To visit Hardwick means to get acquainted with the formidable figure of Bess of Hardwick – a woman coming from a humble background and ending up one of the wealthiest women in Elizabethan England with her granddaughter having a realistic claim to the English throne.
While the house was owned by Bess’ descendants up to 1960s, the exhibits and story inside the property, which is managed by National Trust, revolves around the figure and life of its remarkable founder.
The majority of halls and rooms in the house inside are covered in colourful tapestries, quietly telling the visitor the story of Bess of Hardwick and her descendants – their passions, desires, faith and wealth.
Apparently, tapestries were extremely expensive at the time (not that they’d be cheaper today!) and only the wealthiest could afford them.
The fact that almost the entire house inside is gently wrapped in tapestries reminds the visitor that by the time she started building Hardwick, Bess of Hardwick, through her successive marriages, had become the richest woman in England after Queen Elizabeth I.
Similarly, huge glass windows adorning the impressive 4-story building, which sometimes is called ’more glass than wall’, were not merely a way of lighting up the interior, but also a sign of great wealth, since glass was expensive and hard to come by at the time.
So the house, build on almost exact spot where Bess grew up as an ordinary farmer’s daughter, reminds the visitor and the local population of this woman’s achievements, influence, power and strength, and….. maybe some luck – not everyone was capable of marrying four times with better and better financial results on each turn….
Towards the end of her life Bess of Harwdick very nearly became the grandmother of the Queen of England, when unmarried Queen Elizabeth I hinted on naming Bess’s granddaughter Arbella as her successor, who, due to her parents’ lineages, had a very strong and realistic claim to the throne.
Bess made sure Arbella had the upbringing and education fit for a princes, and built Hardwick as a palace for the future Queen of England.
However, the plans were thwarted by Arbella’s overambitious attitude, her attempts to marry without the royal approval and other political intrigues.
2015 marks 400 years since this would-be Queen of England died in the Tower of London, and with a specially dedicated exhibition, the visitor can explore Arbella’s short and tragic, but also fascinating story in detail.
Bess and her descendants’ lives capture the imagination of the 21st century visitor, wondering why the film industry has not used their incredible stories yet…..
TIPS for would-be visitors to Hardwick:
TIP 1: A free 20min introduction to Hardwick is given by a guide at the main entrance every hour – really worth stopping by and listening to, it colours the whole experience in a different light. Some important details emerge that the average visitor would not otherwise know about or notice when wandering through the halls and rooms of this stunning property.
TIP 2: The rooms and halls in the palace are manned by National Trust volunteers, who are always willing to answer visitor’s questions and seem to be quite knowlegeable about the history of Harwick. So if you have a question or two, do not hesitate to ask!
TIP3: Visitors are welcome to bring their own picnic and sit around in the gardens. There are some chairs and benches here and there, so it is not even neccessary to bring a picnic blanket.