Ipplepen-Pen Diary – On Tour 2019 Day 3
Alright up early to take the dawgs for a morning constitutional and it was off to Chatsworth in Derbyshire or more particularly to Chatsworth House where the motorhome site is in the old walled former kitchen garden.
The great thing about the site is that when you arrive they give you a key that unlocks a door in the estate wall which when you walk through it you find yourself on the estate with the magnificent house less than a quarter of a mile away.
For children it must be tantamount to walking through the back of a wardrobe into Narnia.
I won’t go into detail about how magnificent the house and gardens are because quite frankly words alone could never do it justice.
What I will write about is a legendary women who I had never heard of.
The woman I’m going to write about is known as Bess of Hardwick.
Elizabeth Hardwick was born sometime between 1521 and 1527, (the exact date is unclear) but what we do know is that she died aged 81 on the 13 February 1608 which in itself was an achievement.
Well “Bess” just like her namesake Queen Elizabeth (the first not the current Queen) was no ordinary woman in what were extraordinary Elizabethan times and rose to become not only a very striking and influential figure in Elizabethan society but also one of the wealthiest women in Britain.
Her rise started with the first of her marriages to Robert Barlow a neighbouring landowners son who it has to be said must have been very young at the time of the marriage because he was only 15 when he died 1544.
What he left however was a widow who inherited a reasonably sized estate to go along with her own and which as a very shrewd businesswoman she set off to further increase her assets.
Which bring me to Chatsworth.
“Bess” married Sir William Cavendish in 1547 who was a courtier in the Queen Elizabeth court and who through his public work gathered a very considerable fortune mainly it is said because he was one of Thomas Cromwell’s main implementation officers during the dissolution of the monasteries where he was able to choose for himself a number of choice properties.
It was her union with Sir William that started her rise from the lower landowning gentry to the upper echelon of society and it was they who in 1552 started the construction of Chatsworth.
What comes across is that “Bess” was nothing if not productive especially when it came to increasing the size of her family having in the ten years of their marriage eight children, six of who survived child birth.
“Bess” found herself widowed for the second time in 1557 aged 30 and with six mouths to feed so what was a girl to do?
Well first of all she set about organising and ensuring that all of his land and properties was to be settled in perpetuity on their heirs which set off a train of events in which the children ended up marrying within the aristocracy.
“Bess” was now in total control of a considerable amount of land and properties but with huge debts owed to the crown which wasn’t ideal.
So what to do about it?
Well two years after Cavendish had died she found the solution (Bess wasn’t hanging about) and married Sir William Loe and became Lady St Loe but we’ll stick to calling her “Bess”.
For “Bess” it was an ideal match because Sir William Loe not only had huge estates in the West Country but as a very important person at court (he was Captain of the Guard) he was in a position to see her debts paid off.
And the very conveniently (or tragically depending on your point of view but this was Elizabethan England) in 1565 he died in very suspicious circumstances.
The good news for “Bess” (well what’s a husband here or there) was that he left everything to her which made her eye wateringly wealthy with an equivalent what today would be an annual income of £18m.
So “Bess” at 36 years of age, with six children, widowed three times, and one of the wealthiest (if not apart from the Queen herself the wealthiest) woman in England and just to put the icing on the cake was the Lady of the Bedchamber with daily access to Good Queen Bess had to look to the future.
Is there any wonder so many ambitious “suitors” came calling?
“Bess” was clearly in the driving seat and in 1568 became the Countess of Shrewsbury when she married George Talbot the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury who was one of the most important and premier aristocrats of the realm.
As if that wasn’t enough the very clever “Bess” arranged for two of her children to marry two of his and later on another child married into the Stuart family.
In fact Queen Elizabeth’s maternal grandmother was Cecilia Cavendish-Bentinck and is therefore a descendant of “Bess” of Hardwick.
Given what we know about the Elizabethan times and the way people fell in and out (usually with the loss of their head) favour “Bess” was not only a survivor but must have been a formidable operator.
As I read about her whilst at the house she built I discovered a remarkable gem of a person and that’s how you build a dynasty the Elizabethan way.
So Chatsworth, is well worth a visit and incidentally the staff are so friendly and helpful.
So that’s it for Chatsworth, the next stop is Hawes in Yorkshire.
Except for one thing – Lancelot “Capability” Brown…….
The grounds at Chatsworth are fantastic and the result of the fourth Duke of Devonshire, (yes I know Chatsworth is in Derbyshire) employing Capability Brown to landscape the grounds.
It is said that as one of the greatest of the landscape gardeners Capability Brown designed gardens to blend in and to be a natural part of the landscape.
It is a claim that has puzzled me for some time because (and I know I may sound like a philistine) I have yet to see a “natural” landscape that has beautifully structured lakes and temples from which water cascades.