Elizabeth (Bess) Hardwick’s story is the tale of a tenacious social climber. When she married her first husband, she had an income of £20 per year. By the time she had survived four different monarchs and outlived four different husbands, she was earning £10,000 per year from her estates. She ended her days during the reign or Elizabeth I, with the title Countess of Shrewsbury, but she was known as “Bess of Hardwick” – thanks to this impressive house.
The lady herself:
Bess played the political game well at court, but with the passing of each husband she had to fight for the right to inherit their property. Hardwick wasn’t her only accomplishment though – she was also responsible for the creation of nearby Chatsworth House.
Hardwick Hall is thought of nowadays as a testament to Bess’ ambition for power and her status. Its ownership passed to the government in the 1950s when its owners could not meet the bill for inheritance tax, and thereafter it was given to the National Trust to be maintained for the nation. However the National Trust have worked in partnership with the V&A to maintain the extensive collection of ancient and rare tapestries housed at Hardwick.
Due to the need to conserve these tapestries, there’s very little daylight permitted in the majority of the rooms, but if you can look beyond the gloom (and fix your pictures in Photoshop) then you’ll find some pretty opulent furnishings.
For me, as always, the real treasures were found outside, enjoying the benefit of the sun shining down on them.
The walled garden just outside the hall blooms in May.
Venturing further into the grounds there are fairytale pathways, carpeted on either side in Wild Garlic (if you can stand the smell – fortunately I love it!)
And of course some friendly locals to get acquainted with.