Discover the internationally significant collection at Hardwick
Hardwick is internationally renowned for its collections, most notably its textile collection, largely sourced and collected by Bess of Hardwick in the later years of the sixteenth century. Four years after Bess moved into Hardwick she compiled a list of all the objects in the house, giving a unique insight into the furnishings of an Elizabethan house.
By the mid-1590s when Hardwick was taking shape, Bess had already furnished her great house at Chatsworth but could only bring a small proportion of the contents with her when she moved back to Hardwick, so in the winter of 1592/3 Bess went on a shopping spree while in London. Amongst her purchases were the Gideon set of tapestries purchased from the estate of Sir Christopher Hatton for the huge sum of £326 15s 9d (from which £5 was deducted because Bess had to change the Hatton coat of arms to her own). From the same source Bess purchased a smaller set of tapestries that now hang in the Drawing Room and a set of tapestries that hang in the Green Velvet Bedroom. The set of tapestries in the High Great Chamber, telling the story of Ulysses, were also brought second hand but have been in the High Great Chamber since 1601.
As well as fine tapestries Hardwick also has some of the finest early embroidery in the country, not least in the large scale set of embroideries known as ‘the noble women’. This is a set of four (originally five) hangings that all take their subject matter from worthy heroines and their virtues. These pieces were made by professional embroiderers while Bess lived at Chatsworth and are made out of a patchwork of pieces of velvet, cloth of gold and figured silk, part cut out of medieval church vestments. The National Trust is undergoing a long-term conservation project to conserve these pieces and the first one back from conservation, Penelope with her associated virtues of Perseverance and Patience, is on display on the Ground Floor of the house. The second embroidery to return from conservation, Lucretia, joined Penelope in 2016.
Other lesser known highlights include the Ming dynasty ceramics, 17th and 18th century tester beds and intricate intarsia panels.
Although Hardwick is known for its textile collection there are other parts of the collection which have national significance. Chief amongst these is the Sea Dog Table, a walnut table, supported by chimeras or sea dogs resting on tortoises, and partly gilded. The table was based on engraved designs of about 1560 by the French architect Du Cerceau. Another favourite is the inlaid chest initaled G T, constructed by German craftsmen in London. It is assumed that this chest was created for Gilbert Talbot, Bess's son in law.
Hardwick contains many portraits, many of family members but the most notable amongst them is a famous portrait of Queen Elizabeth, probably from the workshop of Nicholas Hilliard that features an amazing dress covered with fantastical sea creatures