History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
"Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall"
This rhyming couplet, though not literally true, does convey some of the awe felt by viewers of Bess of Hardwick's monumental creation, Hardwick Hall. Bess, more properly Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury, erected at Hardwick one of the most overpowering Elizabethan houses in the country, a testament to her ambition, power, and wealth.
Robert Smythson (also responsible for Longleat in Wiltshire) was the architect employed by the Countess to create her "statement" at Hardwick. Smythson began work in 1590 and the house was ready for Bess to move into in 1597. She remained at Hardwick until her death in 1608.
Bess of Hardwick
One of the most remarkable women of her age, Bess was born at the nearby Old Hall, little more than a yeoman farmer's daughter. She was married at the age of 14, widowed at 15, then married again to Sir William Cavendish.
She had 8 children with Sir William, but she was still just 30 when he died, so she married again, and again she was widowed. She was a wealthy woman, but she wanted not just wealth, but the status that came with high social rank. She married for a fourth time, to the Earl of Shrewsbury, then the richest man in England.
It was a marriage of ambition and convenience, but it was a disaster. The couple squabbled constantly, and their feuding became so bitter that Queen Elizabeth stepped in. Even the queen could not bring the warring couple together, however. The bickering was so bitter and so persistent that the word 'shrew', short for Shrewsbury, entered our vocabulary.
Bess of Hardwick retreated to her childhood home, what is now the Old Hall. In 1590 her husband died, and she began building a new showpiece home, commensurate with her status as the wealthiest woman in the realm barring the queen.
The most obvious statement of Bess's great wealth was her use of glass, at a time when even small windows were costly, Hardwick Hall is a magnificent statement of self-importance.
That self-importance continues in a series of ES initials (for Elizabeth of Shrewsbury) that seem to appear on every gateway, every parapet, every available surface! A visitor is left in no doubt whatsoever just who is responsible for building this grand and glorious house.
The house stands on a rise, dominating the surrounding countryside. Six projecting towers stand at the sides of the rectangular house. The walls are pierced by the huge multipaned windows that gave rise to the famous rhyme. Beside the forecourt stands the partial ruins of Hardwick Old Hall, Bess's first home.
The interior of Hardwick is unique among Elizabethan houses in that it has remained remarkably unchanged since it was first inhabited, and the contents are almost entirely original. The carved wooden furniture, elaborate plasterwork, and fabulous fireplaces are as Bess would have known them. There is a wonderful collection of late Elizabethan needlework.
The upper floors of the house are the most richly furnished; a great processional staircase leads to the High Great Chamber, with a painted frieze topping 16th-century tapestries on the wall. In a window alcove stands the intricately inlaid table made to celebrate Bess's marriage to the Earl of Shrewsbury. The Great High Chamber leads into the Long Gallery, lined with portraits of Tudor royals and Bess's family.
Hardwick Hall is one of England's great show homes, and it stands as a memorial to the power - and ego - of its remarkable founder.
HARDWICK OLD HALL
About Hardwick Hall
Address: Doe Lea, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England, S44 5QJ
Attraction Type: Historic House
Location: 6 m W Mansfield, off A 6175 and M1 (exit 29)
Website: Hardwick Hall
Phone: 01246 850 430
Fax: 01246 858 424
National Trust - see also: National Trust memberships (official website link)
OS: SK456 651
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest
Stainsby Mill - 1 miles (Historic Building)
Hardwick Old Hall - 1.1 miles (Historic Building)
Sutton Scarsdale Hall - 2.4 miles (Historic House)
Bolsover Castle - 3.6 miles (Castle)
Bolsover Cundy House - 3.7 miles (Historic Building)
Chesterfield, Crooked Spire Church - 5.8 miles (Historic Church)
Revolution House - 7.6 miles (Historic Building)
Wingfield Manor - 8.2 miles (Historic Building)
Nearest Accommodation to Hardwick Hall: