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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, hanging in the Long Gallery at Harkwick Hall | © National Trust Images/John Hammond

Throughout history many women have refused to be defined by convention, helping to shape the modern world. From the political player who helped make Charles II king, to archaeologists, writers and social campaigners, learn more about these remarkable women and the places that inspired them.

Elizabeth Murray
Ham House was largely the vision of the remarkable 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
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
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
Clementine Churchill
Clementine Churchill was much more than just Winston Churchill’s loving wife. She 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, she espoused liberal values, and served as a cross-bench life peeress in her own right.Discover more at Chartwell
Beatrix Potter
Beloved children's author, sheep farmer and champion of the Lake District, Beatrix Potter was a woman ahead of her time. In addition to her lasting influence on children’s literature, she was a fierce campaigner for nature conservation and passionate protector of Herdwick sheep. She worked closely with the National Trust, helping acquire land with a view to long-term preservation.Discover more at Hill Top
Alice Dryden
Historian and photographer Alice Dryden – known affectionately as ‘Miss Alice’ – lived at Canons Ashby in the late 19th century. Her photographs of villages and village life are a fascinating glimpse at Northamptonshire in the 1880s and 90s. Alice 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
Edith May Pretty
An English landowner with a passion for archaeology, Pretty paid for excavations on her land in 1938–39, which led to the discovery of the Sutton Hoo ship burial. 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
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. It is believed that his play, A Village Wooing, is based on their early relationship.Discover more at Shaw’s Corner
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
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 in 1923 and wrote: 'This house is a dream. And it is great fun living in a dream'.Discover more at Paycocke’s House
Bess of Hardwick
Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire stands thanks to the drive and determination of Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury. A political power of the Tudor age she was known to many simply as ‘Bess of Hardwick’. A shrewd figure, she rose to become a great power within Elizabethan society thanks to four well-placed marriages.Discover more at Hardwick Hall
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 is remembered as a much-loved hostess and for her work in the local community.Discover more at Dunham Massey
Sir Robert Hunter with his daughter (centre), fellow National Trust founder Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley (far right) and a friend in the Lake District around 1900

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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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.

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Exploring LGBTQ+ history at National Trust places 

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