In this fabulous historical biography, Virginia Henley chronicles the life of an extraordinary woman, Bess of Hardwick. In a time where women had few rights and less education, Bess rose to power in Elizabeth Is court, triumphing over adversity with an unerring passion for life.

After being evicted from her home as a child, Bess vows to reclaim her estate. She knows that her stunning beauty, flame red hair and voluptuous body, as well as her intelligence, are weapons to be wisely used. Bess marries four times: first to childhood friend Robert Barlow, a sickly young man who dies after only two years of marriage, leaving Bess a virgin widow. She then weds William Rogue Cavandish, who has loved her for years. Theirs is a true and lasting passion until Williams death.

Bess uses her connections at court, even her friendship with the Queen, to claim the means to marry Lord St. Loe, but is later imprisoned by Elizabeth in the tower. Ultimately, she is freed and weds George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, finally attaining the wealth and ability to reclaim Hardwick.

Through Bess eyes we see the Tudor and Elizabethan world: all the color, intrigue, sensuality and lushness of a court filled with fascinating characters, made all the more intriguing as Ms. Henley turns historical figures into flesh-and-blood people of vast appetites, ambitions and great passion.

This is everything historical romance is supposed to be: entertaining, lusty, educational. SENSUAL (Mar., 400 pp., $6.00—Hardcover published August 1999)

Reviewed by: 
Kathe Robin