"The strength and power of a woman is undeniable but it is often erased, silenced and marginalised. Bess was bold, brilliant and brave in her determination to be independent and stand tall even as she navigated through the slander, disrespect and financial hardship in this patriarchal system. It is a reminder to me why I will always highlight and campaign to dismantle the systems which have consistently sought to undermine women who are black, working class and have any other form of oppression and discrimination which touches our lives … we are all Bess."
Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, also known as Lady Phyll, is a co-founder and executive director of UK Black Pride. She also works for Public and Commercial Services Trade Union as their Head of Equality & Learning. Constantly vocal on issues of race, gender, and sexuality, Phyll has proven herself to be a formidable voice in the fight for equality for queer people of colour. She has sat on the Trades Union Congress race relations committee and is currently trustee of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights charity, Stonewall. Phyll publicly refused an MBE in the 2016 New Year Honours.
Putting her neck on the line
Bess of Hardwick fought hard to defend her reputation as a loyal, faithful subject and wife at several points in her life. One tense moment occurred in 1574, following the marriage of Bess’s daughter Katherine with Charles Stuart, fifth earl of Lennox, who, as a descendant of Henry VII, had an undisputed claim to the throne of England. Charles stood relatively high in the line of succession to the English throne after the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots and her son James.
As Elizabeth had no heirs, the question of who would succeed her was a highly sensitive political topic. Elizabeth was furious when she found out that Charles Stuart had married in secret, which under the 1536 Act of Attainder was a treasonable act. Bess ran the risk of being accused of treason for matching her daughter to a claimant to the English throne, but also of implicating herself in a Catholic plot against the Protestant queen.
The stakes were extremely high for Bess, but she managed to escape without punishment thanks to the support of influential allies at court, including her fourth husband, George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, who persuaded the queen that Bess’s intentions were innocent.