The Right Reverend Libby Lane

The Right Reverend Libby Lane portrait photographed by Rachel Adams for the We are Bess exhibition at Hardwick Hall

"I know what it is to be the only woman in a man’s world. I was the first woman to be a bishop in the Church of England. I too have been called unwomanly. I have been derided for my appearance. I have been condescended to, belittled, dismissed. I have been accused of emasculating men, of being manipulative, scheming, self-serving, ambitious."

"But, even more, I have been encouraged, appreciated, supported and loved. I am grateful to thousands of women and men who struggled and prayed over centuries that women may be bishops. I am at peace that I am doing the right thing because it is God’s thing."

"I have been accused of emasculating men, of being manipulative, scheming, self-serving, ambitious." The Right Reverend Libby Lane
The Right Reverend Libby Lane portrait photographed by Rachel Adams for the We are Bess exhibition at Hardwick Hall
"I have been accused of emasculating men, of being manipulative, scheming, self-serving, ambitious." The Right Reverend Libby Lane

Bishop Libby grew up in Glossop, Derbyshire and came to a strong Christian faith in her pre-teens. After school in Manchester and university at St Peter’s College, Oxford, she trained for the Church of England ministry at Cranmer Hall in Durham. She was ordained in 1993, serving her curacy in Blackburn, Lancashire – though she was not eligible to become a bishop until 2014. Bishop Libby has also served as chaplain in a hospital, as Family Life Officer for the Committee for Social Responsibility, and in further education in the Diocese of York.

Policing feminity 

Like Bess, the Bishop Libby has been accused of being unwomanly. 

Bess of Hardwick was accused during her lifetime of being ambitious, domineering and unwomanly. When William St Loe died in 1565, leaving everything to Bess, the St Loe family accused Bess of exercising ‘undue influence’ on her husband. They claimed she had deliberately set out to seize the St Loe inheritance and divert it away from his blood family. It was thought to be ‘unnatural’ for a father to leave nothing to his children, and the will was contested in court on behalf of William’s eldest daughter Mary (Bess’s stepdaughter). Mary received a lot of sympathy and it was said that Bess had ‘cruelly robbed’ her of her rightful inheritance. This episode has contributed to a picture of Bess as greedy and ambitious, qualities that are often equated with unfeminine behaviour.
 

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