(The first in an occasional series on the stately homes of England.)
Bess of Hardwick (nee Bess Talbot) was the second most powerful woman in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Of relatively humble origins, she married her way (four times) up to this position, via (#2) the Duke of Devonshire (who built Chatsworth for her - after he died it went to his brother, so she had to do a career swerve). Whilst being obviously recognised and favoured by the Queen, she was also good mates with Mary Queen of Scots - which says something about her swerving skills.
Anyway, once she finally fetched up as the Countess of Shrewsbury, she had Hardwick Hall mark one built for her. It's now a ruin in the grounds of Hardwick Hall number two - it took her only a few years to realise she hadn't set her sights high enough. The 'new' Hall has, on its roofline, the letters 'E S', Elizabeth of Shrewsbury, on each side, high against the sky. The house, on three floors, has as its main feature huge plain glass diamond-glazed windows, which in her day flooded the place with light and illuminated her amazing collection of tapestry wall hangings, which are still there. The higher the floor, the bigger the windows and tapestries - apparently, the grander you were, the more stairs you had to walk up to achieve recognition of your grandeur, at least by Bess's lights. (The servants ate at a long table in the ground floor entrance hall.) The ceilings are, interestingly, completely plain; she didn't want people looking up away from her tapestries, or herself.
There are three original portraits of Bess in the new Hall. In all of them, she has the eyes of Lady Thatcher. A charming National Trust lady agreed with me that it wouldn't have been wise to mess with Bess.
I don't know whether it's sad or not that she only lived there for nine years, much of which time she spent in a rather poky little bedroom on the first floor, quite a long way from the main action, if there was any by then. Norma Desmonde. Howard Hughes.