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Bess of Hardwick was said to be one of England’s wealthiest women of her time, perhaps second only to Queen Elizabeth I. Do we know how wealthy she was? How does her wealth compare to the richest people of our time?

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There does appear to be some calculation of the income her wealth was bringing in, which is one way you often see wealth measured these days (presumably because its easier for the rest of us wage slaves to wrap our brains around).

It may be tough get a more direct measure than that, because if you start trying to do something like calculate today's value of the UK real-estate she held back then, you're going to run into the issue that its considerably inflated now due to the fact that much of those areas are now housing considerably more people than they were then. Plus, the way the economy worked and land was used at the dawn of the Renaissance isn't really comparable to how it is used today.

So looking at the income her property actually generated for her may really be the best way to measure her wealth in a way that can be compared to modern people.

Wikipedia reports Bess of Hardwick's income (during her third marriage) as "£60,000, equivalent to £19,000,000 in 2019".

The Sunday Times reported Queen Elisabeth's net worth at about £365m, up about £15m from 2020, but down about £21m from 2019. Bess' income from one year appears to have been worth about 5% of QEII's total wealth in today's money. Which likely means the value of her assets was in QEII's ballpark. Perhaps a bit higher*

Still, QEII's wealth barely gets her into the top 250 in the UK, and is peanuts compared to some of the world's top wealth. Bill Gates is said by some to earn about $9.8m a day.


* - If we could magically convert all of the Queen's assets into S&P 500 shares, that much would have made her about 2ish% a year over inflation for the last few years, which would work out to £7.3 million a year. A dumb federally-insured savings account would give her about half that.

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  • That's a good approach, but I suspect it underestimates her impact. I wonder how she compares with contemporaries who were in the money economy? (I.e., we don't compare against poor farmers, but against, say, middling merchants or craftsmen.) Or as a percentage of GDP?
    – Mark Olson
    Aug 16 '21 at 23:41
  • @MarkOlson - The question didn't ask for that, but I think you have a point that perhaps it should have.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 17 '21 at 2:19
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    You should also notice that in those times there was much less wealth than today. Economy was simply smaller. So Bess could have been among top 10 in England.
    – rs.29
    Aug 17 '21 at 5:52
  • @rs.29 - You're right. I could think of some good reasons why she may well have been. However, I could also think of reasons why she might not have been. Its really tough to tell at this remove. Perhaps some enterprising PhD student could do a dissertation on the "NotForbes 500 of 1500's England."
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 17 '21 at 12:36
  • 2% a year? Methinks her majesty is being scammed by her financial advisors. I've been getting 13-16% over the last decade or so, in mostly index funds.
    – jamesqf
    Aug 17 '21 at 16:25

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