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Remarkable women in history

Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, also known as Bess of Hardwick' by Rowland Lockey. Hanging in the Long Gallery at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire
Portrait of Bess of Hardwick by Rowland Lockey which hangs in the Long Gallery at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire | © National Trust Images/John Hammond

Throughout history, many women have defied social convention and have helped to shape the modern world as we know it. Learn more about the remarkable women with links to the places we look after, from the political player who helped make Charles II king to the archaeologist who helped discover a 7th-century Saxon ship burial.

Alice Dryden
Historian and photographer Alice Dryden – known affectionately as ‘Miss Alice’ – lived at Canons Ashby, Northamptonshire, in the late 19th century. Her photographs of villages and village life are a glimpse at Northamptonshire in the 1880s and 1890s. She also helped set up the Home Arts and Industries Association, which promoted the revival of country crafts and campaigned to improve the lives of rural people.Discover more at Canon’s Ashby
Beatrix Potter
Beatrix Potter is best known as the creator of Peter Rabbit and other favourite animal characters. Living at Hill Top in Cumbria, she was also a champion of the Lake District, campaigner for nature conservation and protector of Herdwick sheep, and was a sheep farmer herself. She worked closely with the National Trust, helping acquire land with a view to long-term preservation.Discover more at Hill Top
Bess of Hardwick
Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire stands thanks to the drive and determination of Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury, known to many simply as 'Bess of Hardwick'. A shrewd figure, she rose to become a great political power within Elizabethan society thanks to four well-placed marriages.Discover more at Hardwick Hall
Part of a portrait of Charlotte Payne-Townshend, later Charlotte Shaw, showing her hands clasped in front of her face.
Charlotte Frances Payne-Townshend, later Mrs George Bernard Shaw, by Giulio Aristide Sartorio | © National Trust Images/John Hammond
Catherine, Countess of Stamford
A strong and ambitious woman, the Countess of Stamford was a former circus bareback rider, who defied Victorian society by marrying the Earl of Stamford and Warrington. When he died, she took over the running of the household and racing stables. She's remembered as a much-loved hostess and for her work in the local community.Discover more at Dunham Massey
Charlotte Payne-Townshend
Champion of women's rights, Charlotte Payne-Townshend was a committed political activist, member of the Fabian Society and suffragette. She married George Bernard Shaw and they lived together at Shaw’s Corner in Hertfordshire. It's believed that his play, A Village Wooing, is based on their early relationship.Discover more at Shaw’s Corner
Clementine Churchill
Clementine Churchill is probably most known for being the wife of Winston Churchill, where they lived together at Chartwell in Kent. Clementine was a keen promoter of social and humanitarian causes – including women’s rights – often in defiance of her husband. Unafraid of Winston’s powerful allies or enemies, Clementine espoused liberal values and served as a cross-bench life peeress in her own right.Discover more at Chartwell
Edith May Pretty
An English landowner with a passion for archaeology, Edith paid for excavations on her land in 1938–39, which led to the discovery of the Sutton Hoo ship burial in Suffolk. This 7th-century Saxon vessel was most likely the last resting place of King Raedwald of East Anglia. Edith also donated the burial goods found on the site to the British Museum and was offered a CBE by Winston Churchill, although she refused it.Discover more at Sutton Hoo
Painting of Elizabeth Murray, Countess of Dysart, Duchess of Lauderdale, in her youth (1628-98) by Sir Peter Lely at Ham House, London
Painting of Elizabeth Murray, Duchess of Lauderdale (1628–98) by Sir Peter Lely | © National Trust Images/John Hammond
Ela, Countess of Salisbury
Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire was founded in 1232 by Ela, Countess of Salisbury. One of the most powerful women of the Middle Ages, she had previously served as Sheriff of Wiltshire and her 1225 copy of Magna Carta was kept at Lacock until 1946 when it was moved to the British Museum in London. Ela was Lacock’s first abbess, and served for 17 years.Discover more at Lacock Abbey
Elizabeth Murray
Ham House in London was largely the vision of the Duchess of Lauderdale, Elizabeth Murray. Unusually for a woman in the 17th century, she played a significant role in the politics of the English Civil War and the restoration of the monarchy. She was an important supporter of Charles II while he was in exile and a member of the secret Royalist society, The Sealed Knot.Discover more at Ham House
Imogen Clare Holst
An artistic polymath, Imogen Clare Holst CBE was an English author, composer, arranger, conductor, teacher and festival administrator. Daughter of composer Gustav Holst, she was famous for her progressive educational work and her role as joint artistic director of the Aldeburgh Festival. She stayed at Paycocke’s House, Essex, in 1923 and wrote: 'This house is a dream. And it is great fun living in a dream.'Discover more at Paycocke’s House
Mary Prince
The first black woman to publish her experience of slavery, Mary Prince helped bring the realities of slavery in the Caribbean to English audiences. Her book, The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave, played an important role in the abolitionist movement. An art installation at Runnymede in Surrey marks her significant achievement.Discover more at Runnymede
Octavia Hill (1838 - 1912) (after John Singer Sargent) by Reginald Grenville Eves, RA (London 1876 ¿ Middleton in Teesdale 1941)

People in history

Discover some of the social history behind the places we care for and uncover fascinating facts about the people who have lived in them.

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Fighting for (and against) women’s suffrage 

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Great women gardeners 

Learn about pioneering women gardeners from Edith, Lady Londonderry’s rare plants and symbolism, to Kitty Lloyd Jones, one of the first women to train as a professional horticulturalist.

A white teapot on a stand with other china ware in the background at 575 Wandsworth Road

Black histories and the National Trust 

Discover the places and collections we care for that have connections to black histories. Learn more about the people behind these connections, including the lady of the house at Dyrham Park and a Kenyan-born poet, novelist and civil servant at 575 Wandsworth Road.

The visitor staircase at Wightwick Manor, West Midlands, featuring Indian rush-work below the dado rail and William Morris' Willow Bough pattern wallpaper above

Exploring LGBTQ+ history at National Trust places 

Learn more about the LGBTQ+ people with connections to the places we care for and why highlighting these stories is so important.