Hardwick Hall, which is located in Derbyshire, is the former home of Elizabeth Shrewsbury, also known as Bess of Hardwick. It was built between 1590 and 1597 and designed by architect Robert Smythson.
Of humble origins, Bess of Hardwick married four times, gaining power and wealth with each marriage, and eventually became one of the most powerful and richest people in England next to Queen Elizabeth I. Her second husband was Sir William Cavendish, and her wish to return to her native and beloved Derbyshire led to the purchase of the property where Chatsworth House was built in 1552. Through the Cavendish line Bess is the direct ancestress of the Dukes of Devonshire.
Her fourth husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, was one of the richest and most powerful English noblemen of the time. The Shrewsburys were guardians of Mary, Queen of Scots for the years she was held captive at Chatsworth House. As a result of a terrible argument with the Earl, Bess left Chatsworth in 1584 and began plans to rebuild the Old Hall at Hardwick for herself.
However, in 1590 when the Earl died, leaving her another extreme inheritance, Bess decided to build a new hall at Hardwick.
Her new Hardwick Hall was a true statement for her power and wealth. It contained numerous windows that were exceptionally large for the time period. Glass was a luxury, and the house was described as being more glass than walls. The chimneys were also built into the internal walls, instead of being constructed on the outside. This was done to allow more room for the large windows without weakening the exterior structure. An added touch by Bess was the carved ‘ES’ initials that are present in 6 of the rooftop sculptures at the head of each tower. Hardwick is one of the first houses in England where the hall was built on an axis directly through the center of the house, instead of at right angles to the entrance. The height of each ceiling is also unique with each floor being slightly higher than the first.
Bess moved into her new house in October 1597 and commenced what has become the true treasure of Hardwick Hall: the priceless collections of paintings, tapestries, and furniture inside. After the death of Bess in 1608, her son William Cavendish, the 1st Earl of Devonshire, inherited Hardwick Hall. His great-grandson, also named William, was titled the 1st Duke of Devonshire, beginning the Dukes of Devonshire dynasty. Chatsworth has remained the primary seat for the Dukes of Devonshire with Hardwick Hall a secondary home for the family to escape from the attention of the public. The family donated the house to the British government in 1956 in lieu of Death Duties, who then transferred the house to the National Trust. The “Old Hall” is now a ruin located near the mansion.