A very fine lady turned up today. The Nine of Pentacles is one of my favourite cards, displaying a smart, independent, and skilled woman. She is the mistress of all she surveys, having created a world and a life for herself. Calm and organised, this woman would appear to be the opposite of the Fool and his risk taking. But no-one gets anywhere without taking a few risks at some point on the journey, do they?
A local heroine of mine, Bess of Hardwick who was born in 1527, shows herself to me in this card. A shrewd, clever and business-minded woman, she took risks a-plenty and navigated her way through legal wrangles and the politics of the Tudor court keeping both her wealth, her position and perhaps most impressively for the time, her head.
Derbyshire is spoilt for choice when it comes to impressive stately homes and houses and a fair number were either owned, built or lived in by by Bess and her family, including the resplendent Chatsworth House. For most of last year I worked in a church just a stone’s throw from Hardwick Hall. An incredible Elizabethan pile now owned by the National Trust, it was built by Bess next to the now ruined Old Hardwick Hall where she was born. Now owned by the National Trust, Hardwick Hall is filled with the most immense and intricate tapestries and textiles, an art form that Bess herself was skilled in.
Bess was incredibly wealthy. With four husbands and many children, Bess had built for herself not only a vast coffer and a reputation that she was not to be messed with, but also a lasting legacy. Highly respected by Queen Elizabeth, Bess and her fourth husband, the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury were entrusted with the care and imprisonment under House arrest of Mary, Queen of Scots. Bess and Mary were companions for many years and worked on tapestries and textiles together, many of which are on display in Hardwick Hall. They are carefully kept after Bess instructed that they be looked after in perpetuity as a historical collection. As much as her great buildings and business acumen is impressive then, if we’re looking for Bess’s creative heart, I think we’re likely to find it in the threads and fabrics which hang on her walls.
Going back to the tarot though, we’re back with the nines again. There is something missing for this lady, as perhaps there was for Bess of Hardwick. There is a sense in the card of ‘almost there, but not quite’. This element of the card is often interpreted as loneliness or a sense of isolation and I wonder if for Bess we might see in this card her many personal losses. She was widowed four times and lost two children in infancy and we might also mention the execution of Queen Mary, someone with whom she had a complex relationship.
As I write this, I am around five minutes walk from the tomb of Bess of Hardwick which is now in Derby Cathedral. As I have done on many occasions, I shall light a candle for her immortal soul and pray that I might have as much determination as she did in her life. It might also do to keep in mind that the Nine of Pentacles shows us that having ‘made it’ by achieving the material trappings of a successful life is most certainly not the end of the story.
If you’d like to learn more about the tarot, remember there is a beginners course in Belper on 29th September. All are welcome!