Amazon link for the book is here.
“Venus in Winter” begins as Bess, age 12, faces an uncertain future on her widowed mother’s farm in Derbyshire. Her brother is not yet old enough to inherit his late father’s estate, her stepfather has been thrown into debtor’s jail, and her mother is struggling to feed her children and maintain the farm. To ensure Bess a good start in life, her mother sends her first to the household of Lady Zouche and then to the household of Frances, Marchioness of Dorset and niece of Henry VIII. And so begins Bess’s meteoric rise through 16th century society. By her marriage to Sir William Cavendish, Bess amasses a great fortune, builds a great house at Chatsworth, and two of her eight Cavendish children go on to found the lines of the Dukes of Devonshire and Dukes of Newcastle. Her marriage to William St. Loe brings her into high society with a position of lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth I, who views Bess as a close and trusted confidant. Widowed again, Bess pursues a fourth marriage to George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury and future jailor of Mary, Queens of Scots.
Throughout her lifetime, Bess experienced the highs and lows of the Tudor court from a front row seat. Friend of both Cat Howard and Jane Gray, Bess lives through the turbulent reigns of Henry VIII, Mary I, Edward IV, and Elizabeth I, and comes into contact with some of the most powerful and wealthy individuals of her time including Edward Seymour, Robert Dudley, and William Cecil, to name but a few.
Bagwell humanizes Bess and tells her story faithfully. Sometimes belittled as a miser and social climber, Bagwell’s portrait of Bess portrays her as a scared child, a naive young woman, a wife, and a mother. A thorough look at Bess from childhood onward, my only complaint is that this novel stops just before Bess marries George Talbot and witnesses the captivity and execution of Mary Queen of Scots. I realize that telling Bess’s entire tale would make the book much, much longer, but it was disappointing to stop midway through her life. I hope Bagwell continues Bess’s tale. This is truly a “rags to riches” story, but unlike many, this is a real one, which makes it all the better. An excellent read!