On Saturday 8th August 37 members and friends visited Hardwick Hall, the third outing of the 2015 summer programme. We were again blessed with fine weather. On arrival, we were met by a NT volunteer for a ‘meet and greet’ welcome during which we were told that although we were scheduled for an introductory talk at 11.45am they could not provide one because the estate was hosting a wedding and there were insufficient NT volunteers available. However, all was not lost as we were told that another NT volunteer would step into the breach and provide an account of the short and sad life of Lady Arbella Stuart. Looking forward to this and following refreshment at the Great Barn restaurant, some of our number assembled at the west colonnade to hear the gripping story…
2015 is the 400th anniversary of the death of Lady Arbella Stuart (Left), the granddaughter of Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury (Bess of Hardwick) (Right)and niece of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Arbella had a strong royal lineage and a realistic claim to the throne after Queen Elizabeth I died. She was therefore educated and raised as a princess, but her desperate and continued attempts to seek freedom from a life that she considered ‘confinement’ eventually led with her being imprisoned in the Tower of London where she ultimately starved to an untimely death. It is no surprise, therefore, that so few people have heard of Lady Arbella Stuart. Our speaker was excellent and her enthusiasm infectious. We were able to explore the life and times of Arbella in the very Hall where she spent much of her young adulthood and debate the question of whether Hardwick was a palace or a prison for Arbella. My account does not do justice to this topic. If this soupçon has whetted your appetite, you should visit Hardwick Hall this year and make the most of the Arbella exhibition.
Hardwick Hall, a magnificent Elizabethan house, was built for Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury. The construction began in 1591 and, incredibly, 6 years later it was fully decorated and furnished ready for occupation. It is thought that much of the design was due to the architect Robert Smythson.
Four great towers at each corner, crowned by parapets incorporating the initials ES, predominate and windows which increase in size as one’s eyes travels skywards. These were intended to proclaim Elizabeth Shrewsbury’s wealth and position in society. The house is built on three levels with exhibits showing how the house functioned ‘below’ and ‘up-stairs’. Most of walls in the public rooms and bed chambers are bedecked with wonderful Flemish tapestries which draws ones attention from the plain lime-washed ceilings. It was nice to see the apartments of the Dowager Duchess, Lady Evelyn who in later years resided at Hardwick until her death in 1960.
The extensive gardens are maintained by 4 gardeners with the help of a trusty team of volunteers. The gardens are divided into four courtyards, each with their own character contained within the sandstone walls. The South Courtyard is the largest of the four courtyards at Hardwick. It was believed that in Bess’s time, during the second half of the 1500s, it was used for growing vegetables. However, the 1860s records suggest that it was simply a grass paddock until Lady Louisa Egerton, daughter of the 7th Duke of Devonshire, re-designed it 1870 and her influence can still be seen. The quadrants contained vegetable plots, orchards, herb gardens and a nuttery, very similar to what can be seen today.
We had a very enjoyable outing in fine sunny weather. There was a lot to see and do, but by 5.00pm we were flagging and content to board the coach for the return trip to Melton.