This is definitely, as they used to say, Best of the Web:

Bess of Hardwick (c.1521/2-1608) is one of Elizabethan England’s most famous figures. She is renowned for her reputation as a dynast and indomitable matriarch and perhaps best known as the builder of great stately homes like the magnificent Hardwick Hall and Chatsworth House. The story of her life told to date typically emphasises her modest birth, her rise through the ranks of society, her four husbands, each of greater wealth than the last, and her ambitious aggrandisement of her family.
Bess’s letters bring to life her extraordinary story and allow us to eavesdrop on her world. The letters allow us to reposition Bess as a complex woman of her times, immersed in the literacy and textual practices of everyday life as she weaves a web of correspondence that stretches from servants, friends and family, to queens and officers of state.

What really makes it LH material is the Background section, which includes The Material Features of Early Modern Letters: A Reader’s Guide (“What did it mean to be handed a letter tied up with plum-coloured silk ribbon, or sealed with black wax? If a letter was written on a very large piece of paper, or was folded up very small, was your correspondent trying to tell you something?”), The Language of Early Modern Letters: A Reader’s Guide (“How do we read a letter that has no punctuation marks? How can we tell who is being sincere when so many early modern letters sound so fawning? How do we know if a servant has phrased a letter appropriately to a countess? How do we decipher early modern spelling?”), and Tutorial: Reading Early Modern Handwriting, inter alia. And a beautifully designed website to boot.


  1. All yesterday I was feeling sorry for this post because it was attracting no comments; just now I finally realized that though I had composed and saved it I had not actually published it. Blogging is hard.

  2. Trond Engen says

    I too feel sorry for your posts when they attract no comments, or when a thread I’m involved in dies out too soon. But I guess it’s coincidental; all those of your readers that might have something to add to the topic are too busy elselife to write something worthwhile.
    (I have nothing to say about the subject, except that it’s interesting and impressive.)

  3. marie-lucie says

    Trond: elselife, what a nice word! Is it a calque of Norwegian, or entirely your own creation?

  4. Trond Engen says

    I think I made it up now, but I may well be wrong.

  5. Thanks for this. An old family friend of ours recently wrote a couple of great, but very different books with long sections about Hardwick Hall and Bess, so I’ll just give them a plug here, if it’s ok. One is glossy and has lots of wonderful pictures while the cheap one is more autobiographical (he grew up at Hardwick during the war). They are both well worth reading even if you’re not specially interested in architecture. They both describe life in Elizabethan society, and Mark Girouard is an erudite writer – a scholar and a funny man.

  6. We visited both Chatsworth and Hardwick Hall a couple of weeks ago. Chatsworth is overwhelmingly large, we felt, and the tour was something of a marathon. Hardwick is smaller, and particularly interesting as a fairly untouched Tudor house, although some changes were made by the 6th Duke of Devonshire that no everyone (notably my wife) approves of. (We are up to the 12th Duke now).
    I have a problem with poor vision in low light, and modern conservation thinking is that the windows must be shrouded with dark, semi-transparent hangings to avoid too much light falling on the paintings, tapestries, etc. It makes such visits rather difficult for me, and clearly other people. The guides in Hardwick were equipped with small torches. If you expressed particular interest in a dimly lit painting, they would spotlight it with the torch for you for a few minutes …

  7. LH: In the Bess website, the letters are displayed in various ways, one of which is “Diplomatic version”, for which I can’t find any explanation. My guess is that it is the transcription with the line breaks as in the original letter, but if so, why “diplomatic” ?

  8. The American Heritage Dictionary defines this sense as “Being an exact copy of the original: a diplomatic edition“; it’s a different semantic development from the Greco-Latin diploma ‘folded paper, document.’

  9. Trond Engen says

    Spam, spam and spam: De essensielle kjøkkenutstyr ovenfor er brakt til la deg utføre matlaging oppgaven perfekt. Hvis du ønsker å bringe den perfekte måltider for familien din, må du ha de tingene ovenfor i kjøkkenet. Jeg oppfordrer denne typen praksis, spesielt for de studentene som ønsker å ta flere klasser, men kan bare ikke. Fungere for noen, hindrer skolen for andre, og tilgjengeligheten til de riktige klassene vanligvis fulltids studium.
    Hey, Norwegian spam! Well, auto-translated into Norwegian, but still!

  10. Posted by: nike free run 5 at May 17, 2013 05:17 AM
    Trond, do you think this is the reason why they’re producing norwegian spam?

  11. AJP – I second your comments on the worth of Mark Girouard, his Victorian Pubs is now 38 years old and has still not been bettered.

  12. Trond Engen says

    Hurra for søttende mai! What better way to celebrate National Day than by producing spam in barely readable Norwegian for an international audience?

  13. – Thanks, Martyn. I’m glad you agree; I remember Victorian Pubs. His daughter is coming out with a book in September about Portobello Road market, round the corner from which she & I both grew up, and I can’t wait to read it.

  14. Ja, vi elsker spam kommentarer!

  15. And then the cherry on top: auto-recoded from UTF-8 into bogus ISO 8859-1 (Latin-1, Windows-1252). Other things that happened on May 17. I particularly like how Aristides won the Kentucky Derby; sweet triumph at long last after that totally unfair ostracism he suffered. And perhaps it will become Marriage Equality Day some day, at least in the U.S.

  16. Trond Engen says

    La spamme: Pour l’huile chaude, ajoutez l’ail haché et faire revenir jusqu’à ce que parfumé, en faisant attention de ne pas brûler,cheap isabel marant; retirer l’ail et réservez. Ajouter ce numéro à votre apport calorique et envisager de couper les grains de votre alimentation tout à fait.
    That’s for the fourteenth of July

  17. Trond, what did you do today? I was awakened at about 6;30 by heavy-artillery fire coming from my neighbour’s garden, a salute of ten or so cannons that left my dog shaking. But it’s not a bad way to wake up, better than an alarm clock. After that my daughter went to Oslo in her red trousers and I took the goats for a walk on the Crown Price’s land. All the roads were closed around here this morning because of the children’s parade through Skaugum. My wife won’t let me use the lawnmower because it’s disrespectful.

  18. Crown Price? Buy-one-get-one-free Crown Prince.

  19. Trond Engen says

    I had a disrespectful lawnmower once. Had to put it out.
    Two parades for me. Luckily the weather took a surprisingly nice turn. First watching my daughter in the morning school parade, then marching with my scouts in the afternoon citizen’s parade. We dropped the games in the schoolyard after the first parade this year.
    I know that the school parade in Asker starts ridiculously early because they want to do it before the Crown Prince and his family leave for Oslo to wave to the parade there.

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