Family, Friends and Gifts: Bess of Hardwick’s Correspondents

For today’s post, I’ve chosen four letters written to Bess of Hardwick by female relatives and friends of varying ages and status, revisiting the themes of material culture and gift-giving in Magdalen Lloyd’s letters but in a very different social context. Food and textiles were particularly common gifts between early modern women. Moreover, gift-exchange was a key element in Tudor elite political patronage as well as social relationships, and receiving gifts well was just as important as giving them.

Lady Frances Pierrepont, Bess’s daughter sends Bess linen and a drinking glass [c.1575]


my most humble duty done vnto your honour with lyke desire of your blesinge vnto master pierrepont and me and our cheldren/ I haue sent vnto your honoure a peece of lawne and a drinckinge glasse as a remembrance of my intyre louynge dutie/ with most hartie wishe of manye happye newe yeares vnto your honoure then the wiche no yearthlye thinge can be more to my comforthe for I am soe muche and many wayse bounde vnto you as none can be more and so neare vnto you as none can be nearar that your longe and most happy lyfe is the graytest ioye in the wich I besecche the allmyghtye to grannte yow with all the rest of his best blessinges and so I humble tak my leue from holme thes wensdaye…

Elizabeth Wingfield, Bess’s half-sister, on gifts of clothing Bess sent to the queen [1576?]


my humbil duty remembred yow honour shall know that after my cousin wilame and my carefull toyll by reason of the shurt tyme we haue reped such recompence as could not dissire better furst her majesty neuer liked any thinge you gaue her so well the color and strange triminge of the garments with the reche and grat cost bestowed vpon yt hath caused her to geue out such good speches of my lord and yow ladyship as I neuer hard of better she toulde my lord of Lester and my lord chamberlen that you had geuen her such garments thys yere as she neuer had any so well lyked her/ and sayd that good nobell copell the show in al things what loue the bere me and surely my lord I wyll not be found unthankefull/ if my lord and yow ladyship had geuen v hundrd pound in my opennon yt would not haue bene so well taken/ and for yow other thinge my cousins william and charls wyll geue yow ladyship full aduertysment but surely in generall al was so well and thankefuly taken as ys posibell with master aturnoye and hys wyues most humbill duty/ and now I humbely pray yow honour that I may reseaue the rest of the money I haue received lli and haue promised payment for the rest with spede and so I beseche the almighty to make the rest of my very good lorde and yow ladyship’s yeres as prossorous as thys beginynge so with my humbill prayer to god for you and all yours I end with my humbill duty thys ij Ienouory…

Elizabeth Smyth, mother to a goddaughter of Bess, thanks Bess for a gift of a bowl with a cover (1578)


My moste honorabel good Lady; I thought it my duty to sende to geue your honor humbel thanckes; that it would please you to acseppte of parte of my lettel one, so that therby your honor hath bownde bothe me and myne; if it please god to blese her with liue; to do you seruise; For I haue allwayes founde your honor so lyke a Mother vnto my selfe; that it made me presume to geue your Ladyship parte of my Childe; I haue reseued frome master Hamond a Boule with a couer; for the whiche I moste humbely thancke your honor in my gerles behalfe; Thus moste humbely Crauinge pardon for this my bowldnes: and geueinge your honor humbel thanckes for all your fauors contenually bestowed apoune me; desiering no longer to liue then I shall by all meanes sycke to deserue the same besehinge your honor to remember my humbel duty to my Honorable Good Lord; I most humbely take my leaue: prainge to god for the increase of all honor and happynes to you bothe…

Arbella Stuart, Bess’s 12-year old granddaughter, sends Bess some strands of her hair and a pot of jelly (1588)

To the right honorable, my very good Lady, and Grandmother, the Countesse of Shrewsbury

Good Lady Grandmother, I haue sent your Ladyship, the endes of my heare which were cutt the sixt day of the moone, on saterday laste; & with them, a pott of Gelly, which my seruante made; I pray God you finde it good. My Aunte Cauendishe was heere on Monday laste, she certified me, of your Ladyships good health, & dispositione, which I pray God longe to continue. I am in good health, my Cousin Mary hath had three little fittes of an agew, butt now she is well, and mery. Thus with my humble duty vnto your Ladyship & humble thanckes for the token you sent me laste, and craueinge your dayly blessinge, I humbly Ceasse. Frome Eims, the .viii. of February. 1587

Your Ladyships humble, and obbediente childe
Arbella Steward

  • Letters from the website Bess of Hardwick’s Letters
  • EMLO also includes the correspondence, with a wider range of search options (including the facility to search by gender of correspondent).
  • Felicity Heal on The Power of Gifts in early modern England
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