A – Z of Hardwick Collections

Blue bed at Hardwick

This year we're going through our A-Z of collections, shining a spotlight on the historic and significant objects at Hardwick and the stories each one tells.

From portraits and ceramics to carpets and tapestries, Hardwick Hall has some of the most exquisite historic collections within the walls of the vast Elizabethan house.

This year, we'll be going through the alphabet to focus on a new piece each week. Whether it is A for Arbella’s portrait, S for the impressive Seadog table or P for the fascinating Penelope needlework. Discover more about the incredible objects at Hardwick and how they came to call this place home. We'll have a new piece each week to learn more about, see below what has been the highlight in the previous weeks.

Arbella painting at Hardwick

A is for Arbella

This portrait of Arbella, painted at 13 years old was by way of advertising her availability and suitability as a wife. Her long hair left untied denotes her as being unmarried. Her hand rests on a table, a common pose used almost exclusively by members of royalty. Similarly, she is standing on a carpet, a prized possession, usually imported from the east that would be displayed on a table. Only the very wealthy could afford to stand on them. At her feet is a dog – this shows that Arbella is a loyal person. The pile of books, another expensive commodity signifies she has been given a good education. The string of pearls around her neck are a symbol of purity.

Blue bed at Hardwick

B is for Blue Bed

This blue bed originally belonged to the wife of the 2nd earl of Devonshire, Christian Cavendish. Made of oak and hung with embroidered blue damask the back of the bed bears the coats of arms of Christian Cavendish herself plus the original year of the bed, 1629. However, it also bears a second coat of arms and the date 1852. These arms are that of the 6th Duke, under the Duke’s instruction a matching roll of blue damask was commissioned, the original embroidery removed, re-applied to the new silk and the entire bed was rehung.

The Lapierre Canopy

C is for Canopy

Crimson silk damask trimmed with lace galloons made of gold thread, this canopy originally formed part of a four-poster bed. Made for the 1st Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish’s state bedchamber at Chatsworth. Supplied by Francis Lapierre it is one of the most magnificent examples of late 17th-century upholstery surviving in England. By the 1820’s the bed had fallen into disrepair and was no longer fit for purpose. Acknowledging the craftsmanship involved in creating the canopy the 6th Duke choose to display it in the Long Gallery.

Carved and painted walnut cabinet, Hardwick Hall

D is for du Cerceau

D is for du Cerceau as we look at this curious cabinet. This superb piece of French furniture has close links to Mary Queen of Scots as it was likely imported to furnish her apartments while under the stewardship of Bess and George Talbot. It has been called the 'spice cabinet' speculated as a private alter for Mary or could have simply served as an impressive spectacle.

Portrait of Lady Evelyn

E is for Evelyn

The last resident of Hardwick and Duchess of Devonshire this portrait is of Evelyn Cavendish. Evelyn was a lady of high status, married into the Cavendish family. Throughout the majority of her life she and her family would divide their time between the four great houses and one Irish castle that they owned. But following the death of her husband, Evelyn spent her final years at Hardwick. Evelyn understood the damage light and dirt could do to a fragile collection. What marked Evelyn out, was her hands-on approach, washing and repairing objects, particularly the textile collection. She would detail all the work she conducted on Hardwick and its collection. This portrait of Evelyn shows her actually mending a tapestry and it is no surprise that she left notes on how she did this. ‘I used to use rollers on supports for larger pieces with a small pole to give support for the actual spot being dealt with – but for smaller pieces an ordinary table…is as good’. (Blickling Textile Conservation Studio use this same approach today)

The plaster freize in the High Great Chamber

F is for Frieze

The High Great Chamber frieze, like many things at Hardwick was built to impress. While its sheer scale alone is enough to draw gasps of awe, the symbolism within holds a deeper meaning that educated members of the gentry of the time would have been well aware of. One of the main themes throughout the frieze is that of Queen Elizabeth I. It's hard to miss the enormous Royal coat of arms over the fire place. Unusual that it's not Bess's, this may be her way of proclaiming loyalty to the crown. However with a grand daughter who has a strong claim to the succession this may be Bess laying her hopes that this one day will be the family coat of arms. Elizabeth is further alluded to as the Roman Goddess Diana, the virgin huntress. Surrounded by her court of ladies, they are all protected from a host of wild beasts by a phalanx of Cavendish stags further emphasising Bess's loyalty. The underlying themes of prosperity and wealth in this golden age of England are depicted throughout the frieze and it celebrates Queen Elizabeth and Bess as strong, virtuous women for all to see.

Gideon tapestry at Hardwick Hall

G is for Gideon

The Long Gallery is home to the largest set of tapestries in the hall and at 19 feet high they are not only the largest set in the house, they are the largest set in the country! The thirteen tapestries recount the biblical story of Gideon and his triumph over the Midianite army. Woven in Oudenaarde in 1578, they were Commissioned by Sir Christopher Hatton, whose arms and initials are woven into the borders. They were sold to Bess by his nephew William who upon his uncle’s death, inherited the Hatton estates and more importantly the Hatton debt. Bess bought the tapestries in 1592, during a trip to London. She managed to get the £326 asking price reduced by £5 as she had to change the Hatton coat of arms to her own. Frugally, rather than having the tapestries rewoven, she instead covered the shields with pieces of cloth painted with her arms before adding antlers and collars to the Hatton hinds, so they now became Hardwick stags. The Long Gallery was still under construction when Bess bought the tapestries. The depth of the painted frieze above as well as the height of the fireplaces may have been specifically tailored to fit these enormous tapestries.

Check in soon for more

Check in soon for more

Keep an eye on our social channels where we'll be sharing our piece of the week.