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December 2011
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By John Andrews

Now that December is upon us, decisions have to be made as to how to spend the holiday period profitably, perhaps with a good book and tucked in a corner insulated from all the bad news around us.

I strongly recommend that you consider Bess of Hardwick, First Lady of Chatsworth, written by Mary Lovell and now published in paperback by Abacus, as your Christmas holiday read as I do not think you will be in any way disappointed.

Bess of Hardwick was born into a turbulent period of England’s history. Widowed for the first time at 16, she outlived four monarchs, married three more times and died one of the wealthiest and most powerful women the country has ever seen.

Mary Lovell is of course well known for her best-selling biography of the Mitford sisters. However in this biography Lovell shows us a self-made woman as an anomaly of the Tudor period, where two Queens of England could be put aside and two executed on the flimsiest of excuses, and yet Bess, as a determined woman, survives, making her fortune, achieving power and leaving her legacy by sheer force of will.

One feature of Lovell’s excellent and painstaking research reveals the hitherto unrecognised extent of Bess’s generosity towards her family, friends and the poor of England. We are also treated to Bess as a builder of great houses – Chatsworth, Hardwick, Oldcotes – and also as a dynast, for through her children she founded the Dukedoms of Devonshire, Portland and Newcastle, and the Barons of Waterpark. There is probably no aristocratic family in England, including the present monarchy, which does not contain some of her DNA.

Give this super read a go over Christmas and you will be enthralled as the story unravels, for it is as exciting and informative as any I have read this year, to such an extent that one doesn’t want the subject to die and the story to end, even after 479 pages.

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