Bess of Hardwick: Life Story

Chapter 6 : Guarding the Queen of Scots

It soon became apparent that Tutbury was wholly unsuitable for guarding Mary. It was too small to allow sufficient guards to be billeted and the situation of the house was deeply unhealthy. Shrewsbury decided to move her to Wingfield Manor. Bess went ahead to prepare the house in early April 1569. Despite it generally being a healthier house, Mary fell ill. Elizabeth sent doctors – it would not do for Mary to die unexpectedly – and they recommended a move whilst the house was cleaned.

Accordingly, Mary was taken to Bess’ own home at Chatsworth for a few nights before returning to Wingfield. At the same time, Shrewsbury himself became extremely ill. So ill, in fact, that Elizabeth sent the Earl of Huntingdon and Sir Ralph Sadler to help Bess keep Mary properly guarded. After an initial recovery, Shrewsbury had a relapse, and Sir John Zouch was sent to help out. Fortunately, the Earl recovered.

During the summer of 1569, Mary had been corresponding with the Duke of Norfolk about a possible marriage between them. Norfolk, Elizabeth’s cousin, was the senior noble in England, and a Protestant. Many of Elizabeth’s Council, including Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, her closest friend, thought this an excellent plan and the discussions were widely known. Unfortunately, no-one had told Elizabeth. When she discovered the proposal she reacted furiously. Norfolk was harangued by Elizabeth and sent to the Tower, and Shrewsbury received immediate orders to return Mary to Tutbury, which was more easily guarded.

Within days of Norfolk’s arrest, the north of England broke out into revolt under the Earls of Westmorland (Norfolk’s brother-in-law) and Northumberland. Hearing that an army was heading south to liberate Mary, the Council quickly sent orders for Shrewsbury to take the Scottish Queen to Coventry. By November, the Mass had been celebrated once more in Durham Cathedral, but by the end of the year, Elizabeth’s forces, under the Earl of Sussex, had resulted in the dispersal of the rebels.

Mary was moved back to Tutbury. She now knew that she would never be freed by Elizabeth, and began an endless series of plans and plots to achieve her freedom. Trying to counter her actions, whilst still treating her honourably, and acknowledging that, even if Elizabeth would not openly admit it, Mary was probably the heir to the throne, made Shrewsbury’s life a misery, and this began to tell on his relationship with Bess.

After the immediate danger posed by the Rising of the Northern Earls, Mary was finally removed from Tutbury. Over the next fourteen years, she would be carried back and forth between Chatsworth, Sheffield Castle and Wingfield, with Bess and Shrewsbury bearing the brunt of the dislocation of their lives, and the huge expenditure involved. Elizabeth never provided enough cash, and, unsurprisingly, Mary was reluctant to use her dower on the costs of imprisonment.

Bess had completed her redevelopment of Chatsworth by 1570. Mary was given apartments on the east wing of the house, above the Great Hall, but facing an inner courtyard for security. That summer, Elizabeth sent Cecil and other councillors to negotiate an agreement with Mary by which she would return to Scotland and retake the throne, sending her son, James, to England as a hostage. Mary was eager for the plan, but the Scots nobles, revelling in their freedom from royal authority and enjoying their customary feuds, refused to co-operate. Bess was stuck with her house-guest.

Mary’s main focus of attention was plotting to have her marriage to Bothwell annulled, so that she could marry Norfolk, now released from the Tower. Unsurprisingly, the scheme, known as the Ridolfi Plot, was discovered and Bess watched Shrewsbury ride to London to preside over Norfolk’s trial. Sir Ralph Sadler again journeyed to Sheffield to help Bess during her husband’s absence. During this period, Mary was distressed to the point of illness at the failure of the plot, and Bess seldom left her.

Norfolk was condemned. Before Bess had the chance to break the news of his impending execution to Mary, the Queen had already heard of it. Bess asked why she was weeping, and was told that ‘her ladyship could not be ignorant of the cause’.  Mary went on to say that she was concerned that Norfolk would suffer for a letter she had recently written to Elizabeth. Bess replied that no letter of Mary’s could possibly make any difference. Norfolk had been found guilty by his peers – chief amongst them her own husband. They would not have condemned him without clear proof.

From this point onward, Bess and Shrewsbury would be hard-pressed to keep up with Mary’s efforts to regain her freedom.

 Elizabeth (Bess) Hardwick

Elizabeth (Bess) Hardwick

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