Material relating to the marital dispute between Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury [Bess of Hardwick] and George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury

Scope and Content

DF38/1-2 are two pieces of correspondence, the first by the earl to the countess wishing her better health; the latter a letter from Bess to Sir Thomas Cornwallis in relation to marriage arrangements between Bess's son, Charles Cavendish, and Kitson's daughter, Margaret.

DF38/3-7 is correspondence from various parties involved in the Shrewburys' marital dispute including the earl and countess of Shrewsbury, Queen Elizabeth I and Francis Walsingham. DF38/8 is a collection of five pieces of Shrewsbury's notes relating to the case, including memoranda and draft letters for the Queen.

DF38/9 is a letter from Grace Cavendish (wife of Henry Cavendish) to Bess' lady in waiting Mrs Elizabeth Digby.

Administrative / Biographical History

On 1 November 1567 Elizabeth St. Loe (nee Hardwick) married, as her fourth husband George Talbot, sixth earl of Shrewsbury (c. 1522-1590), one of the richest and most powerful men in the north of England. At the time of their marriage Shrewsbury's property included the castles of Tutbury, Pontefract, and Sheffield, as well as a manor house at Sheffield and a lodge at Handsworth, hunting lodges at Tutbury and Worksop, and the converted monastic buildings at Rufford Abbey. Shrewsbury's union with Bess, which brought together two great fortunes, was cemented - at Bess's insistence - by the arranged marriages of four of their children: Gilbert Talbot, who became the seventh earl, wed Bess's daughter Mary, and Bess's eldest son, Henry Cavendish, wed Shrewsbury's daughter Grace.

In 1568 the Queen designated Shrewsbury the keeper of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the following year he and Bess received the Catholic queen at Tutbury. Mary remained in Talbot's custody until 1584, during which period she was moved on numerous occasions between Shrewsbury's various properties.

During the period of the Scottish queen's captivity, relations between the earl and countess steadily deteriorated. Bess repeatedly accused her husband of infidelities, including a probably unfounded charge that he had been intimate with Mary, Queen of Scots. (This allegation may well have been designed primarily to damage Mary, with whom Bess - despite an initial period of friendship - had fallen out.) The earl, whose debts were mounting as a result of the expenses incurred as gaoler to the Scottish queen, chafed at the amount of time and money Bess devoted to the renovations at Chatsworth. In 1584 Bess separated from her husband and retired to Chatsworth.

At the time of their separation Shrewsbury attempted to claim Chatsworth as his under the terms of their marriage settlement. A legal battle ensued, which was finally resolved in 1587 when the courts awarded Bess both Chatsworth and a sizeable income from her husband.

Edited extract from Elizabeth Goldring, 'Talbot [née Hardwick], Elizabeth [Bess] [called Bess of Hardwick], countess of Shrewsbury, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).


Arranged chronologically.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for consultation. Access to the archive at Chatsworth is by appointment only. For more information please visit the website.

Acquisition Information

DF38/1, 3-8 were purchased from a Sotheby's sale in December 1981. There is no further information about the provenance of these letters in the sale catalogue.

DF38/2 was purchased by J Lees Milne as a gift for the Devonshire family, and DF38/9 was purchased from a third party in 1990.

Although not a true archival collection, DF38/2 and 9 had been placed together with DF38/1, and 3-8, in the 1990s, and when this this group was catalogued in 2017 it was decided to keep this correspondence by/relating to the Shrewsburys in one place.

Other Finding Aids

An item-level catalogue of the collection in PDF format can be found on the Chatsworth website.

Conditions Governing Use

Copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study and personal research purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

Much of the material remains in the copyright of Chatsworth House Trust, but some is also subject to third-party copyright. It is the responsibility of researchers to obtain permission both from Chatsworth House Trust, and from the any other rights holders before reproducing material for purposes other than research or private study.

Custodial History

All material in this collection was purchased, information about its whereabouts prior to its purchase is unknown.

Related Material

See Hardwick Manuscripts (GB 2495 HM) for various early Cavendish household accounts from the 16th and 17th centuries; Hardwick Manuscripts Additional (GB 2495 HM/ADD) for legal material relating to Bess' and her children's marriages; and some further correspondence of Bess survives at Chatsworth in the Hardwick Drawers Collection (see specifically GB 2495 H/143).


All of Bess of Hardwick's correspondence has been transcribed and published online: see Bess of Hardwick's Letters: The Complete Correspondence c.1550-1908.