Today’s post is a guest article by On the Tudor Trail reader Debbie Fenton.
Debbie recently visited two gems – Haddon Hall and Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire and was kind enough to share some information about her trip with us.
I devour books about the Tudors in the hope of getting to know them better but I have never felt closer to them as when I am walking in their footsteps!
Visiting Haddon Hall is the closest thing you can get to going back in a time machine. It is one of the most unaltered houses to survive from the medieval age. This is due to the fact that it lay dormant for over 200 years. This has been the Halls saviour; its decoration and contents remain largely the same. Saved from the fashions of the Georgians and Victorians!
Haddon Hall is a fortified medieval manor house dating from the 12th Century, and is the home of Lord and Lady Edward Manners whose family have owned it since 1567.
I visited on a lovely sunny day and the house was bathed in sunlight throughout. This highlighted the wooden panelling, giving the rooms a haze with shafts of light bursting through the diamond shaped panes of the windows.
It is because of the authenticity of the house that you get such a sense of how life used to be walking around the Hall. The rooms felt so atmospheric to me, and surprisingly homely.
Now, the Anne Boleyn connection! Margaret Dymoke had close connections with the Hall. She was Anne’s bedfellow (and Cromwell’s spy) when Anne was imprisoned in the Tower. With this in mind I knew Anne would have been discussed many times within the rooms of the hall, not just for her marriage, but also her untimely end.
There is much to see at Haddon including, the finest example of a Tudor kitchen, and a beautiful chapel with early 15th century frescoes. All this set within the rolling hills of the Peak District. The Hall also featured in the film The Other Boleyn Girl, and is soon to be seen in the new film Jane Eyre.
The next day the weather took a turn for the worse, and I made the short car journey to Hardwick Hall. This is a house I have wanted to visit since I was a small girl. Its vast height, huge windows and grand appearance have always intrigued me, and I was not disappointed.
Bess of Hardwick, a great Tudor personality and a friend of Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth I, for over 40 years, built the Hall in the 1590’s. She was also close friends with the Grey sisters, Mary, Katherine, and of course Jane. After Jane’s execution Bess kept a portrait of her on a table beside her bed for the remainder of her life. She reached the grand old age of 80, unheard of for the time.
Bess and her 4th husband the Earl of Shrewsbury had the uncomfortable task of guarding Mary Queen of Scots for many years during her imprisonment, but that is another story.
Bess was obsessed with building, and Hardwick has to be her greatest temple, with Chatsworth a close second. If Chatsworth was the comfortable home, then Hardwick was the party house! With six great towers and a High Great Chamber reputed to be the most beautiful in Europe. A fabulous entertaining venue fit for a Queen.
The muslin curtains were drawn on the huge windows on the day I visited to keep out the damp. The dim light in the house along with accompanying chamber music being piped into the rooms made for a wonderful atmosphere. The house is impressive throughout with grand rooms that are more and more breathtaking as you ascend the huge stone staircase and rise to the top of the house to the Long Gallery. A staggering 51 metres long, and 8 metres high, a real jaw dropper for me!
Again, Hardwick has been largely unaltered so it is easy to be transported back in time to the wonderful Tudor age. The house was built with royalty in mind, in the hope that Bess could entertain and impress her friend Elizabeth the Queen, and also that the house would be fitting for her Granddaughter, Arbella Stuart, who Bess hoped in time would claim her right to the English throne. Sadly for Bess neither of these dreams were realised, but thank heaven for her building projects, still inspiring us 400 years later.
These two properties do not spring to mind when you think of a Tudor pilgrimage, but if you are lucky enough to find yourself in Derbyshire they are a must see for all Tudor fans.
By Debbie Fenton
Watch an interesting video about Bess of Harwick Hall.
Fast Tube by Casper
Thank you to Debbie for these wonderful photos!