as Queen.
1586 (11th August)
Mary was arrested and charged with being a party to the Babington Plot.
1586 (21st September)
Mary was moved to Fotheringhay Castle.
1586 (15th October)
Mary Queen of Scots was put on trial for her part in the Babington Plot. She was found guilty and sentenced to death. However, Elizabeth, who feared reprisals from Europe, did not sign the death warrant.
1587 (8th February)
Elizabeth had finally been persuaded by her ministers to sign the death warrant. They decided to act on it promptly before Elizabeth could change her mind and Mary Queen of Scots was executed at Fotheringhay Castle. When Elizabeth found out about the execution she was deeply upset and annoyed with her ministers. She claimed that although she had signed the warrant she had told her ministers not to carry it out.
1590 (18th November)
George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, died. On the death of her estranged husband, Bess took the title Dowager Countess of Shrewsbury and inherited a third of Talbot’s properties.
A possible marriage between Arabella Stuart and Raunution Farnese, son of the Duke of Parma was discussed. However, the Duke died before the match was finalised and it was dropped.
Bess of Hardwick moved into Hardwick New Hall which she had built next to her family home, Hardwick Hall.
Desperate to be wed, Arabella tried to arrange a marriage between herself and Edward Seymour.
Arabella Stuart’s attempt to secure a marriage was discovered and she was charged with plotting against Queen Elizabeth. She was forced to beg the Queen for mercy and forgiveness. Bess of Hardwick appealed to Queen Elizabeth that her daughter be married or given a position at court. However, Elizabeth replied that she should stay at Hardwick Hall under house arrest.
1603 (10th March)
Bess’s son, Henry Cavendish and Henry Stapleton tried to break Arabella out of Hardwick but the escape attempt was discovered. Elizabeth placed Arabella in the care of the Earl of Kent.
1603 (24th March)
Queen Elizabeth I died. Arabella Stuart was completely overlooked and the son of Mary Queen of Scots succeeded as King James I. Queen Elizabeth left nothing in her will for Arabella Stuart.
1608 (13th February)
Bess of Hardwick died.