Hollie McNish

Hollie McNish photographed by Rachel Adamsfor the We are Bess exhibition at Hardwick

"I travel all across the UK meeting with parents who find it nearly impossible to juggle children and work and relationships and their own health and happiness. That Bess did what she did with eight children, six surviving, eight or more pregnancies, multiple husbands and national slander against her is quite a thing, especially in those days and even for a woman of perhaps wealthier means than most of us."

"That Bess did what she did with eight children is quite a thing." Hollie McNish
Poet Hollie McNish photographed by Rachel Adams for We are Bess at Hardwick
"That Bess did what she did with eight children is quite a thing." Hollie McNish

Hollie McNish is a poet, writer, and spoken-word artist. Hollie has published five books of poetry: Papers, Cherry Pie, Why I Ride, Nobody Told Me and Plum. Nobody Told Me won the 2016 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry, and is described by Alice O’Keeffe in The Guardian as “a scrappy, chaotic, heartfelt portrait of new motherhood”.

Hollie also organises poetry classes and workshops, mostly in schools and often for pupils who are struggling.

Juggling act 

Just like the women that Hollie meets, Bess had to juggle the many competing demands on her time and body.

She had at least eight known pregnancies, possibly one miscarriage, and gave birth eight times. She had a large household to look after, which included stepchildren, grandchildren and members of her wider family.

She managed large household finances across several estates, ensuring rents from tenants were collected and servants were paid. She even, on occasion, had to bail out her male relatives who were being chased for unpaid debts.

When the stakes were high, such as the public scandal surrounding her marriage to Shrewsbury, she boldly defended her honour and her property against her husband’s attacks. Bess thus learned to juggle the demands of sixteenth century women’s lives.

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

Next portrait 

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