Thanks to Pen and Sword Books for a copy of this to review.
This is a very different take on the Mary Queen of Scots story. Starting really when she escaped Scotland into England in 1568 after being deposed in favour of her son, James, Mary’s nineteen years of captivity in England are told in detail through the people who were responsible for her under the eye of their queen, Elizabeth I.
The book is obviously well-researched with plenty of quotes incorporated into the text, and pop culture references to the likes of the film ‘Mary Queen of Scots’, and by the authors Jean Plaidy and Philippa Gregory. However, many of the contemporary quotes seem to come from secondary sources rather than the originals. This doesn’t detract when reading it, however.
Different chapters cover Mary’s time with different gaolers in different places, and both places and gaolers are described in some detail with how they came to be where they were.
There is an extensive bibliography, though largely of secondary sources, with plenty of information scattered through the book that I didn’t know before, especially about just how much she was moved around so that the places she lived in could be cleaned and freshened out for her return.
One of my bug bears with this book, however, is that there is no bibliography. I like to be able to dip in and out of books if I’m looking for particular information and I find I cannot necessarily do that with this book, despite it being written in chronological order – for instance, looking for the Ridolfi and Throckmorton Plots are within the longest chapter in the book.
Mickey Mayhew’s book offers a lot to research on Mary Queen of Scots and her period of captivity in England, where focus is usually on her marriages, the Casket letters, the disasters of her queenship, and her execution. The focus of her captivity is usually the rebellions against Elizabeth I, but this book examines it in a more domestic light, which I’ve never seen before. It’s fascinating.
Mary’s Path to Imprisonment
Sir Francis Knollys
‘Keeping Mary’ – the North of England
The Earl of Shrewsbury and Bess of Hardwick
‘Keeping Mary’ – Coventry
‘Keeping Mary’ – the Sheffield slog
‘Killing Mary’ – Chartley, Tixall and Fotheringhay
I have visited Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire for the first time this week, and wow, what a place. Even though I’ve seen pictures of the hall, they don’t do justice to the sheer amount of glass. In the sixteenth century that must have been incredible to anyone who saw it!
I also hadn’t realised that Bess of Hardwick had died at the grand old age of around 80, though her exact date of birth is unknown c.1527. She was a fascinating woman in her own right, marrying four times, and rising from a minor gentry family to become a countess and a powerful woman. Bess was born at the Old Hall, then a small manor house, close by the current Hall, though she later decided to renovate and then build a new Hardwick, which is what survives today.
Bess’s first husband was Robert Barlow who died around 1544, her second was Sir William Cavendish, her third was William St Loe, and her fourth was George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. When Bess was married to William Cavendish they gained the land including the manor of Chatsworth. It would take decades to build this house.
Bess of Hardwick remodelled Hardwick Old Hall, where she was born, in the 1580s. She had married the Earl of Shrewsbury in 1568. But they were given the duty of guarding Mary Queen of Scots when she arrived in England, and this would ruin their marriage. In summer 1584 Shrewsbury forced Bess out of her home at Chatsworth and this is when she decided to renovate Hardwick. She was barred from many of Shrewsbury’s houses, so retreated to her own home. She had to buy Hardwick when her brother, James, died bankrupt in the Fleet prison.
To Hardwick Old Hall Bess added two additional wings. The house was occupied by Bess, her son, William, and his family, and her grand-daughter, Arbella Stuart. Arbella was the granddaughter of Margaret Douglas, who was the granddaughter of Henry VII. As such, she was considered a potential heir to Elizabeth I.
As the renovations to Hardwick Old Hall reached completion Bess of Hardwick began to build the Hardwick Hall we see today, beginning work just as her husband, George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, died in November 1590. The turrets at Hardwick have Bess’s initials ‘ES’ for ‘Elizabeth Shrewsbury’ emblazoned in stone atop them, and her arms in stone sit above the entrance. The house is full of beautiful furniture and tapestries which give a sense of the grandeur you would have been met with if you visited at the end of the sixteenth or beginning of the seventeenth centuries.
