Arbella and The Main Plot

The interpretation of Arbella as the rightful heir to Elizabeth I can be seen to have resulted in people plotting to place her on the throne after James was crowned. This, therefore, resulted in Stuart being viewed as a threat to James I because she was seen as an alternative for those who were discontent with him as King.

Conspator Sir Walter Raleigh


This concept can be seen particularly in the motivation behind the 1603 Main Plot, which involved figures such as Lord Cobham and Sir Walter Raleigh. The plotters were charged ‘that [they] did conspire and goe about [to] deprive the King of his government’ and that they ‘intended the intitling of the Lady Arabella Steward to the Crowne.’[1] Argued to be the ‘more serious’ of the two 1603 plot’s by Gristwood, this particular conspiracy presented how Arbella Stuart became a rallying point for those discontent with James’ reign.[2] By plotting to remove the King and ‘intitling… Lady Arabella Steward’, the conspirators made Arbella a potential threat to James; using her position as a potential claimant to present a substitute for the King if they had been successful in their assassination plot. However Arbella’s letters suggest that she was discontent with the conspirators plan to place her on the throne, corresponding in 1603 to Mary Talbot, Arbella wrote about how ‘the vanity of wicked mens vaine designes, have made my name passe through a grosse and suttle lawyers lippes of late.’[3] Describing the plotters as ‘wicked men’ with ‘vaine designes,’ Arbella clearly presents her disapproval of the plot to place her on the throne, viewing those involved negatively. This is reinforced by the comment in relation to her name passing ‘through a grosse and suttle lawyers lippes of late.’ This further supports Arbella’s discontent with her name being associated with a plot against the King and, therefore, can be seen to support that she posed no threat to James but instead her claim was used by those who were dissatisfied with his reign.


[1] Raleigh, Walter The Arraignment and Conviction of Sir Walter Raleigh, William Wilson, London, 1648

[2] Gristwood, Sarah Arbella, England’s Lost Queen, Bantam Books, London, 2004 p267

[3] Arbella Stuart to Mary Talbot, 8th December 1603 In: Steen, Sara Jayne, The Letters of Arbella Stuart, Oxford University Press, New York, 1994, p194


Arbella During The Reign of Queen Elizabeth

Arbella can firstly be seen as a threat to James’ claim to the English throne before he was crowned King in 1603 because of how Queen Elizabeth treated the two potential successors. Sara Jayne Steen argues that if Arbella’s claim had not been ‘nearly equal to his, James might have been more insisted in his demands’ towards Elizabeth.[1] Writing in 1598, Peter Wentworth focused on the concern of Elizabeth’s ‘good and kind subjects’ in connection to her refusal to name a successor.[2] Focusing on how ‘we do greatlie feare, that your grace shall, then finde such a troubled soule and conscience,’ Wentworth describes the country’s awareness and fear towards Elizabeth’s refusal to name her heir.[3] Steen’s argument that ‘James might have been more [insistent]’ in demanding to be named Elizabeth’s successor if it had not been for Arbella’s potential claim can therefore be supported by the country’s awareness that Elizabeth was not content to name her heir. Steen further supports this by suggesting that ‘Elizabeth could pressure James by favoring Arbella,’ again suggesting that Elizabeth favoured alternative successors to force James to not be insistent in being named heir. [4] However, Elizabeth’s favouring of Arbella when James was applying too much pressure upon her to be named successor does not suggest that Stuart was a threat to James. This concept proposes that Arbella was used by Elizabeth to intimidate James but Stuart herself did not pose the threat to his position. Instead Elizabeth’s expectations could be seen as the threat to James being named heir, with the Queen purely using Arbella to force him to conform to her wishes.

Elizabeth I.


Furthermore, Arbella presented a threat to James during Elizabeth’s reign as some wished her to be named as Elizabeth’s successor, furthering the threat posed by the Queen using Arbella to intimidate James. During Elizabeth’s reign, some of the population deemed James to be of a foreign nationality, resulting in them not wishing for him to be named Elizabeth’s heir as they did not want a foreign King. Described as the ‘lawful inheritress’ by the French ambassador as a result of being an English descendant, Arbella was deemed to be a suitable alternative in the succession in comparison to the Scottish James.[5] Writing that as ‘a native-born claimant, Arbella Stuart was a more attractive contender’ to some members of the population, Mazzola supports the concept that Arbella posed a threat to James’ position because she was ‘native-born’ while James was born in Scotland to a Scottish queen, who herself had posed a significant threat to the Queen.[6]

Mary, Queen of Scots. Mother of James I.


Although this notion supports that Arbella did pose a threat to James’ position as Elizabeth’s potential heir, it also reflects how Arbella herself was not the one threatening James. Instead, the danger posed to James’ position was by those who were discontent with the idea of a foreigner as King, who instead substituted his claim with the ‘native-born’ Arbella, of an equal standing.

