Bess of Hardwick was one of the most extraordinary figures of Elizabethan
England. She was born the daughter of a country squire. By the end of her long
life (which a recent redating of her birth suggests was even longer than
previously thought) she was the richest woman in England outside the royal
family, had risen to the rank of countess and seen two of her daughters do the
same, and had built one of the major ‘prodigy houses’ of the period. While
married to her fourth husband, the earl of Shrewsbury, she had been gaoler to
Mary, Queen of Scots, and her granddaughter by her second marriage, Lady Arbella
Stuart, was of royal blood and might have been succeeded to the throne of
England. This wide-ranging collection, which draws on the recent edition of her
correspondence, brings out the full range of her activities and impact. It
contains a biography, analysis of her language use, consideration of the roles
of her servants and the management and nature of her households (including the
complex and allegorical decorative scheme of Hardwick and its famous
embroideries), and a new appraisal of the relationship between Bess and her
This chapter suggests that one should read the pilgrimage-minded Helena of All's Well That Ends Well in the light of two holy women, St Helena of Britain and Mary Magdalene. Despite the official marginalisation of Catholicism, there were many cultural uses made of Mary Magdalene in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The story of St Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine and supposed finder of the True Cross, was well known in Britain. In Lewis Wager's The Life and Repentaunce of Mary Magdalene, Mary Magdalene, like Helena, is first introduced with reference to her late father. In most dramatic versions of her story, Mary Magdalene was the sister of Lazarus, like Helena, was also associated with narratives of death and miraculous or quasi-miraculous recovery. Antonina Harbus explains that St Helena was sometimes mentioned in the same breath as the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Stanleys of Derby on the English Renaissance stage
The 'strange truth' of Perkin Warbeck, seems to the author to be twofold. Firstly, it offers an exculpation of the Stanleys in general. Secondly, it provides a palliation of an event which it presents as analogous to Sir William Stanley's betrayal and his subsequent plot to secure the succession of his cousin, Lord Strange. Lord Strange is not the only member of the family who finds himself represented or alluded to on the English stage. The author also considers various Earls of Derby, at least one Sir Edward Stanley and two separate bearers of the name Sir William Stanley. Richard III is the only William Shakespeare play where the word 'strange' never occurs at all, because it would have embarrassed the Stanley family to mention that name in connection with the succession to the Crown and the replacement of one dynasty by another.
This chapter reads Bess’s life and achievements in the light of a poem
written about her by her great-granddaughter, the playwright Lady Jane
Cavendish. It offers an account of her significance and of the areas in
which she is of interest. It concludes with a brief glance at what the
essays in the collection contain.
The accession of first Mary Tudor and then her younger sister Elizabeth I to the throne of England brought with it iconographic and mythopoeic problems as well as political ones. This chapter explains the strong association between Semiramis and Titania. It begins with Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene and Robert Greene's The Scottish History of James the Fourth. The chapter then moves through the anonymous Locrine and William Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus and A Midsummer Night's Dream, and culminates in Thomas Dekker's The Whore of Babylon, which associate Semiramis with fairy lore. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, a complex network of ideas associated with the figure of Semiramis is used to critique rather than celebrate the agendas of Elizabeth. Ireland is a surprising and apparently previously unnoticed subtext of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (dir. Michael Curtiz, 1939) is usually described as an adaptation of Maxwell Anderson's 1930 play Elizabeth the Queen, and there are certainly similarities. Conversely, some aspects of the film seem to derive ultimately not from Anderson's play but from Lytton Strachey's 1928 dual biography of Elizabeth and Essex. In the film, only Elizabeth has a subjectivity to speak of, and she is also significantly strengthened in comparison with the model provided by Strachey. The Essex of Michael Curtiz's film shares both the strengths and the weaknesses of Edward VIII. Indeed in the film, without warrant from the play, the younger Cecil says of Essex that 'Something's got to be done to tarnish him', echoing Edward's celebrated response to the poverty he saw in South Wales, 'Something must be done'.