Elizabeth, countess of Shrewsbury (c.1522-1608), known as ‘Bess of Hardwick’, is one of Elizabethan England’s most famous figures. She is renowned as a matriarch and dynast and perhaps best known as the builder of Hardwick Hall and Chatsworth House. The story of her life as told to date typically emphasises her rise through the ranks of society, her four husbands, each wealthier than the last, and her ambitious aggrandisement of her family. Yet this biographical portrayal, which has been repeatedly told since the 17th century, takes little account of her more than 230 letters – most of which have not been considered by, or even accessible to, historians.
Dr Wiggins repositions Bess as a complex woman of her times, immersed in the literary and textual practices of everyday life as she weaves a web of correspondence that stretches from friends and family, to Queens and officers of states.
Dr Alison Wiggins is Senior Lecturer in English Language at the University of Glasgow, with interests in medieval and Renaissance language and literature. Since 2008 she has been directing the AHRC Letters of Bess of Hardwick Project, which will provide a freely accessible online edition of Bess’s correspondence. Her book Bess of Hardwick: Reading and Writing Renaissance Letters will be published by Ashgate in 2013. Her recent publications include The Romance of the Middle Ages (2012 Bodleian Library), co-authored with Nicholas Perkins.