Up until the fourteenth century the great hall doubled as a place to sleep for all but the wealthiest. As the decades progressed vernacular building styles changed and more people could afford their own private chambers. For instance chimneys replaced open hearths. This meant that the hall could now be a ground floor space with a first floor above it rather than being open to the roof. Ultimately the wealthy dined in private rooms and the servants were relegated to the servant’s hall. Once food was removed from the hall it changed into a grand entrance way. As times became more peaceful the hall could be extended into part of a winged building. The great hall disappeared altogether where builders began from scratch.
So – Renaissance halls were much less functionally important than their medieval predecessors but still an important statement of wealth and ostentation. Four times married Bess of Hardwick poured her wealth into her building projects from her home at Chatsworth, via Buxton Old Hall and alms houses in Derby to Hardwick. Hardwick Hall is famously “more glass than wall” and it has a great hall style space which lays at its very heart as shown in the plan above– but no staircase in that particular location! England’s first official architect Robert Smythson who was also responsible for Longleat built it.
However, there’s plenty of information about Hardwick available on-line so my third advent for 2017 is this image of Arbella Stuart. Bess of Hardwick forged strong marriage alliances for her off-spring but over-stepped herself when she arranged a marriage between her daughter Elizabeth Cavendish and Lord Darnley’s younger brother Charles Stuart. Lord Darnley was, of course, Henry Stuart the murdered spouse of Bess’s” house guest” Mary Queen of Scots. It happened that Bess was friends with Margaret, Countess of Lennox – the mother of the Stuart boys. And, of course Margaret’s mother was Henry VII’s eldest daughter Margaret Tudor. Bess of Hardwick became grandmother to a contender for the throne. No wonder she described Arbella as “my jewel.”
The story goes that Margaret was travelling with her son Charles from London to their lands in Yorkshire. They stopped off at Rufford Abbey – one of Bess’s residences purchased by husband number two, William Cavendish, at the dissolution of the monasteries. Bess arrived with her daughter Elizabeth in tow. Margaret promptly became unwell and what was Bess to do but nurse her poor friend, leaving their children to get to know one another better. It all sounds very romantic but the two women had been plotting for the better part of a year to arrange the match. Bess’s husband the earl of Shrewsbury was not amused when he heard the news. The marriage into the Tudor family line and the arrival of little Arbella were nails in the coffin of Bess’s final marriage.
Arbella was born in 1575 – probably at Lennox House in Hackney. Charles died the following year and the title that should have been Arbella’s went back to Scotland. It is significant that the portrait identifies Arbella as the countess of Lennox. It would be a claimed that she pursued intermittently for the rest of her life.
This portrait was painted by an unknown artist in about 1577 and one of the things I love about it is the doll. Dolls as toys have been around for a very long time. There’s a Roman ragdoll in the British Museum for instance. There are other sixteenth century portraits of children with dolls but this one is done up to the nines – so its more of a fashion doll for an adult rather than a child’s toy. It suggests that the infant Arbella was much cossetted.
Dolls were sometimes called Bartholomew babies according to information I once read at Knebworth House because they were often purchased at St Bartholomew’s Fair in London. These dolls were carved from wood. They had a head and a torso but no arms or legs. The wooden shape could then be painted and dressed. The British Museum has another kind of doll in its collection dating from Tudor times and also thought to be sold at fairs like St Bartholomew’s. It was found in the Thames and is a rare survival made from lead alloy.
By 1582 there was a tax on foreign made dolls though they weren’t known as dolls until the eighteenth century.