Ann Radcliffe: Hardwick Hall and Mary Queen of Scots
Hardwick Hall, Doe Lea, Chesterfield S44 5QJ
Hardwick Hall 18202 Mary

Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823) was the best-selling novelist of her day. Her novels developed an appetite for a particular brand of the Gothic in which her heroines often triumphed against figures who sought to imprison, persecute and disinherit them.  It is therefore not surprising that she was drawn to the story about the imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587) who had seemingly been kept under house arrest at Hardwick Hall just prior to her execution.

Ann Radcliffe visited Hardwick Hall in 1794 (the year in which her novel The Mysteries of Udolpho was published) and included an account of her visit in A Journey Made in the Summer of 1794 through Holland and the Western Frontier of Germany: with a Return Down the Rhine: to which are Added Observations During a Tour to the Lakes of Lancashire, Westmoreland, and Cumberland (1795). A strong sense of pathos is accorded to Hardwick Hall in her account of Mary Queen of Scots’ imprisonment here between 1584 and her execution in 1587.

Radcliffe notes:

We followed, not without emotion, the walk, which Mary had so often trodden, to the folding doors of the great hall, whose lofty grandeur, aided by silence and seen under the influence of a lowering sky, suited the temper of the whole scene [….]The scene of Mary’s arrival and her feelings upon entering this solemn shade came involuntarily to the mind.

Radcliffe notes that Mary’s ‘dignity and beauty’ would have awed her captors and that Mary’s presence is recalled by a room on the first storey, where:

One apartment bears memorials of her imprisonment, the bed, tapestry and chairs having been worked by herself. This tapestry is richly embossed with emblematic figures, each with its title worked above it, and, having been scrupulously preserved, is still entire and fresh.

Radcliffe also notes the presence of ‘a grand gallery’ which ‘occupies the length of the whole front’ of the building, consisting of ‘many portraits’ including:

Mary, in black, taken a short time before her death, her countenance much faded, deeply marked by indignation and grief, and reduced to the spectre of herself, frowning with suspicion upon all who approached it; the black eyes looking out from their corners, thin lips, somewhat aquiline nose and beautiful chin.

Mary’s portrait in Hardwick Hall shows the deep marks left by grief; and the room with its well-preserved black velvet chairs (reputedly embroidered by Mary), strikes Radcliffe by its grandeur, ‘before the veneration and tenderness arise, with its antiquities and the plainly told tale of the sufferings they witnessed.’ By contrast, the portrait of Queen Elizabeth which dominates the grand room at Hardwick decides her character as ‘slyly proud and meanly violent’ for Radcliffe.  Any awe that may have been created by the room’s grandeur and the pictorial presence of its powerful monarchical sponsor is usurped by private veneration and tenderness for her victim.

However, Radcliffe’s sentimental evocation of Mary rests on a false premise because Mary, although imprisoned in other places nearby, had not been incarcerated at Hardwick Hall. Mary, however, is perhaps recognisable as a typical Radcliffean heroine who is locked up within a domestic space and accorded the type of dignity accorded to Emily St. Aubert in Udolpho.

Radcliffe may have been indebted to James Pilkington for the story about Mary who, in A view of the present state of Derbyshire with an account of its most remarkable antiquities (1789), claimed that:

There is no doubt that Mary was for some time confined here under the care of the Earl of Shrewsbury; and it is particularly deserving of notice, that the house remains in its primitive state with the original furniture to this day.

Subsequent important accounts of the myth, however, cite Radcliffe as their main source. The Rev David Peter Davies in A Historical and Descriptive View of Derbyshire  (1811) quotes verbatim from Radcliffe’s account of Hardwick Hall and notes that:

Ascending the grand stair-case, you enter the chapel, where the chairs and cushions used by Mary still remain.

Ebenezer Rhodes in Peak Scenery of the Derbyshire Tourist (1824), refers to Radcliffe and claims that:

Hardwick Hall was another of the prisons of the Queen of Scots, and some of her needle work is preserved with great care.

Radcliffe played an important role in fostering this myth of Mary and subsequent accounts of her develop the idea of a Gothic Mary, trapped within the Hall, who is made spectrally present through her needlework and above all by her portrait.

It is clear that Radcliffe effectively put Hardwick Hall on a map of Gothic places to see – one which the proprietors of Hardwick Hall, with its fabricated chamber where Mary allegedly resided, seemed happy to support.

Further details on Hardwick Hall can be found here: