06 January 2011

Bess in Winter

Another blast of cold weather, with a slight possibility of snow has me feeling cold. I love cold weather in all honesty, but I have found myself adding a layer here and there. It must be my aching bones. My niece gave me a wool challis stole for Christmas and it is close by for a blanketing effect when needed.

 Horst photograph

 How did the likes of Bess of Hardwick manage to stay warm?

 Aside from the wearing of fur, (at left)- as a young woman in heavy robes beautifully tipped in fur. Bess as Lady Cavendish, painted by a follower of Eworth, c. 1557. She wears fine jewelry & her fine clothes include a linen smock worked with  scarlet, and-( at r.) as the formidable Countess of Shroesbury in ermine, no less.

A favored color?

Bess always had a fire in her bedchamber at Hardwick hall and kept the room well insulated against draughts and winter chills. "Those large windows, which were so splendid architecturally,, made the house particularly cold and draughty in the winter, especially perched as it was on a hilltop."  (excerpted from Mary S Lovell's Bess of Hardwick)

Just imagine a Tudor morning and a driving snow without.

Hardwick Hall
photograph John Gay

Rather than the opulent silks and velvets which feature in the guestrooms, her bed was  a great scarlet-caparisoned tester bed hung with warm bed-curtains of finely woven scarlet wool. The window curtains were also scarlet. And a second pair of bedhangings were kept to be used over the scarlet ones in exceptionally cold weather; when these were all fastened round her bed, it must have been cosy to the point of stuffiness. (Mary Lovell)

I immediately thought of the sumptuous bed & room of David Hicks, though the heavy coverings of Bess's scarlets are hardly matched here, I think Hicks captures an out of time quality in this room.

Though I could easily envision Bess redecorating the David Hicks room by adding her fine handwork to tapestries all about the room-something like the ones she would have had a hand in. She was a master at the needle.

Appliquéed heraldic panel, Hardwick Hall, 16th C.
image from here

Appliquéed flowers and bands from a piece at Hardwick Hall, 16th C.
from here

Born in 1527, Bess learned her excellent skills and management of household from her mother and her aunt, creating a grand yet comfortable world  from the time of her marriage to Sir William Cavendish in 1547 until her death. As Lady of Chatsworth and from all of her subsequent titles, she employed embroiderers, seamstresses & lace makers to create the enormously detailed hangings of Hardwick Hall that can still be seen today.

Europa and the Bull
 (all needlework images from an Elizabethan Inheritance the Hardwick Hall Textiles)

an unknown woman by Marcus Gheeraerts 
 costume is modeled after "Virgo Persica" (the dress of Persian maiden) 
from Boissard's Habitus Variarum Orbis Gentium

Bess's aging bones evidently felt the cold a good deal, for in her chamber were three coverlets to hang across the two windows and the doors in winter months. Eight warm rugs protected her unshod feet, two great tapestries fifteen foot deep, 'with personages and forest work', hung against the walls. And in addition to the 'featherbed', bolster and pillows, there were twelve warm blankets.(Lovell)

from an Elizabethan Inheritance the Hardwick Hall Textiles
above & in detail, below

Typical (below) are the Hardwick Hall bedchambers (see National Trust photographs below) that Bess shunned in favor of her scarlet woolen saturated rooms.

Hardwick Hall
Early-eighteenth-century bed in the Green Velvet Room. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

Hardwick Hall
Bed from about 1740 in the Cut Velvet Bedroom. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

Bess died on February 13, 1608, probably age 80 & what a remarkable life. Sadly she would not have seen the spring beauty of Hardwick Hall but gazed on its winter blanket of snow. The scarlet wrapped haven against the cold left to be bathed in dower black.

'I assure You, there is No Lady in this Land that I better Love & Like.'
-Queen Elizabeth I about Bess of Hardwick

and I think Yes, to the scarlet.

Resources used for this post:

Emile de Bruijn of the National Trust here

stop at  Janet Blyberg's JCB to read about Hardwick Hall here

photographs of Hardwick Hall here

find a grave photograph here



  1. Wonderful post!
    And I find that big furry white dogs serve very well as foot warmers in winter.

  2. Gaye, the taprestries, window coverings, rugs, so sumptuous!!Imagine all of the hours that went into these details.

    I am alwaus thinking of how in the world the royal gowns were ever kept clean!

    Art by Karena

  3. lady.... how do you do this. you just kill me everytime. I need to resort to cheap tricks and bragging. I want your brains!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. it's nice to see the face behind the words, and a nice face it is.--------So lets hear it for heavy velvet curtains. I am cold this year as well, maybe it's my age. I need a fur collar!

