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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.