Friday, April 15, 2011

Exhibition: Unsealed - The Letters of Bess of Hardwick, at Hardwick Hall

Bess of Hardwick (Elizabeth, countess of Shrewsbury) was one of Elizabethan England’s most famous figures, an influential matriarch and dynast, lady at Elizabeth I’s court, and the builder of great stately homes like Hardwick Hall. For the first time, her correspondence now features in an exciting exhibition at Hardwick Hall: Unsealed – The Letters of Bess of Hardwick.

Dukes and spies, queens and servants, friends and lovers – all of the Elizabethan world populates Bess of Hardwick’s letters. Bess herself wrote hundreds of letters throughout her life. They were her lifeline to her travelling children and husbands, to the court at London, and to news from the world at large. And when she moved to Hardwick Hall in the final years of her life, the old countess received current and family news into her house through her correspondence. Unsealed lets Bess and her correspondents tell their stories in their own words. The stunning banners and letter facsimiles bring Bess and her correspondents to life. Interactive features for both children and adults include a series of podcasts on food, fashion and gossip exchanged with Bess’s letters. The exhibition will remain at Hardwick Hall throughout the 2011 season, to be seen by thousands of visitors.

In collaboration with the National Trust, Unsealed was created by Dr Anke Timmermann with support from Dr Alison Wiggins at the University of Glasgow, where the AHRC Letters of Bess of Hardwick Project team has been working on an online edition of this important corpus of Renaissance letters for more than two years to date. This project reconsiders the story of Bess’s life, which as told to date typically emphasises her modest birth, her opportune marriages and rise through the ranks of society, and her ambitious aggrandisement of her family. But Bess’s surviving correspondence, which numbers more than 230 letters, shows her personal and public life in all its complexity, with as much detail as a diary would. The exhibition Unsealed – The Letters of Bess of Hardwick now also invites the general public to discover just who Bess of Hardwick was.

Unsealed is funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, and supported by the National Trust and the University of Glasgow.


- AHRC Letters of Bess of Hardwick Project (

- Unsealed: The Podcasts (

- Hardwick Hall (


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