Letter Written by Sir George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury to His Wife, Bess of Hardwick

Bess of Harwick, Countess of Shrewsbury

Bess of Harwick, Countess of Shrewsbury

In 1567, Mary Queen of Scots was forced to abdicate her throne to her infant son James. In 1568, after several attempts to regain the throne, Mary chose to flee Scotland and enter England, calling on Queen Elizabeth I for sanctuary and aid. Elizabeth had to make a decision on how to handle the situation, where Mary would live and who would be her guardian. Around Christmas of 1568, Sir George Talbot, a loyal servant of Elizabeth, wrote this letter to his wife, Bess of Hardwick. Bess was a formidable lady in the kingdom as well as lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth. Here’s George’s letter to Bess:

…God send me soon home to possess my greatest joy. If you think it is you, you are not deceived…I live in hope to be with you before you can answer…This present Monday in the morning, I [found] the Queen (Elizabeth) in the garden, at good leisure…With as good words as I could wish [she declared] that ere long I should well perceive that she did trust me as she did few. She would not tell me wherein, but I doubt [not] it was about the custody of the Scot’s Queen…I think before Sunday these matters will come to some pass, that we shall know how long our abode [here] shall be. But howsoever it falls out, I will not fail to be with you before Christmas, or else you shall come to me.

The plague is dispersed far abroad in London, so that the Queen keeps her Christmas here, and goes not to Greenwich as was meant. My Lady Cobham, your dear friend, wishes your presence here. She loves you well, I tell her I have cause to love you best…And as the pen writes so the heart thinks, that of all earthly joys that have happened to me, I thank God chiefest for you. For with you I have all the joy and content of mind, and without you death is more pleasant to me than life, if I thought I should be long from you.

And therefore, good wife, do as I will do; hope shortly for our meeting. Fare well my sweet None, from Hampton Court, this Monday at midnight, for it is every night so late before I go to my bead, being at play in the Privy Chamber…where I lost about a hundred pounds…your faithful husband till death.
G. Shrewsbury

George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury

George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury

There is so much going on in this letter. Bess and George had just recently married and its obvious George is in love with her. George has also been in contact with Bess’ best friend Lady Cobham who was missing her. George is very anxious to leave Hampton Court and come to Chatsworth to celebrate Christmas with Bess and their families. There was an outbreak of the plague which forced the Queen to change the venue of the court’s Christmas activities. And in a private glimpse into the Privy Chamber, George had been gambling late into the night and lost one hundred pounds!

Queen Elizabeth did in fact place Mary Queen of Scots in the custody of George Talbot and she arrived at Tutbury Castle, one of the Shrewsbury residences, in February of 1569. During her fifteen years of imprisonment under Sir George, she would live in many of Bess’ homes. The costs of Mary’s imprisonment were shifted to the Shrewsbury’s by Queen Elizabeth. Because of the presence of Mary, the expenses and resulting political tensions of the imprisonment, the marriage of George and Bess would eventually break down.

They lived together on and off until 1580 and even Queen Elizabeth tried to reconcile them. Shortly before Mary’s custody was transferred to Sir Amias Paulet, Bess and George broke up for good. Queen Mary may have aggravated the couple’s issues if not been responsible for the marriage’s disintegration by playing the two against each other. Mary Queen of Scots was executed in February of 1587 for conspiring to take Elizabeth’s throne. Sir George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury died in 1590. Bess of Hardwick became the Dowager Countess of Shrewsbury. She did not marry again and lived to cause some trouble with Queen Elizabeth. Bess died on February 13, 1608, well into the reign of Elizabeth’s successor, King James I, son of Mary Queen of Scots.

Further reading: “Bess of Hardwick~ Empire Builder” by Mary S. Lovell

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