Akeela Ahmed MBE

Crop of Akeela Ahmed portrait for We are Bess by photographer Rachel Adams

"Like Bess, I know what it is like to have your name smeared. She had to campaign to make her own voice heard, and believed. I campaign to make the voices of everyday Muslim women and women of colour heard, and believed."

"I know what it is like to have your name smeared." Akeela Ahmed
Akeela Ahmed portrait photographed by Rachel Adams for the We are Bess exhibition at Hardwick Hall
"I know what it is like to have your name smeared." Akeela Ahmed

Akeela Ahmed is an equalities campaigner specialising in youth and gender issues. In 2014 Akeela founded She Speaks We Hear, an online platform bringing together women’s voices, unaltered and unadulterated. In 2017 she helped organise the Women’s March On London, held in response to the election and inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States. She received an MBE for services to Muslim women in 2018.

Malicious tongues

Bess of Hardwick had her name smeared several times during her lifetime.

During her house arrest in the Earl of Shrewsbury's care,  Mary, Queen of Scots, added to rumours that Bess was disloyal and unfaithful.

Bess’s own family members also railed against her: her stepdaughter Mary St Loe, who was deprived of her St Loe inheritance was involved in legal proceedings against Bess; her daughter Mary quarrelled with her for many years due to Bess’s entanglement in legal proceedings with her husband Gilbert; and her granddaughter Arbella Stuart, berated and resented Bess’s control over her.

It is striking that several of her relationships with her female relatives were bruised by Bess’s own efforts to protect her rights and secure herself financially. Yet Arbella was observed to be ‘ill at ease’ when she heard the news of her grandmother’s death, and Mary heavily mourned her mother’s passing. Bess’s relationships were complex, they ebbed and flowed, and that is what makes hers a fascinating human story. 

Portraits for We are Bess hang with the historic portraits in the Long Gallery at Hardwick

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See which other women have found a parallel with Bess's story