‘Hardwick Hall – more glass than wall’ goes the old saying. It was not just glass that competed with pictures for wall space in the early days of this saying however. They had to contend with one of the finest and most extensive collections of tapestry in the country too. Nonetheless, Hardwick Hall has always had pictures and is the oldest collection in the British Isles – other than parts of the Royal Collection – still in situ. The will drawn up in 1601 by its builder ‘Bess of Hardwick’, Elizabeth (c.1527–1608), Countess of Shrewsbury, enumerates 89 pictures, virtually all portraits.
By the time of Bess’s descendent William Cavendish (1748–1811), 5th Duke of Devonshire, many of the portraits had lost their identities. A combination of knowledge of the 1601 inventory, the desire to have portraits of significant ancestors, and a lack of understanding of art or costume history, led to a number of them being inscribed with wrong and often impossible identities. The 5th Duke’s son William Cavendish (1790–1858), 6th Duke of Devonshire, actively loved and cherished Hardwick and employed Crace to restore the interiors and furnishings. He also introduced pictures and furniture from his other houses, such as Chatsworth, Chiswick House and Bolton Abbey, and essentially gave Hardwick the appearance it has today.
The estate, park, and house, including most of its historic contents were, after long negotiations, accepted in lieu of tax after the death of Edward Cavendish (1895–1950), 10th Duke of Devonshire, and transferred to the National Trust via the National Land Fund in 1959.
Doe Lea, Chesterfield, Derbyshire S44 5QJ England
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