We are Bess exhibition

We are Bess web banner

An exciting and innovative exhibition at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, 'We are Bess' retells the story of Bess's life through the prism of modern women. She may have lived 400 years ago, but Bess's experiences are akin with many women today.

In the late sixteenth century, Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury (aka Bess of Hardwick) became the second richest woman in the country after Elizabeth I. Along the way she experienced great loss and hardship - two children and four husbands died, at times she had massive debts and lawsuits against her, while her last, broken marriage became a national scandal. Yet, throughout history she was has been portrayed as greedy, overbearing, and controlling, a view that derives largely from comments made by the disinherited family of her third husband and those of her estranged fourth husband.

‘We are Bess’ is an exhibition featuring 20 modern women who have responded to Bess’s story and consider the similarities between the challenges she faced in the sixteenth century and their own experiences. 

Scroll down to view the exhibition online as well as find out more about how it came together. 

About the exhibition


We are Bess Introductory Film

This short film sets the context to the 'We are Bess' exhibition. Featuring Prof. Suzannah Lipscomb, Dr Nigel Wright and Dr Emma Turnbull. Please be aware that the film contains some adult themes.

Portraiture has been used for centuries to provide a representation of a person beyond their physical characteristics. Hanging in the Long Gallery at Hardwick are historic portraits of Bess's family as well as important and influential people of the day. And, now, the portraits of 20 modern women hang alongside.

The Portraits

We are Bess frame motif

Are you Bess?

Read what these women have to say, discover a new side to Bess and how there are parallels with her experiences for many of us