  5. This was really interesting, thank you. Twelve blankets! A lady after my own heart. Must pay a visit to Hardwick.

  6. Where can I find a clearer picture of your tapestry photo after the one of David Hicks's bedroom? I checked the link, but it doesn't seem to on there. (The third one is, but not the two above.) Many thanks.

  7. thanx for the trip back in time Im shivering thinking of those cold mornings ! I hope there was a fire in the room ! cant bear cold feet Love the textiles Gaye thankyou fay x

  8. hmmm...i always shiver a little when I see Hardwick and all the glass. My Canadian bones took years to adjust to English winters, Bess was serious stock indeed. Hardwick on the other hand, heavenly interiors aside,i've always thought it the most fascinating height of f-off elizabethan taste. All that plate glass and monogramming would be comparable to some 21C powermonger building an 30,000 sq foot new build, gilding the exterior in gold leaf and placing repetitions of his monogram in 15 foot high letters on top... now if Prince Charles did that i DO think we would have something to say about it. (all a bit tonge in cheek - but think about it!) Great post as usual. Colette

  9. Thanks for expanding my knowledge of Bess and textiles of the Renaissance--Such beauty and attention to the most minute detail. Thank you immensely.

  10. WOW.

    Yes, indeed.

    More Glass Than Wall = Heaven!!

  11. Ah -- you might be quite interested in Margaret Cavendish (some sort of relation, I imagine). A self-made intellectual and first woman elected to the Royal Academy. A scientist, a philosopher, a writer -- some say the author of the first book of science fiction in English. Dig beyond the wikipedia faqs and read her own words for a fascinating glimpse into the life of a singular woman.

  12. Have you totally outdone yourself this time? I hope not so, however this is one for the books. Again and again you regale us with the most lush words and images. How do you keep up with your sources. You are one of the few that really give it to us. I for one value that immensely.

  13. ooh what a feast for eye and mind.....delicious in these very dull days!!

  14. I've always been intrigued by Bess of Hardwick Hall. Imagine how startling and awesome it must have been for a contemporary to come upon that house and see all that glass - a very modern vision. Thanks for a beautiful posting. ...Mark

  15. Wonderful post! Love the photo of HH in the snow. As I'm sure you know, Hardwick Hall was part of the Chatsworkth interitance, but was handed over to the government in 1956 to help pay the 80% (!) inheritance tax when the 10th Duke (Deborah Devonshire's father-in-law) died. Can you imagine having to give up such a treasure? But at least they still have Chatsworth!

  16. Dear Gaye, another fabulous post! Oh I love Hardwick Hall. The Horst coat in the first picture is divine too xx

  17. You have reminded me of one my favourite films 'The Lion in Winter'. Was it Eleanor of Aquitaine? Well anyway she had a sable rug over her bed in the draughty castle and I've wanted one ever since. I know, I know, not fair on the furry little animals but I could never afford it anyway.

  18. Medieval needlework is so beautiful..and the fact that some survives to this day for us to enjoy and marvel at is astounding! I can't even imagine living in a great castle during winter (although I'd definitely like to try it)...thank heavens for tapestries and fire!

    I loved Queen Elizabeht's quote...that says much for Lady Bess...
    xo J~

  19. columnist, the textiles are in the book An Elizabethan Inheritance: The Hardwick Hall Textiles, by Santina Levey. I used a photograph that was already out on the net. though I try very hard to source things I sometimes miss the mark- as here. this post has been in the works for a bit. pgt

  20. Colette- you are so right about the power play.I am impressed with this girl. The Lovell book puts it all into a wonderful perspective.

    24 C- that ER gave her that is testament to Bess's own cred.

  21. Rose- that is a great film- Kate Hepburn at Eleanor. I might just have to get it out.

    townhouse- yes the Duchess of Portland. quite the one too.

    I am pulling the curtains this evening and waiting for snow, with lots of fake fur throws and a very old leopard robe and a fat little terrier.

  22. Magnificent textiles! What wonderful appliqué work.

    Mrs. E.'s "big gift" this year was a cashmere wrap that is the size of a bed throw. It is never far away.

  23. I think Bess was one of the most compelling female figures of the time. Her house left me speechless. The variety and abundance of textiles is extraordinary, especially when one thinks about how very luxurious a thing they were to possess. Many of the appliqued hangings at Hardwick were made using old church vestments. She was above all, resourceful.



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