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Devices and Desires

Bess of Hardwick and the Building of Elizabethan England

Kate Hubbard


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Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (2/25/2020)
Compact Disc (2/26/2019)
MP3 CD (2/26/2019)
Compact Disc (2/26/2019)


The critically acclaimed author of Serving Victoria brilliantly illuminates the life of the little-known Bess of Hardwick—next to Queen Elizabeth I, the richest and most powerful woman in sixteenth-century England.

Aided by a quartet of judicious marriages and a shrewd head for business, Bess of Hardwick rose from humble beginnings to become one of the most respected and feared Countesses in Elizabethan England—an entrepreneur who built a family fortune, created glorious houses—the last and greatest built as a widow in her 70s—and was deeply involved in matters of the court, including the custody of Mary Queen of Scots.

While Bess cultivated many influential courtiers, she also collected numerous enemies. Her embittered fourth husband once called her a woman of “devices and desires,” while nineteenth-century male historians portrayed her as a monster—”a woman of masculine understanding and conduct, proud, furious, selfish and unfeeling.” In the twenty-first century she has been neutered by female historians who recast her as a soft-hearted sort, much maligned, and misunderstood. As Kate Hubbard reveals, the truth of this highly accomplished woman lies somewhere in between: ruthless and scheming, Bess was sentimental and affectionate as well.

Hubbard draws on more than 230 of Bess’s letters, including correspondence with the Queen and her councilors, fond (and furious) missives between her husbands and children, and notes sharing titillating court gossip. The result is a rich, compelling portrait of a true feminist icon centuries ahead of her time—a complex, formidable, and decidedly modern woman captured in full as never before.

Praise For Devices and Desires: Bess of Hardwick and the Building of Elizabethan England

“Engagingly traces Bess of Hardwick’s astonishing rise, her sometimes fraught experience amid Tudor power struggles, and her legacy as a patron of architecture and the decorative arts…. Ms. Hubbard’s chief interest may lie in Bess’s building work and domestic arrangements, but she deals deftly with the treacherous politics of the time. He research has been deep and, one thinks, deeply enjoyable. So is her book.”
Wall Street Journal

“Succeed[s] in painting a dynamic portrait of Bess’s life, using letters and other sources to give it colour…. Bess of Hardwick emerges from Devices and Desires as a fascinating and influential woman well deserving of many historians’ attention.”
BBC History

“A brisk, perceptive portrait of a formidable Elizabethan woman.”

“Probing, buoyant.”

Harper, 9780062302991, 384pp.

Publication Date: February 26, 2019

About the Author

After leaving Oxford University, Kate Hubbard worked variously as a researcher, a teacher, a book reviewer and a publisher’s reader and a freelance editor.  She currently works for the Royal Literary Fund. She is the author of the acclaimed historical biography Serving Victoria and lives in London and Dorset.