Devices and Desires: Bess of Hardwick and the Building of Elizabethan England
Devices and Desires explores the life of Bess of Hardwick and of her great building projects, especially the still-extant Hardwick Hall. It is both a biography of an exceptional woman and an account of the architectural explosion of elaborate houses built by the Elizabethan aristocracy to demonstrate their status and wealth. Bess started life as a member of the minor gentry. Over four marriages she improved her financial and social status; by her death in 1608 she was the dowager Countess of Shrewsbury and one of the wealthiest women in England. She was involved in high politics too: Lady Jane Grey was a family connection, Bess and her husband oversaw the incarceration of Mary Queen of Scots, and her granddaughter Arbella was a candidate for the crown on Elizabeth I’s death.
Hubbard’s account of Bess’s life is intelligent and enjoyable. She uses a range of primary sources – letters, wills and household accounts to bring Bess, her family and retainers to life. This is not only a biography of a forceful and determined woman, however. The accounts of Bess’s extensive building works at Chatsworth, Hardwick and others are used as a jumping-off point for Hubbard to explore architecture at this time and its meaning within the social and political world of Elizabethan England. An enjoyable and interesting read.