Tuesday, 24 May 2016

A Tudor Girl from Derbyshire

Elizabeth Countess of Shrewsbury - 'Bess of Hardwick' - National Portrait Gallery
In the year 1527 Elizabeth was born at Hardwick, Derbyshire - the fifth daughter of a Squire and Yeoman Farmer. From minor gentry she rose to become the richest women in Elizabethan England next to the Queen and was widely known as 'Bess of Hardwick'.  She was a young girl when her father died, and her mother remarried. Bess was placed in service to a local prominent household - Sir John and Lady Zouche of Codnor Castle. Whilst there she met her first husband, a wealthy youth called Robert Barlow. They married when she was 15 and he was 13 but he had a terminal illness and died within a year, the marriage was unconsumated, but he left her a third of his income and a widow's pension.
Five years later she met and married wealthy William Cavendish of Suffolk, they had 8 children, bought the Chatsworth estate for £600, and Bess became a Lady in Waiting to Queen Elizabeth 1. Ten years after their marriage William died leaving Bess a widow once more. Two years passed and she married Sir William St. Loe, who was Captain of the Guard to Queen Elizabeth - he was so enamoured with Bess that he endowed her with his estates and disinherited his own kinsfolk when he died five years later. 
Three years on and her final fourth marriage was to George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewbury - an extremely rich and powerful man who was made the guardian of Mary Queen of Scots. Bess separated from Talbot accusing him of an affair with Mary, which she was later made to retract by Queen Elizabeth and her Council. Lord Shrewsbury died soon after, and she inherited his iron works, smithies and glass works, along with Bolsover Castle and its coal pits. She had parks in Staffordshire, Derbyshire, and Yorkshire used for pasture, along with minerals and timbers, and she gained a large widow's settlement.  
Bess was now extremely wealthy but also very shrewd, she had ambitions that her granddaughter, Arbella, would one day become queen. One of her sons from their Cavendish father became the Duke of Devonshire, but her daughter, Elizabeth Cavendish, married Charles Stuart, 1st Earl of Lennox which gave their daughter Arbella an excellent claim to the English throne through the Stuart line especially as Queen Elizabeth I was without issue.

Now a widow in her late fifties Bess set about building Hardwick Old Hall on the spot where her father's modest manor house had once stood, but with her even greater wealth she abandoned it in favour of Hardwick New Hall which she had built literally over the garden wall from the incomplete building.

Hardwick New Hall took seven years to complete.  It is one of the finest Elizabethan houses with it's six towers filled with huge glass windows. Glass was a great luxury during the mid C16th and was only available to the aristocracy or the very wealthy, but of course Bess also had at her disposal her very own glassworks too
Bess lived to the ripe old age of 80, a very long life in the c16th - but more on Hardwick where she lived for her last 20 years in the next post.  
Forgive me my digression, but it is tempting to compare 'Bess of Hardwick' to US President candidate Donald Trump. Both risen from provincial origins, married several times, with a brood of children. Formidable Bess had 4 husbands and 8 children, Trump 3 wives and 5 children - he still has time to catch her up! Both built themselves impressive towers filled with glass as statements of both their new found power and great wealth. Bess emblazoned each apex of her six towers with her cipher carved in stone (ES and crown stands for Elizabeth Countess of Shrewsbury) Donald Trump's glass towers are adorned in large gold lettering proclaiming 'TRUMP'.
Bess nearly became grandmother to the queen of England, but will Donald Trump nearly become President?

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Monday, 16 May 2016


It must be at least ten years since we visited St. Mary's, the largest island within the Scilly Isles archipelago lying a short plane or boat ride off Land's End in Cornwall.  It was there that I found this Echeveria - they come in many varieties, big, small, grey-green, lilac or reddish, smooth, hairy or downy. These Succulents along with cacti thrive out of doors on the Scilly isles because of the warmth that they receive from the Gulf Stream flowing all around the islands. My succulent was growing in a mossy stone wall surrounding an old church, I 'rescued' it, and ever since it has lived happily in the conservatory. I like it's soft green leaves and shape - it must like living here as it has grown much bigger.
My blogging friend Gina showed a plant growing in her greenhouse here which unexpectedly started to sprout, and she wondered whether it might flower. That very same week I noticed changes happening with my plant too.

