Hardwick Hall is one of Britain’s finest Elizabethan houses built for Elizabeth, Dowager Countess of Shrewsbury, who moved in to her latest creation in October 1597.
Bess of Hardwick, as history recalls her, rose from humble origins to become on of the most powerful people in the court of Queen Elizabeth I. She married four times, each time gaining more wealth and her fourth husband was the Earl of Shrewsbury, one of the richest and most powerful of the English nobles of the time.
For many years the Shrewsburys were responsible for the guardianship of that unhappy Queen Mary Queen of Scots. The dynasty created by Bess included many powerful descendants including the Dukes of Devonshire, Newcastle, Portland and Kingston.
The house itself stands in a commanding position overlooking the surrounding countryside next to the ruins of Hardwick Old Hall. The original Old Hall may have dated from the 14th century, but the ruins you can now see were, curiously, built only a few years before the ‘New’ Hall alongside.
The story is that Bess had a furious dispute with her husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, and in 1584 had to leave their home at Chatsworth. She came to the Old Hall at Hardwick and largely rebuilt it as a place for herself to live. However, when the Earl died in 1590 her finances became much more secure and she immediately began the construction of the ‘New’ Hall. The Old Hall was abandoned and gradually became a ruin.
With its massive windows and fine proportions it is an impressive statement of the power and wealth of its creator who made sure the statement was made quite clear by having her initials ES carved on stone letters at the head of the towers! The hall is notable for the size of its windows and the amount of glass used, which was far more than in similar houses of the period.
Hardwick contains a remarkable collection of 16th Century furniture and paintings and the visited part of the hall is fully furnished. Perhaps the most notable items on view are the large collection of huge tapestries and of needlework that cover many of the walls of the rooms and staircases. Many of the tapestries are original to the hall and were probably chosen by Bess herself.
The house stands within a country park containing rare breeds of cattle and sheep and the walled and enclosed gardens around the house include a herb garden, orchard and decorative gardens, including Fairy houses.
There is a cafe and National Trust gift shop.