Hardwick Hall Paperback – January 4, 2006
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Mary Queen of Scots is also a fave historic character of mine and it's a riot to read of her exploits and then of how she came to be the "guest" (read prisoner) of her "host" (read jailor...or gaoler), Elizabeth's 4th husband, George Talbot, the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. Mary first landed in Carlisle England when she escaped her lairds. She was put up by the Mayor who quickly moved her to Carlisle Castle. My husband is from Carlisle and we've visited the castle many times--it is one of the most intact, albeit boring, medieval castles in the UK. Carlisle is on the west side of Hadrian's Wall which, as you may know is roughly the border of Scotland. It drove her nuts but Mary could see bonny Scotland from the tower in the castle. At first she was allowed to ride horses, under guard, around the fields but she was such an expert horsewoman, the English quickly put a kibosh to that and for her "safety" made her stay in the castle. There is still a segment of the upper bailey in the castle called The Lady's Walk and where she would fret and pace back and forth, chafing at her incarceration. There is said to be a silent ghost who appears occasionally at the castle, renowned to be Mary.
The reason it's important to talk about Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots is because they had such a profound effect on Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury. Bess came from a noble but poor family and was orphaned early on with virtually no prospects. But she landed in a noble house as a lady in waiting and rose up to become the second richest woman in England, second only to Elizabeth herself. She married for love the first time but the remarkable way she learned to be a stunningly good business woman was from her second husband, Sir William Cavendish. He did the unheard of and taught his wife to keep scrupulous records of every penny of income and pound of expenditure. Her design for years was to build a new Hardwick Hall to replace the Old Hardwick Hall where she had been born. She was in charge of every facet of the design and architecture and spent absolutely astounding sums of money to make it the most lavish Great House rivaling the monarchs' palaces. Bess is so crucially important to me because she not only embroidered herself but also commissioned some of the richest extant tapestries of the early 17th century. Bess was completed daunted--at first--by Mary Stuart who was still a reigning monarch. Mary had a full court of 60 people at the beginning and sat on a Great Chair with a Cloth of State over it. George and Bess were flummoxed though: Elizabeth promised them the enormous sum of 50 pounds per month to reimburse Mary's expenses...but they never received a tuppence.
Bess realized the value of all her holdings and directed her heirs to keep everything in good shape and intact in the Hall. We know much of Mary and her needlework because of Bess. Bess was intimidated by Mary because the latter still had access to the finest fabrics and supplies to make sumptuous dresses and embroideries--including the latest fashions and needlework designs from France where Mary had been the dauphiness, queen and dowager queen, all by the time she was 18.
And while Hardwick Hall was being built, the Talbots' marriage began to crumble. George seems to have gone off the deep end, perhaps from the stress of having to keep a queen whose party almost brought him to ruin for the expenses. He literally had bands of his men who served as a private army to ransack Hardwick Hall and threaten Bess and her household. He accused her of being unfaithful to him which wasn't true. She wrote pleading letters to him and guess who wound up giving him marital counseling: Elizabeth herself. She loved George and Bess and that's why this most trusted earl was Mary's steward and was the highest ranking noble at Mary's execution. But did you know Bess way ran afoul of Elizabeth? Seems she miscalculated and had her daughter marry Henry Lord Darnley's brother Charles and the issue of that marriage was Arbella (sometimes called Arabella). This child was literally in line to the throne, being first cousin by blood to James VI of Scotland (Mary's only child) who became James I of England, crowned after Elizabeth's death. Arbella was the most unhappy royal girl ever: Bess was the strictest guardian and kept her under wraps, often locking her in her room. You can hardly read the name of Bess of Hardwick without it being accompanied by "the redoubtable" and this is one reason why: she was an iron lady.
Back to this handbook. It is an absolute delight. The pictures are glorious and the text is outstanding. I really enjoy the convoluted family tree showing Bess's four marriages and the Cavendish line. Since she survived her second husband, she is really the forebear of the entire line which winds up including the Dukes of Devonshire of Chatsworth fame. This book does what a National Trust handbook does best: it lays out all the rooms and their importance. There is a 2-page cutaway of the house so you can see where each main area lies. Beginning on page 8, we already start to hear about the historic textiles. Then the book takes us room by room in large overview and then many, many close-up of the most important features and contents. The text is intelligent and interesting.
Obviously, I could blather on even more. But if you are interested in learning more about Bess, you MUST read:
Bess of Hardwick: Empire Builder
If you want to know more about her and Mary Queen of Scots' embroideries and tapestries, see:
Elizabethan Treasures: The Hardwick Hall Textiles but especially the huge and expensive:
The Embroideries at Hardwick Hall: A Catalogue
The Needlework of Mary Queen of Scots
Emblems for a Queen: The Needlework of Mary Queen of Scots