Echeveria were discovered in the Mexican desert by botanist Antansio Echeverría y Godoy in the c19th, and can have pink, yellow, orange or red flowers - I am thinking the flower might be yellow! but H's choice is pink!
what colour do you think?

I have just come across an article suggesting that when an Echeveria flowers it is telling you: "I like it here".
Everything in the conservatory is blooming at the moment. Another unexpected flowering is an old Amyrillis "apple blossom" bulb
Schlumbergera Gaertneri - Easter Cactus putting on a pretty display
This old Geranium flowers each year
and my Cycas revoluta is throwing up it's annual set of new leaves. Did you know that these spikey robust plants are primitive relics from the Mesozoic era, a time when Dinosaurs walk the planet - Ginko trees are too. They are extremely long lived, and described as 'living fossils' - there is one on display at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew that is over 220 years old.
The Echeveria flowers have arrived and they are yellow
In the garden Spring rushed in very early, but then growth rapidly stopped with the sudden prolonged cold spell putting everything behind schedule. The flowers now seem to be in a hurry to 'catch up' and several of the ones below are already in decline
This large Horse Chestnut tree was a mere sapling when we came here 20 years ago.
As this week draws to a close I shall be taking my usual annual trip down memory lane.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Daisy Time

See, the grass is full of stars, 
Fallen in their brightness;
 Hearts they have of shining gold,
Rays of shining whiteness.
Buttercups have honeyed hearts,
Bees they love the clover,
 Daisy Fairy by Cicely Mary Barker
But I love the daisies' dance
All the meadow over.

Blow, O blow, you happy winds,
Singing summer's praises,

Up the field and down the field
A-dancing with the daisies.

 by Marjorie Pickthall

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Nikolai Astrup

This is a republish of a post I did four years ago. I am showing it again to coincide with an exhibition of this renowned Norwegian artist being held at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London finishing this Sunday. It is the first ever major London exhibition of Astrup's work and indeed the world's, outside of Norway. More details can be found here - catch it if you can.
portrait of Nikolai Astrup (1880 - 1928) by Henrik Lund
Interior of Nikolai Astrup's Studio in Ålhus, Jølster 
courtesy Harald Oppedal via wikipedia
I was introduced to the work of Nikolai Astrup when I was visiting my son and his family in Norway. I admire the way his work conveys his love of Norway, and his family. In many ways I find parallels to his art with Carl Larsson. Both of them reveal a great passion and regard for their own country and their family. If his work is new to you, I hope that you will enjoy it.
Nikolai Astrup established himself as one of Norway's main painters during the first decade of the 20th C, and his woodcuts have especially earned him a central position in Norwegian art history. Along with Edvard Munch, Astrup is considered a pioneer of the new graphic technique. 
all images courtesy wikipedia
Nikolai Astrup was born in Bremanger, Nordfjord in 1880. His family moved shortly after to Ålhus in Jølster, where his father was a priest. The father-son relationship was at times conflicting, mainly because Astrup never felt comfortable with the strict Christian tradition practised in his home. Also, his wish to become an artist went against his family's traditional expectations. As an artist and a bohemian, Astrup stood out in the small and confined environment he grew up in. However, he chose to live in Jølster for most of his life, and this is the area where he found the scenery for nearly all of his paintings. Throughout his artistic work he focused on the same landscape, his garden, and his family. His paintings can in many ways be looked upon as a series of seasons, where Astrup portrays the constant and eternity in life; the little garden with fruit trees and a small field, the lake, the familiar mountains, the woods and fields - and constantly changing atmospheres - a rainy morning in Autumn, beginning of Spring, an icy cold Winter morning or the warm, light nights of the Summer.
He was educated in Norwegian and European contemporary art - Christian Krohg taught him at the Academie Colarossi in Paris. He travelled to Berlin, Dresden and Hamburg and visited the museums to be educated in old and contemporary art. He was especially keen on the work of the French primitive Henri Rousseau and the German symbolist Arnold Böcklin - the latter fascinated him so much that he named one of his sons after him.
In 1902 Astrup moved back to Jølster for good, and a few years later he married Engel, a young peasant girl from the area. They had eight children. Astrup continued his work as an artist along with his obligations towards his family and farm work. It wasn't easy; they had little money and he struggled with bad health.
In 1928, he sadly died of pneumonia at the young age of 47 years.