Bess: One of Elizabethan England's most powerful women

Portait of Bess of Hardwick in older age

The Countess of Shrewsbury, better known as Bess of Hardwick was a formidable lady. As part of our focus this year on woman and power, we consider Bess' status attributed to her wealth in a new exhibition.

Through graphics, video and hands-on displays you can discover more about how Bess rose through the ranks, what a savvy business woman she was and what her money was able to buy. 

The exhibition explores how Bess rose to the status attributed to her
A disc on display at the Bess exhibition 2018 with a timeline of her life
The exhibition explores how Bess rose to the status attributed to her

A journey well-travelled

In Elizabethan England money equalled power. Through her four marriages, coupled with her astute business and political sense Bess accumulated great wealth and came to be one of the most powerful women in the land. 

The fascinating muniment room at Hardwick would have housed all the documents relating to the property and land owned by Bess
The muniment room at Hardwick
The fascinating muniment room at Hardwick would have housed all the documents relating to the property and land owned by Bess

More than a home

The very fact that Hardwick was built is a sure sign of Bess' wealth, power and ambition. The audacious architectural design and materials used, alongside the lavish interior, were chosen by Bess to impress, and they continue to do so today.

Read about the lengths Bess went to in sourcing the finest materials and take a closer look at some of these.  

Magnificent detail

The house was filled with splendid tapestries, fine furniture and grand portraits many of which survive and can be seen today as you tour through the house. 

The Green Velvet Room, known as the best bedchamber in the 1601 inventory
The Green Velvet Room at Hardwick with bed and wall hangings
The Green Velvet Room, known as the best bedchamber in the 1601 inventory

A display of miniature replicas of some of Hardwick's furniture by the late Ivan Turner highlight some of the splendid pieces with demonstrate the wealth and richness of the house and Bess. 

Noteable pieces

One such piece of furniture that came to Bess was the seadog table, an intricately carved banqueting table. Normally seen in the State Withdrawing Room, a new display on the ground floor is the chance to see this important part of the collection in more detail. You can learn more about its construction and what it was used for, as well as handle some specially 3D printed replicas taken from scans of the table. 

The seadog table on display at Hardwick

A Tudor treasure - the seadog table 

A new display explores the importance of the seadog table