Hardwick Hall is an extraordinary manor house located in the village of Doe Lea near the English town of Chesterfield. It is one of Britain’s finest Elizabethan houses, silhouetted on the hilltop overlooking the Derbyshire countryside. The house was built for Bess, a yeoman farmer’s daughter born at the nearby Old Hall who would become Elizabeth Talbot, Dowager Countess of Shrewsbury (1520-1608).
During her lifetime, Bess of Hardwick was married four times. After her third marriage, she was already a wealthy woman, but the ambitious Bess also wanted to achieve a high social rank. So she married again into the noble family of Shrewsbury, that guarded Mary Queen of Scots during her years of captivity at Chatsworth House. Bess’ husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, was one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in England during that period. Their marriage made her the richest woman in England after Queen Elizabeth I and one of the most powerful people in court.
However, the marriage was not successful. After a terrible argument, Bess left their home at Chatsworth in 1584. Meanwhile, she started rebuilding the Old Hall at Hardwick. However, her plans changed when the Earl died in 1590 and she inherited his property. Bess decided to cancel all the renovations for Old Hall and build a new home at Hardwick in order to impress her friends and rivals at the court. Hardwick Hall was a reflection of her power, status, and wealth.
For the construction of New Hall, she commissioned the English architect Robert Smythson. He is known for designing a number of notable houses during the Elizabethan era, including Longleat in Wiltshire. Construction began in 1590 and Bess moved in 1597. She was very pleased with her house and remained there until her death in 1608.
Hardwick’s shape is basically a wide H, tall and symmetrical, built of stone quarried on Bess’ own lands, with high towers and many glass windows. At that period, glass was a rare and expensive luxury, but the house has numerous large glass windows, even more than walls. On the tower balustrades, Bess’s initials “ES” appear in stone openwork.
The rooms of Hardwick are large and bright, with the high-ceilinged staterooms on the second floor, as Bess preferred. Such a room is the Long Gallery, which measures 162 feet (54m) and is lined with tapestries and portraits. The interior has remained largely unchanged since Bess lived in the house, and her taste and temperament can still be seen in the furniture and fittings. One of the most impressive pieces of furniture, the Sea-Dog Table, is made of inlaid walnut and decorated with mythical chimeras.
Another striking item of furniture is the du Cerceau cabinet made of French oak in the mid-to-late 16th century. The rare cabinet is based on the work of the influential French designer du Cerceau, decorated with paintings on leather and inset marble plaques. The cabinet is made from ivory, oak, and cedar, and is the only one of its kind in the world.
The Aeglentyne Table (aeglentyne is the old word for a sweet briar rose) dates from 1568 and is one of the most unusual pieces of antique furniture in England. The Japanese lacquer cabinet was made in Kyoto, Japan is an early example of imported luxury goods fashionable in late 17th-century Europe. The Knole Sofa is probably the most famous item all and served as an inspiration for the reproductions that followed from the late 19th century onwards.
After Bess’ death, the house remained in the family until they donated it to the British government in 1956, and today it is part of the National Trust. Hardwick Hall was used as the location for filming the exterior scenes of Malfoy Manor in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 and Part 2.