Bess of Hardwick: Life Story

Chapter 9 : Financial Worries

Soon, money troubles began to raise their ugly heads. Shrewsbury was feeling the pinch of his guardianship of Mary. He had never received sufficient from the Crown to cover his costs, and in 1575, Elizabeth proposed reducing the money from the £52 per week agreed in 1569, to £30 per week on the pretext that Mary’s household ought to have been drastically cut.

Love flew out the window as poverty came in the door. Shrewsbury, suffering from extremely painful gout, money worries and the stress of his position, began to be fractious and quarrelsome. His family feared his outbursts of temper and his relationship with Bess began to deteriorate. In the summer of 1577 they had a bitter quarrel when he asked her to dismiss a groom. She asked his reasons for wanting the man thrown out, but he would not give her a clear answer. In a time when there was no job market, dismissal was a serious step. Bess had a duty to her servants to look after them, if they served her well. By sacking him, she could be condemning him to severe hardship, and perhaps even punishment as a vagrant.

There was another argument about Bess’ embroiderers and the argument over the groom was unresolved. Whilst Shrewsbury was at Bolsover, Bess left Sheffield Castle and went to Chatsworth. On being told by his son that she was absent, Shrewsbury repeated their quarrel to Gilbert, adding that Bess had ‘scolded like one that came from the Bank’ (the South Bank in London, then famous for prostitution). He was angry, however, that she was not there to greet him. ‘Is she so full of malice that she would not tarry one night for my coming?

Gilbert sought to bring his father to a more reasonable turn of mind, pointing out how much Bess loved him, and how upset she was over the quarrel. Shrewsbury agreed that she loved him, and emphasised how much he loved her in return. Gilbert then wrote to Bess, repeating the conversation and urging her to return. As an added inducement, he told her that his son, George, was thinking of her. Sadly, George would not see his grandmother again. He died, aged two on 11th August 1577.

Bess was distraught by the child’s death. Shrewsbury asked permission to go to her at Chatsworth, taking Mary with him as Bess was too upset to travel. So at this period we can conclude that, despite some arguments, the couple were still attached to each other.

There was soon another death to contend with. Margaret Lennox died in February 1578. She wa buried in state at Westminster Abbey, with Bess amongst the mourners. Following the death of her son, Charles Lennox, Lady Lennox had been granted the wardship of Arbella. Shrewsbury swiftly wrote to Burghley, Master of the Court of Wards, requesting that the wardship remain in the family and Elizabeth Lennox was permitted to keep her child. If Shrewsbury had not obtained his request Arbella would have been separated from her mother. From the Queen’s point of view, it was probably better that this potential heir be in the safe hands of the Shrewsburys, rather than creating temptation for some perhaps less loyal noble. Additionally, Elizabeth was freed of the potential cost of maintaining a semi-royal child.

Bess wrote a letter of thanks when Shrewsbury’s request was granted. But Elizabeth Lennox had no means of support. The Scots government would not allow her to receive dower from the Scottish lands – technically, they were within their rights as she had had no dowry, having married without her step-father’s permission. At the same time, Elizabeth confiscated the rest of the English lands, allegedly to pay Margaret Lennox’ debts. Even Margaret’s jewels, which she had willed to Arbella, were lost, when they were stolen by her executor, Thomas Fowler, who took them to Scotland.

Eventually, Bess badgered Shrewsbury into a dowry of £3,000 for Elizabeth Lennox, but it was not released until after the young widow’s death in 1582. Bess therefore took on the maintenance of her daughter and granddaughter, although she did squeeze £400 per annum out of the Queen for Elizabeth, and a further £200 for Arbella. Although Queen Mary issued a warrant demanding the jewels from Fowler, which was ignored, she did not make any provision for the child from her French income.

It is from around this period that the painting of Arbella as a small child dates. The legend reads ‘Countess of Lennox.’

Bess was invited to court that Christmas, with her daughter and Arbella, and spent considerable time with the Queen. Lord Leicester wrote to Shrewsbury to tell him what a great favourite Bess was at court and how her wisdom and noble bearing were admired. 

 Elizabeth (Bess) Hardwick

Elizabeth (Bess) Hardwick

Family Tree