Driving into Derbyshire Was every bit as enchanting as when my husband and I visited on our tenth anniversary, and it was wonderful to find the lovely village of Bakewell just as I remembered it. We checked into our hotel, which is where Jane Austen most likely stayed when she visited Chatsworth in 1811 and revised Pride and Prejudice. Standing in the room identified as Jane’s, you can look out the window and picture “Lambton” exactly as Elizabeth Bennett saw it in the novel, including the village green and the long road leading directly up to the inn.
We had a free morning yesterday, and I think most of us spent it poking around in antiques shops and English bakeries! It was wonderful. I found beautiful hard-bound historical fiction books at giveaway prices (good thing I emptied a suitcase the first night giving away Kanga fabric and tote bags!). I also walked down the main street to see if the bookshop I remembered from six years ago was still there and found it was closed through the 14th for a family holiday. Oh, well….
Above is the old Hardwick Hall, which Bess built before starting on the larger and grander Hardwick Hall. The old one fell into decay and has had a starring role in many “Jane Eyre” film adaptations as Mr. Rochester’s burnt out “Thornfield Hall.”
At 11:30 we headed to Hardwick Hall for lunch and our tour. I hadn’t visited Hardwick in 2006, opting for Chatsworth instead, but Suzi put a bug in my ear last year by asking me what I knew about Bess of Hardwick. What I knew wouldn’t have filled a matchbook, so I bought a copy of Bess of Hardwick: Empire Builder by Mary Lovell and devoured it…twice. Bess was an amazing woman who outlived four husbands and made incredible use of her wealth and position. Some judged her hard and shrewd, but she really managed to take a lot of lemons and make lemonade out of them. She also became the founder of the House of Devonshire, which produced many famous (infamous?) people in British history.
Bess and her fourth husband started off on the right foot with a marriage grounded in love and mutual respect. He called her his “sweet None,” and she wrote adoring letters to him. And then they undertook the keeping of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was under house arrest to prevent her taking the throne from Elizabeth I. At first, the couple felt honored and were ecstatic about keeping Mary. However, Mary had a terrible reputation for charming the socks off any man who came within her circle, and she began to worm her way in between Bess and the Earl of Shrewsbury. Her upkeep was also incredibly expensive, and the crown didn’t reimburse as promised. This ate away at the Shrewsbury fortune and soured the marriage. Bess did her utmost to speak only kind words of her husband, but he became increasingly erratic, moody, and even borderline insane by the end. It was apparent that even Queen Elizabeth realized how incapacitated he had become when they met (he was one of her privy counselors).
Anyway, it’s a fascinating story, and Lovell’s bio of this lady is well worth reading. When Bess built Hardwick, she had her initials (“ES” for “Elizabeth Shrewsbury”) placed upon all the rooftop pavilions, as you see in the photo below:
Bess specified in her will that her house and belongings had to be preserved in perpetuity, and almost everything in the house can be found on the 1601 inventory list. New things have been added as well, but hardly anything has been lost, and the attic contains what the curator describes as “an Aladdin’s Cave of treasure.” Many of the embroidered tapestries in the house were worked by both Bess and Mary during the latter’s imprisonment. It’s really amazing to stand next to these exquisite works of art and realize the sacrifices they represented to Bess, who lost her own freedom for 15 years while watching out for Mary.
Okay, I promise I’ll quit now! Here are the rest of the photos from our visit:
Blustery day! We were all glad to get inside.
As you can see, the house is immense, and the Long Gallery is, I believe, the longest in England. The hunting friezes at the top of the wall in the Great Chamber are amazing, and the woven “Gideon tapestries” that line the walls of the Long Gallery leave you with an aching neck from gawking. It’s truly the most splendid Tudor house I’ve seen.
As a surprise on our way back to Bakewell, our driver took us to Chatsworth for a photo op!
The great house has been completely cleaned and all the windows regilded since our 2006 visit. It just gleams in the afternoon sunshine!
All around, it was a wonderful day in Mr Darcy’s Derbyshire. Today we visited the Symington Collection in Leicestershire, and I’ve been given permission to share photos of the marvels we enjoyed, so watch for my next post!