The 16th century was filled with extremely strong women who went on to shape European and world history forever. This was true for England and Scotland, two countries whose stories were intertwined by powerful women. The women who ruled these two countries during this time were women that those who study this time period know about; Lady Jane Grey, Mary I, Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots. There was one woman who knew all four of these women and lived for over 80 years: Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury. The story of these five women is told in Jill Armitage’s book, “Four Queens and a Countess: Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Lady Jane Grey and Bess of Hardwick: The Struggle for the Crown”.
I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. I am always interested in learning how different people in the 16th century interacted with one another, plus I didn’t know a whole lot about Bess of Hardwick and I wanted to learn more about her.
Armitage begins her book by exploring Bess of Hardwick’s family and how they rose in power so that Bess could serve royalty. It was interesting to learn about her family and the four husbands that Bess married throughout her life: Robert Barlow, Sir William Cavendish, Sir William St. Loe, and George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. Bess also had numerous children and grandchildren who would go to be influential in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. I really wish Armitage had included family trees of the different families that were involved in her book to make it easier for the readers to understand the connections, which are vital for the stories mentioned in this particular book.
The story of Bess of Hardwick’s life begins at the height of the reign of the Tudor when Henry VIII is on the throne and ends with the beginning of the Stuarts Dynasty so Armitage does include the lives of the women who shaped these times. Armitage begins with how Henry VII and Henry VIII came to the throne, marching swiftly through the six wives of Henry VIII until reaching the reign of Henry VIII’s son King Edward VI. It is here where the pace of the book slows down a bit and we dive into the lives of the Grey family and how Bess of Hardwick knew them and how the family’s legacy came to an abrupt end with the execution of Lady Jane Grey. Armitage then explores the reigns of Mary I, Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots and how Bess of Hardwick connects all three vivacious women.
Here is where I have another problem with this particular book; it is too short (less than 300 pages) when discussing all the history that Armitage has in it. Some parts felt like a review and other parts felt like facts were flying and she didn’t go into enough detail to explain it all. I feel like Armitage was a bit ambitious for the idea of this book and that if she wrote a bit more, the book would have flowed a lot better than it did.
Overall, I found this book rather interesting and relatively easy to understand. Armitage has a writing style that is readable. This is a great book for those who are being introduced to the Tudor dynasty, but for those who know about this time period, it feels like a review. If you are interested in learning about the connection between these five women, I recommend you read, “Four Queens and a Countess: Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Lady Jane Grey and Bess of Hardwick: The Struggle for the Crown” by Jill Armitage.