Bess liked symmetry, as seen at Hardwick with the sheer amount of glass and the turrets. Bess of Hardwick certainly knew the master mason, Robert Smythson, though it is unsure exactly how much input he had in the building of Hardwick Hall. Possibly he provided some ideas or plans while Bess and her team did the rest. This would explain a payment made to him in 1597. Materials for the house were locally sourced, as was the labour. The new Hardwick Hall took around seven years to build with the foundations and cellars being dug in 1590 with the ground floor built in 1591, the family floor the following year, and he second floor in 1593. The roof and turrets were built in 1594. Paving and glazing were completed in 1597 and Bess moved in that year. We know this from her own accounts.
There is a room at Hardwick which is a bit of a legend, called the Mary Queen of Scots room. Many people assume that, because Bess of Hardwick and her husband were the gaolers of Mary Queen of Scots that she must have been in residence here, but Hardwick Hall wasn’t even started until after Mary’s execution in 1587, so she cannot ever have been in residence. The guidebook to Hardwick Hall suggests that the Mary Queen of Scots Chamber was furnished to feed the myth that she was there. Now Mary’s arms are over the door, though this would have just been a chamber within the bedchamber in Bess of Hardwick’s day.
For those who are Harry Potter fans, as I am, Hardwick Hall was used as the basis for Malfoy Manor in the films. They only filmed using the outside of the house, but the inside was used as inspiration for the sets created for the actors to film on.
If you want to visit Hardwick Hall, it is a National Trust property, though the Old Hall is looked after by English Heritage.
If you want to visit, check the National Trust website for up-to-date information, though it is open daily, depending on conservation work happening. It is free if you are a National Trust member, otherwise an adult ticket is priced at £16 and a child at £8 though there are also family and group booking options.
Bess describes George and herself as newlyweds happy and in love. On page 2, she says, “Only my newly wedded husband is so dotingly fond of me that he is safe under the same roof as such a temptress.” What is it that first makes Bess uneasy about her husband’s feelings towards Queen Mary?
I think it is the fact that Mary is so unusual and attractive. Bess of Hardwick was unusual but Mary was in a different league. I think it is the time that Shrewsbury spends talking to Mary that makes Bess uneasy. I think she wonders whether Mary is converting her husband to Catholicism and rebellion against the queen, which would threaten her own position. Shrewsbury turns into more than Mary’s captor; he becomes a kind of friend and protector.
Authors often challenge themselves by writing from the point of view of characters of the opposite sex. Do you think Gregory does a convincing job of creating her main male character, George Talbot? Do you think he is more or less realistic than the women in this novel, such as his wife, Bess, or Queens Mary and Elizabeth?
I think George is quite a weak character. Bess comes across more strongly in my opinion. Possibly it is difficult for a modern female to get into the mind-set of a medieval man. I don’t think he is entirely realistic, as I don’t believe that Shrewsbury was, in reality, so easily taken in by Mary, otherwise he would doubtless have been removed as her gaoler. I think Bess and Mary come across the most strongly as the story revolves most obviously around those two. Elizabeth is a background character but you can still sense her presence and influence across the events of the novel. Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘The Other Queen’ by Philippa Gregory”→
Bradgate House = Bradgate House is now a ruin, but it was home to the Grey family, descended from the first son of Elizabeth Woodville by her first husband. Lady Jane Grey and her sisters, Katherine and Mary, grew up here. The Grey family lived here for two hundred year until 1739, but a newer house, also in ruins, now stands nearby to the original ruins. More of the Tudor chapel and tower stand now than of the house itself.
Burghley House = Burghley House was built by William Cecil, Lord Burghley. He was the most trusted councillor of Elizabeth I, and very focused on trying to catch Mary Queen of Scots in conducting treason. Burghley’s changes to the house took from 1555 to 1587, but little of the Tudor inside now remains. Burghley House is the only one of Cecil’s many properties still standing today, though it has been much changed. Continue reading “Potted History of Tudor Homes”→