Elizabethan England's second-most powerful woman

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. Learn how she rose through the ranks, what a savvy business woman she was and what her money was able to buy.

In Elizabethan England money equalled power. Through her four marriages, coupled with her astute business sense Bess accumulated great wealth and came to be the second most powerful woman 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

The very fact that Hardwick was built is a sure sign of Bess' wealth, power and ambition. She was very aware that such a building would impress, and it continues to do so today.

The house was filled with splendid taperstries, fine furniture and grand portraits many of which survive and can be seen today. 

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

One such piece of furniture that came to Bess was the seadog table, an intricately carved banqueting table. Normally seen in the Withdrawing Room, a new display on the ground floor is the chance to see this important part of the collection in more detail. 

The seadog table on display at Hardwick

A Tudor treasure - the seadog table 

A new display explores the importance of the seadog table