The Cavendish connection

Although inscribed as a portrait of Queen Mary, this painting probably represents the young Elizabeth Hardwick. ©NTPL/Angelo Hornak

In response to the previous post the Columnist asked about the link between Hardwick Hall and Chatsworth House, the principal seat of the Duke of Devonshire. It all goes back to Elizabeth Hardwick, who built Hardwick Hall and who laid the foundations for no less than three Cavendish dukedoms.

The south front of Hardwick Hall, with Bess of Hardwick's initials along the roofline. ©NTPL/Robert Morris

Elizabeth came from a modest gentry family, but each of her four successive marriages carried her further up the social ladder. The initials on the ramparts of Hardwick stand for Elizabeth Countess of Shrewsbury, which she became through her fourth marriage, to the Earl of Shrewsbury.

Sir William Cavendish (1505?-1557). ©NTPL/Hawkley Studios

But the only one of her marriages to result in children was the second one,  to Sir William Cavendish. He was a government servant who had made his fortune under Henry VIII.

The second son from that marriage, William, is the ancestor of the Dukes of Devonshire, while from the third son, Charles, descended the Cavendishes, Dukes of Newcastle, and the Cavendish-Bentincks, Dukes of Portland.

The High Great Chamber at Hardwick. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

Bess of Hardwick, as she became known, built Hardwick Hall between 1590 and 1597. This was after her fourth husband’s death, when she had become one of the richest people in the country.  

She would dine in state in the High Great Chamber, almost like a queen. An extraordinary coloured plasterwork frieze runs along the walls with figures repsresenting Diana, Venus and Summer in a forest setting. The Brussels tapestries below depict the story of Ulysses.

Figure of Penelope in an embroidered hanging depicting famous historical and mythical heroines, created in the 1570s. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Bess particularly identified with Penelope, Ulysses’s long-suffering and ultimately triumphant wife, who appears in an embroidered hanging now in the Hall. Hardwick has one of the most important collections of embroidery created for and by one household.

A corner of the Long Gallery. ©NTPL/Nick Guttridge

The colours of the textiles at Hardwick are now mostly rather faded, which gives it a mellow beauty. But originally the colour schemes would have been bright, brash and glitzy, befitting a country girl who had ‘made it’. In spite of the passing of time, Bess’s personality is still very much in evidence at Hardwick.

14 Responses to “The Cavendish connection”

  1. littleaugury Says:

    Have been so fascinated by savvy Bess- here is a wonderful book Bess of Hardwick: First Lady of Chatsworth I read last summer. highly recommend to interested parties. the tapestries are perfect in that wonderful patina, though I can imagine them sparkling with the light of candles and being pretty fabulous.

  2. robert Says:

    I think your site and blog one of a handful of the most brilliant and fascinating. MANY thanks.
    My question pertains to the Cavendish Dukes of Devonshire. In the 18th & early 19th Century, among their many residences, was there not an additional domed Villa in the style of Palladio, similar to Mereworth, that was demolished decades ago to build a road? I struggle to recall and have had no luck in researching.
    Thank you.

    • robert - innatestyle Says:

      Thank you Emile. I had considered Lord Burlington’s Chiswick House, as well as Mereworth, but lovely and such great tributes to Palladio. My belief is that there was a third, similar domed villa that was demolished – and naturally I hope I’m incorrect on that part.

      Your blog is a revelation and fascinating; I’m eager for more at all times.
      Again, thank you.


  3. style court Says:

    Have the plasterwork and the amazing embroideries undergone much conservation work over the centuries? Or any?

  4. columnist Says:

    Thanks Emile. I knew a little about her, and her vast wealth, that rivalled that of the Queen. We drove past Hardwick once on our way back from the Yorkshire Dales to London, and stopped off to see, (the outside only was open), but it was impressive enough and her initials are special to me. The images of the interior must mean that we shall have to return. The are quite stunning.

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Gaye, Thanks for that book tip, very useful. And you are of course right to remind us of the intended light effects in such houses, at night, with candlelight glinting off metallic threads in tapestries and other shiny surfaces.

    Robert, great that you like the blog and thanks for your comment. Could it be Chiswick House that you are thinking of? That used to be owned by the Devonshire Cavendishes as well. It was built by the 3rd Earl of Burlington in 1729 and was instrumental in introducing the Palladian style in England. The 4th Duke of Devonshire married Lady Charlotte Boyle, Lord Burlington’s only daughter, and that was how the house came to the Cavendishes.

    The eldest son of the eldest son of the Duke of Devonshire is styled Earl of Burlington, another result of that inheritance. In the 1950s ownership of Chiswick House passed to the Government, and it is now managed by English Heritage.

    Courtney, yes although Hardwick looks untouched, a lot has gone on there over the centuries. The 5th and 6th Dukes did quite a bit of rearranging and restoring (about which I hope to do another post) and Duchess Evelyn, wife of the 9th Duke, did a huge amount of what we would now call conservation work at Hardwick during the first half of the twentieth century.

    And the NT is no slouch either: there is a rolling programme of work underway on the tapestries, a huge (and rather expensive) job. And there is a dedicated team of stonemasons at Hardwick.

    Columnist, yes Hardwick sits very picturesquely on its escarpment, doesn’t it?

  6. CherryPie Says:

    I can recommend the book that your first commenter mentioned. It is a very good and informative read. I picked it up when I visited the old and new Hardwick Hall’s earlier in the year.

    My visit spurred on a repeat visit to Chatsworth and I was treated to some of the sculptures that are part of this years ‘Beyond Limits Exhibition’

    Amazing places and fascinating history.

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Robert, another one – how intriguing. The 6th, ‘batchelor’ Duke had a place in Brighton as well, although I don’t think that was particularly Palladian…

    Cherie, yes, the current Duke and Duchess are sprinkling contemporary art through the house as well. And the presesnt Duke’s parents commissioned works from Lucian Freud.

  8. ldm Says:

    The lost Palladian villa may be Foots Cray:

    See: for info and photos.

  9. ldm Says:

    Another lost Palladian villa is Nuthall Temple:

  10. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Idm, many thanks for that. I think the house Robert was trying to recall must be Nuthall Temple, since he mentioned a road later being built over the site, which is the M1 motorway. It was lastly owned by the Holden family and demolished in 1929. Timothy Mowl mentions the amazing Rococo plasterwork at Nuthall Temple in his book on English Rococo, which can also be seen on the Lost Heritage webpage:

  11. robert - innatestyle Says:


    Let me thank both you and Idm. Indeed it was Nuthall Temple which I was struggling to recall. I think there was reference to it in the book ‘Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire’ perhaps comparing it to Mereworth; both beautiful.
    Again, many thanks.

  12. Traces of the Bachelor Duke « Treasure Hunt Says:

    […] Hall is one of those places that look deceptively unchanged. In a previous post I referred to the building of the house by Bess of Hardwick in the late sixteenth century. In […]

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