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Modern-day verdicts on life of Bess

Historian Prof Mary Beard is one of the modern women featured in the We Are Bess exhibition
Historian Prof Mary Beard is one of the modern women featured in the We Are Bess exhibition

The life of one of Tudor England’s most remarkable women, Bess of Hardwick, will be seen through the eyes of modern women at a new exhibition in Hardwick Hall, Chesterfield.

In the late 16th century, Bess became the second richest woman in the country after Elizabeth I. She lost two children and four husbands, had massive debts and lawsuits against her and her last, broken marriage became a national scandal.

The new exhibition about Bess of Hardwick at Hardwick Hall

The new exhibition about Bess of Hardwick at Hardwick Hall

She has been portrayed as greedy, overbearing, and controlling, a view that derives largely from comments made by the disinherited family of her third husband and those of her estranged fourth husband.

Now, for the exhibition, We are Bess, 16 women have looked at the similarities between the challenges she faced and their own experiences.

Participants include historian Professor Dame Mary Beard, period poverty teenage activist Amika George and broadcaster Cathy Newman.

The responses and portraits of each of the women, taken by award-winning photographer Rachel Adams, hang alongside original Tudor portraits.

We are Bess is part of the National Trust’s year-long programme of events called Women and Power, which marks the 100th anniversary of some women securing the right to vote.

The exhibition has been curated in collaboration with historian, author and broadcaster, Dr Suzannah Lipscomb, reader in history at the University of Roehampton.

Dr Lipscomb said: “Bess was an extraordinary woman in her age, but 400 years on we imagine the world to be a very different place. However the experiences highlighted by the women in our exhibition are remarkably similar to Bess’s. Modern women are encountering the same prejudices and challenges as she did.”

We are Bess runs to November 4. It will then reopen from February 16 to June 2.