In the entrance hall we are struck at once by a statue of Mary Queen of Scots, at the upper end of the apartment; it bears the following inscription:-
Tradition says that Mary visited Hardwick, and it is quite possible, as it belonged to the Earl of Shrewsbury, or, rather, to his wife, the celebrated Bess of Hardwick and the Queen of Scots was a prisoner in his charge.
There is in the house a bedroom and bed shown as hers, with her arms as Queen of Scotland and Dowager of France over the door, and her initials worked into the tapestry.
The finest room in the hall is a picture gallery that runs the whole length of the house, and has a number of interesting portraits in it. There are likenesses of the kings and queens of England, from Henry IV. downwards; the Court of Charles II. and the Beauties, painted by Sir Peter Lely; Queen Elizabeth; a good equestrian portrait of the first Duke of Devonshire; and portraits of the Cavendishes.
The Presence Chamber is hung with tapestry, and the upper part has figures in relief on plaster, coloured. At the upper end of the room is the Canopy of State and some beautifully worked velvet chairs.
In this apartment there is one of those music-tables found in most houses when England was a musical nation, and the guests used to sing glees and madrigals for their amusement; everybody nearly at that period being able to sing part-music at sight. This table has representations on it, in mosaic work, of music books and musical instruments, and on the open leaves of the books the notes are inscribed. The tapestry in all the rooms is admirable.
Hardwick is very picturesque. The avenue of trees to the house is beautiful, and so is the park, with its greensward, its grand old oaks, the murmuring stream that runs through it, its wooded margin, its forget-me-nots and water-flowers, and the red deer that wander or gather in groups in the shade. All is the perfection of sylvan loveliness; and the old and new halls crown the scene. They are seen in contrast on the "crest of one of the highest and boldest ridges of the new red sandstone, looking over a beautiful valley and commanding an extent of country rarely equalled."
From the state room of the new hall and of the old there is a magnificent view, comprising some of the loftiest heights of the High and Low Peak, Barrel Edge, and the Black Rocks, near Matlock, Middleton and Tansley Moors, Stubbing Edge, and in the foreground a rich and fertile stretch of country.
The hall is a high. oblong building of stone, with a tall square tower at each of its corners it was built by the famous Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury, in 1590, and is consequently Elizabethan.
Old Hardwick Hall, or Mr. Hardwick's house, as it is called, almost touches the structure raised by his daughter.
This lady built also Chatsworth, and another house in Derbyshire.
The legend is that it had been foretold to her, that as long as she was building she would live; but that when she ceased to build she would die. So she built continually, and at last died when her building was stopped by a hard frost and the masons could not work.
But she was, in reality, a very remarkable woman, and her story is worth telling - for she had a master-mind, united, undoubtedly, to great personal attractions.
She was married at fourteen to a Mr. Bailey, a very rich young man, who died a year afterwards, leaving her a widow at fifteen, in possession of nearly all his estates.
At the age of thirty she married her second husband, Sir William Cavendish, who died in 1557, leaving her with eight children; but all fairly provided for. Her third husband, Sir William Saint Loe, had great estates, and before she would marry him she insisted on his settling them all on her and her heirs - a hard condition, as he was a widower with children of his own; however, rather than lose the lady, he consented to do as she wished. He died shortly after their marriage; and his widow was soon wooed again by the Earl of Shrewsbury. She could not ask him to settle the Talbot property on her as she had made Captain Saint Loe settle his, but before she consented to wed him, she insisted that he should give two of his children in marriage to two of hers.
His eldest son was already married; but he gave his second son, Gilbert, to her daughter Mary, and his eldest unmarried daughter, the Lady Grace Talbot, to her eldest son, Henry Cavendish. The marriages were solemnized at Sheffield; Mary Cavendish, one of the brides, was not yet twelve years old.
The wedding of the parents followed shortly afterwards; they were both about fifty years old.
Bess of Hardwick's fourth marriage was not as happy as her previous unions. She lavished her money on building, in which taste her husband did not sympathise with her; and when the custody of Mary Queen of Scots was vested in the earl, their dissensions became serious. Bess of Hardwick was absurdly jealous of the beautiful captive, resenting even the ordinary courtesy the earl showed her; and they separated. Lord Shrewsbury had been rendered so unhappy and anxious by her temper, - and by that of the queen, - and the care of his dangerous prisoner, that his health failed under his troubles, and he died in 1590, when she built Hardwick.
He was succeeded by his second son Gilbert (Lord Talbot, the eldest son, had died), and Bess of Hardwick's daughter became Countess of Shrewsbury. In character she seems to have greatly resembled her mother.
Lady Shrewsbury (Bess of Hardwick) had under her care, for some time, the Lady Arabella Stuart, whose future fate was to be so romantic and so miserable. She can scarcely have had a happy girlhood under the rule of this domineering woman - who has, however, left some beautiful buildings to England, and amongst them is Hardwick Hall.