Bess of Hardwick
William Cavendish - Marquis of Newcastle. Bess of Hardwick.
WILLIAM CAVENDISH, Duke of Newcastle (1592-1676), eldest surviving son of Sir Charles Cavendish and of Catherine, daughter of Cuthbert, Lord Ogle, and grandson of Sir William Cavendish and "Bess of Hardwick," was born in 1592. The Cavendish family fortune was largely due to the shrewd dealings and business sense of his redoubtable grandmother, the legendary Bess of Hardwick.
Bess was renowned for being the wealthiest and most powerful woman in the country, second only to Queen Elizabeth 1. Much of this fortune and power was attributed to the fact that she was married four times, through which she accumulated land, property and great wealth.
Horace Walpole wrote of Bess
“ Four times the nuptial bed she warm’d,
And every time so well performed,
That when death spoiled each Husband’s billing
He left the widow every shilling.”
At the age of 12 years, she went into service in the household of a great Derbyshire family, Sir John and Lady Zouche of Condor Castle. Her service began in London, where Bess met her first husband, Robert Barlow. Robert was also in service, but fell ill with chronic distemper. Bess nursed Robert in his illness. He fell in love with her and they married. Bess was 13 years old and Robert not much older. Robert died soon after they were married and Bess gained a customary widows' settlement, which was a third of Robert's income.
Bess's second marriage in 1547 was to Sir William Cavendish, a Royal Commissioner employed in the business of dissolving monasteries. He was granted church land for his services and was able to buy other land cheaply. He was highly respected and the Treasurer of the King's Chambers. Bess and William Cavendish were married on the 20th August 1547. The marriage was happy and successful, even though William was 22 years older than Bess and had three daughters from two previous marriages. Bess and William had eight children, of which six survived (Frances, Henry, William, Charles, Elizabeth and Mary). He pleased Bess by selling his existing property and buying buildings in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Bess acquired her experience of accounting and estate management from Sir William, lessons that she never forgot and set her in good stead in managing her future wealth.
In 1557 Sir William Cavendish became seriously ill in London. Bess travelled to nurse him, but to no avail and he died on 25th October 1557.
Bess was then appointed lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth I. The ideal place to find a suitable, wealthy and respectable husband was at court. In 1559, Bess married Sir William St. Loe. He was a wealthy widower that had been married twice previously and had children. He proved to be a most generous husband and took on her debts from her previous marriage to William Cavendish. However, all was not well as Bess was sent to the Tower for seven months in 1561. This imprisonment occurred due to her being involved with Lady Catherine Grey. Catherine confessed that she had married the Earl of Hertford secretly against the Queen's wishes and was pregnant. Bess refused to break the news to the Queen and wanted nothing to do with the matter. The Queen was most displeased and Bess was punished.
The heir to Sir William St. Loe should have been, by rights, his brother, Edward. William and Edward did not see eye to eye and on one occasion Edward attempted to poison Bess and William. Sir William St Loe died five years into the marriage and left all his lands to Bess and her children.
After the death of her third husband Bess returned to Court. In 1567 she married George Talbot, the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. He was a widower with six children and was regarded as the richest nobleman in England. It was not only Bess who was married; the family combined with two other marriages. Mary Cavendish (12 years old) was married to Gilbert Talbot, Henry Cavendish (18 years old) was married to Grace Talbot (8 years old).
The Earl of Shrewsbury had eight principal houses; Sheffield Manor, Sheffield Castle, South Wingfield Manor, Rufford Abbey, Welbeck Abbey, Worksop Manor, Buxton Hall and Tutbury Castle. He also owned two properties in London.
Bess died in 1608, leaving a great amount of land to be divided between her offspring, and is buried in Derby Cathedral.