Hardwick Hall dates from the year 1590 and adjoins the site of an even more princely structure. It owes its origin to the famous Elizabeth Hardwick, whose building activities were abnormal, partly because, so runs the legend, it was predicted that she would never die until she ceased to build ; which prophecy was fulfilled, for her last day came at the time of a frost so severe that her labourers had to suspend operations.
Bess of Hardwick survived four husbands Robert Barley, Sir William Cavendish, Sir William St. Loe, and the Earl of Shrewsbury, who was custodian of Mary Queen of Scots.
The history of her descendants is even longer than her own. She accumulated vast wealth and spent on building much of her annual income of £6o,ooo, possibly for the reason that she believed in the prophecy concerning herself. A woman of extraordinary energy and accomplishments, she was responsible for the erection of Hardwick, Chatsworth, Oldcotes, and other places. Everyone knows the old saying, “Hardwick Hall, More glass than wall,” which was applied to the first-named building tor obvious reasons. In those Elizabethan days there was a growing desire to dissipate gloom and to reverse the old practice of building mainly for strength.
If Bess of Hardwick exaggerated the advantage of window space at Hardwick Hall and gave it somewhat the appearance of a modern steel-framed structure, she provided us with compensations in the same house, for the state apartment, a corner of which is shown in the illustration by Lake Price (Plate XXV), possesses great beauty in conception. It is 65 feet long, about 30 feet wide, and 26 feet high. The state bed included in the drawing came from Chatsworth.
Bess of Hardwick
Hardwick Hall — Decorative Plastering — Panelled Decoration
Hardwick Hall, “more window than wall,” as the old rhyme has it — a very lantern of a house — was begun in 1590 by Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury, a masterful woman, known familiarly as “Bess of Hardwick.” She was born in 1520, the daughter of a country squire at Hardwick, but the wealth she accumulated from her three first marriages enabled her to enlarge her modest paternal home into a great house after her fourth marriage with George Talbot the Sixth Earl of Shrewsbury, to whose custody Elizabeth had committed Mary Queen of Scotland.
The old Hall
This house — the old Hall — now in ruins, was begun about 1584 and work was still being done on it as late as 1595, when the new Hall, not much more than a stone’s- throw away, was nearly finished. The ruins contain many interesting over-mantels in plaster, excellently modelled.
Mary Queen of Scots at Hardwick
It is doubtful whether Mary was ever at Hardwick; but tradition has it that she was there, and at all events her coming was prepared for, if it is true that the fittings of what is called Queen Mary’s room in the new Hall were brought from the old one.
The new Hall. The Earl of Shrewsbury, d. 1590.
The new Hall (Plate XXI) was not begun till 1590 three years after Mary’s execution, when the death of the Earl, the Countess’s fourth husband, removed all restraint on her extravagance. He had found it impossible to live with her, and though the Bishop of Coventry wrote to him deploring the separation, he admits that “Some may say in yo’ Lo’ behalf that the Countesse is a sharpe bitter shrewe, and therefore lieke enough to shorten yo’ lief if shee should keepe you company In deede, my good I have heard some say so.”
The countess outlived her fourth husband seventeen years, and died in 1607. She lies under a sumptuous tomb which she had erected in her lifetime in Trinity Church, Derby.
The new Hall
The new Hall is a compact symmetrical building, contrasting with the old Hall which was irregular. It is not plan built round a court, but is a solid block, two rooms in depth, divided by an axial wall, and there are six towers, two on each face, and one at each end. The space between the two lateral towers on each face is filled with a colonnaded Loggia. A hall rising through the ground and first-floor storeys divides the building from front to back in the middle, and the state rooms occupy the second floor above, the whole of one side being devoted to a great gallery. The plan is a new departure from the typical courtyard Novelty of house of John Thorpe and his school.
Queen Mary’s, ROOM
The Hall seems to have been ready for occupation by the Countess in 1597 It remains very much as she left it. The floors are of beaten plaster on wooden joists; the chambers and even the staircases are hung with splendid tapestries, and much original furniture remains.
The bedroom called Queen Mary’s, is lined with the panelling brought from the old Hall, and occupies the area of one of the towers on the second floor, among the state rooms. In the earlier days of her captivity she was treated with royal ceremony. She had her throne and canopy even after her removal to Fotheringay, for after her condemnation Paulet was ordered to remove it and no longer to treat her as a sovereign.
Her bedroom panelling at Hardwick (Plate XXIII) is handsomely finished and decorated with painting and gilding: over the door are the royal arms of Scotland with supporters and the motto in my DEFENS, while round the border of the arch runs the legend MARIE • STEWART • PAR • LA • GRACE • DE • DIEV • ROYNE • DECOSSE • DOVARIERRE • DE • FRANCE
Second half of 16th century. Panel of canvas, embroidered with coloured silks in tent stitch of two sizes. There is a narrow velvet border, embroidered with couched tinsel. The central medallion shows two frog’s on a well-head and has the monogram of Mary, Queen of Scots, who worked the panel. (In the possession of the Duke of Devonshire, K.G.)
The panelling is of oak, the styles are stained black, and the panels, where not covered with devices, are left of their natural colour. The arabesques are painted in black, the colour very thin not hiding the grain of the wood. The arabesques painted on the door bear the date 1599, showing that fresh work had been put on the wood after its removal from its original place in the older building.
Similar decoration by painted arabesque occurs on the door of the state bedroom ( Plate XXII). It takes the place of Italian intarsia, such as that at Urbino, and I have not seen it in any other building. On the second floor the whole of the east side is given to the great gallery which runs from end to end of the house.
Nearly half of the west side is occupied by a fine room, known as the Presence Chamber, till lately furnished with throne and canopy, perhaps in anticipation of a visit from Queen Elizabeth.
There is a good chimney-piece of alabaster and coloured marble, probably by Accres, or Akers, the marble mason. The walls are hung with fine tapestry illustrating the adventures and return of Ulysses. *)
But above is a system of decoration, very remarkable and indeed unique; a plaster frieze at least 9 or 10 feet high, well modelled with forest scenes, hunting parties of men and dogs, deer, boars and game of all sorts, in high relief and painted in colour (Plate XXIV). I doubt if there is anything of the kind comparable to it elsewhere.
*) These tapestries are of Flemish make. Two of them have B for Brussels in the border, and the cypher of the maker Andreas van Dries.
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- Old English mansions depicted by C. J. Richardson, J. D. Harding, Joseph Nash, H. Shaw & others; by Charles Holme (1848-1923). London, New York : “The Studio” ltd. 1915.
- The mansions of England in the olden time by Joseph Nash (1809-1878). New York: B. Hessling Co., 1912.
- Art in England during the Elizabethan and Stuart periods by Aymer Vallance, Charles Holme, Malcolm C. Salaman. Offices of the Studio, 1908.
- A Book of old embroidery by Albert Frank Kendrick (1872-1954) and Charles Geoffrey Holme (1887-1954). London; New York: “The Studio”, 1921.
A valuable sourcebook for costume designers, dressmakers and those involved in historical reenactments, this book contains all the information you need to create authentic clothes from the Tudor period.