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Alan Bryson

This chapter draws fully on the range of surviving sources and responds critically to the growing scholarship on the Tudor nobility and gentry to contextualise Bess within her time. Traces her four marriages (including the financial difficulties that beset the first two and the breakdown of the fourth), her role in guarding Mary, Queen of Scots, and her building activity. What marks Bess out is her extraordinary social mobility, rising from minor gentlewoman of limited prospects to immensely wealthy and powerful countess, that and the fact we know more about her than almost any other woman of her time. Her marriages, her buildings, her possessions and her letter-writing are all fascinating, but must be read within the context of other Tudor nobles and gentry (men as well as women), otherwise Bess will continue to be regarded as something of an exception – something of an aberration, even – and that would diminish her remarkable achievements.

in Bess of Hardwick