Plan a Visit to Hardwick Hall and Meet Tudor Celeb Bess of Hardwick

  • 01 of 05

    "Hardwick Hall, More Glass Than Wall"

    View of Hardwick Hall
    NTPL/Mike Williams

    Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, one of the UK's most complete Tudor houses, became famous almost as soon as it was built more than 400 years ago. The rhyming couplet, "Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall" was the way locals expressed their awe at the huge windows and lacy construction of a house that people said looked, when lit up at night, like a lantern on a hill.

    The Extravagant Bess of Hardwick

    The house was the extravagant project of Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury, known as Bess of Hardwick. After Queen Elizabeth I, she was the wealthiest and most powerful woman of the Elizabethan Age. She wasn't shy about showing off either. Click on the photo above, to enlarge it, and you will see her monogram "ES" worked in stonework lace along the top of Hardwick Hall. Throughout Hardwick Hall, there are examples of that monogram, carved in stone and wood and worked into the many embroideries and tapestries for which the house is famous. According to the stories, every servant at Hardwick Hall, both men and women, had to spend part of their time stitching the elaborate hangings that now make up Europe's finest collection of 16th and 17th century embroideries.

    Today the house is as she left it, having been maintained by her descendants, the Dukes of Devonshire, for hundreds of years until given to the National Trust.

    Hardwick Hall is surrounded by 500 acres of parkland and has walled courtyards enclosing herb gardens, orchards and lawns.
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  • 02 of 05

    Who Was Bess of Hardwick?

    Two Portraits of Bess of Hardwick
    Left ©NTPL/Angelo Hornak, Right ©NTPL/John Bethell

    After Queen Elizabeth I, Bess of Hardwick was the Alpha female of the Elizabethan age. Imagine a combination of Elizabeth Taylor, Madonna, and Julia Roberts - with a bit of Tina Turner and Hillary Clinton thrown in - and that about sums her up. Bess of Hardwick was a star.

    The daughter of an impoverished landowner, she married well and outlived all four of her husbands. She also lived through four reigning monarchs, reaching the grand old age of 80 - most unusual in Tudor times.

    A Teenage Bride

    Bess was in the service of a wealthy Derbyshire family when she met and married her first husband, Robert Barlow. She was 15 and he was only 13. Apparently he died before the marriage was consummated but, by law and custom, she was left a third of his property.

    She subsequently went on to marry wealthy landowner William Cavendish, (from whom the Dukes of Devonshire descend) and later Sir William St.Loe, who was captain of the guard to the Queen.

    Her last marriage, to the powerful George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, was not a happy one - she accused him of an affair with Mary Queen of Scots (he was her guardian) and he called her a shrew. But she outlived him by almost 20 years.

    Though each of her husbands was richer than the last, each of them must have benefited from Bess's canny head for business. In her own right, she was renowned as a moneylender, property dealer, investor in iron works, coal mines and glass works. She bought the famous pearls, in the portrait above right, by herself - one at a time.

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  • 03 of 05

    Was Best of Hardwick an Early Feminist?

    Embroidered Canopy at Hardwick Hall
    ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

    Healthy, flame haired and, by all reports, an attractive woman, Bess of Hardwick acquired the start of her fortune through her marriages. But she was a clever business woman and social climber who made friends in the Elizabethan court. It's very likely that she increased her husbands' wealth and position through her own efforts and advice.

    She was also an enthusiastic house builder and decorator. Together with her second husband, William Cavendish (from whom the Dukes of Devonshire descend), she built a house at Chatsworth (The present Chatsworth stands on its footprint). She also built Old Hardwick Hall around the house she had been born in.

    Visitors at Hardwick Hall marvel at the embroideries. Only some of Europe's finest collection of 16th and 17th century embroideries are shown, and then only for a few hours at a time (to protect them from fading). This most feminine of Elizabethan skills was practiced by all the servants at Hardwick Hall - men and women alike.

    A large and interesting series of embroideries, displayed in the entrance hall and elsewhere in the house, depicts heroines, goddesses, women of valor and virtues in female form. Could Bess of Hardwick have been a proto-feminist?
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  • 04 of 05

    Weddings at Hardwick Hall - Getting Married in Derbyshire

    The Great Hall at Hardwick Hall
    ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

    It seems only fitting that the last home of the much married Bess of Hardwick is a glamorous place to hold a wedding.

    The Entrance Hall at Hardwick Hall, pictured here, is licenced for civil ceremonies.

    • The room, with its carved fireplace and Hardwick coat of arms, can accommodate a wedding party of up to 70 people, amid the fabulous Elizabethan tapestries.
    • Weddings can be held at Hardwick Hall on Fridays between April and October, and Saturdays and Sundays at selected times.
    • The National Trust, owners of the house, allow wedding photographs to be taken in the Entrance Hall and several other rooms as well as the gardens and parkland.
    • Facilities are available for drinks or fully-catered receptions.
    • Accommodation can be arranged in holiday cottages near the Hardwick estate.

    For More Information About Weddings at Hardwick Hall

    Find out more about getting married in the United Kingdom

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  • 05 of 05

    Essential Information for Visiting Hardwick Hall

    • What: Home of Bess of Hardwick, one of the richest and most powerful women of the Elizabethan Age. Hardwick Hall is one of the most complete examples of a great Tudor house in Britain.
    • Where:Hardwick Hall,Doe Lea,Chesterfield,Derbyshire S44 5QJ, England
    • Telephone:+44 (0)1246 850430
    • Open:
      • The Hall - March 1 to November 2, noon to 4:30p.m., Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays only.
        December 6 to 21, Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 4:30p.m.
      • The Garden - March 1 to November 2, 11a.m. to 5:30p.m. Wednesday through Sunday
        December 6 to 21, 11a.m. to 5:30p.m. Saturday and Sunday
      • The Parkland - Every day, all year, 8a.m. to 6p.m.
    • Admission:Adult - £9.50, Child - £4.75, Family - £23.75. There is a slightly higher joint admission for the old and new halls.
    • Visit their website

    How to Get to Hardwick Hall

    Visit Hardwick Hall with the Great British Heritage Pass