[1] Steen, Sara Jayne The Letters of Arbella Stuart, Oxford University Press, New York, 1994, p19

[2] Wentworth, Peter A Pithiie Exhortation of her Majestie for Establishing Her Successor to the Crowne, 1598,  p34

[3] Wentworth, Peter A Pithiee Exhortation of her Majestie for Establishing Her Successor to the Crowne, 1598,  p100

[4] Steen, Sara Jayne, The Letters of Arbella Stuart, Oxford University Press, New York, 1994, p19

[5] Gristwood, Sarah Arbella, England’s Lost Queen, Bantam Books, London, 2004,  p91

[6] Mazzola, Elizabeth Women’s Wealth and Women’s Writing in Early Modern England, Ashgate, Farnham, 2009, p74

Was Arbella Stuart a threat to James I?

Described as ‘a leading contender for the English throne and throughout her life the focus of plot and intrigue’ by her biographer, Sarah Gristwood, Arbella Stuart presented a potential threat to her cousin, James I’s, claim to the English throne.[1] A relative of Elizabeth I through her maternal line and to the Scottish monarchy paternally, Arbella Stuart clearly posed a significant threat to James VI’s position as heir to the English throne and then later to him when he was crowned King of England after Elizabeth’s death in 1603.

Portrait of Arbella Stuart.


 Born in 1575, Arbella Stuart was the daughter of Charles Stuart, 1st Earl of Lennox and Elizabeth Cavendish, Countess of Lennox. After the death of her parents, Arbella became the ward of Elizabeth ‘Bess’ of Hardwick and spent most of her childhood at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire; isolated from the court of Elizabeth I. While Arbella did visit the court of the Queen, she spent most of her childhood in Derbyshire under the strict supervision of her grandmother. In 1588, Arbella became a Lady in Waiting to Elizabeth but was dismissed and sent back to Derbyshire after being seen to be too familiar with the Queen’s favourite, the Earl of Essex. During her life, Arbella can be seen to have plotted various escape plans; her first an attempt to leave the confines of her grandmother but later as a more serious attempt to break free from the Tower of London, where she was imprisoned by James I for her marriage to William Seymour in 1610. Arbella Stuart died in the Tower in 1615, because of complications from her refusal to eat, and was buried in Westminster Abbey two days later.

Over the next few blog entries, I will be focusing on the arguments of how Arbella Stuart was perceived to be a threat to James I.

[1] Gristwood, Sarah Arbella, England’s Lost Queen, Bantam Books, London 2004, p18

The Women of 18th Century Bath

Throughout the eighteenth century, Bath was the most popular city other than London for the aristocracy to visit. While famously associated with the life and works of Jane Austen, the city has been the home of numerous iconic women of the period. Below are four of Bath’s iconic female residents.


Caroline Herschel

Sister of William Herschel, Caroline Herschel joined her brother in his New King Street home from Hanover; speaking very little English when she first arrived. During her time in Bath, Caroline received singing lessons from her brother as well as lessons in English and was soon performing soprano roles in the city. Like her brother Caroline was both talented in music and astronomy, acknowledged as her brother’s ‘astronomical assistant.’ As well as acting as William Herschel’s assistant, Caroline discovered eight comets (one of which is named after her) and was awarded with the gold medal from the Royal Astronomical Society in 1828.


Elizabeth Linley

Born in 1754 in Bath, Elizabeth Linley is believed to have started her singing career in 1763, performing in numerous Bath concerts. However many believed that her father exploited her talents, commenting that he made her sing too much. Linley famously eloped in 1772 from her family home in the Royal Crescent with Richard Sheridan before marrying in April 1773. After their marriage, Sheridan stopped Linley’s public career and when he bought the Drury Lane Theatre in London she was involved in auditioning singers and keeping the accounts. The couple eventually separated in 1790 and Linley died in Bristol two years later, being buried in Wells Cathedral beside her sister in 1792.


Sarah Siddons

Originally born in Brecon, Sarah Siddons was a famous actress of the eighteenth century, particularly connected to her successful tragic roles. In 1778, Siddons started performing in Bath’s Theatre Royal and during her time at the theatre established herself as one of the most popular actresses of the period. During her first season, Siddons performed thirty different roles in Bath and Bristol theatres before taking on her iconic roles of Lady Macbeth, Queen Katherine in Henry VIII and Constance in King John during her second season at Bath’s Theatre Royal in 1779. It seems that Siddons intended to remain in Bath but due to financial instability she decided to move to London, leaving the city in September 1782.


Elizabeth Montagu

Unlike the other women discussed, Elizabeth Montagu was not a full time resident of Bath, instead she rented a house in the Royal Crescent for the season. Elizabeth Montagu was a bluestocking hostess, using her Bath residence to hold various social events in the 1770’s. During these invitation only parties, her guests were encouraged to discuss literary and philosophical subjects and Montagu became known as the Queen of the Blue Stockings.

Who Are The Iconic Men of Georgian Bath?

It’s Jane Austen week here in Bath and everyone here is talking about Pride and Prejudice’s iconic writer.

Over the last few days, Austen has become an even larger conversation starter than usual and is continually referred to as Bath’s most famous resident. However, I do not feel that this is a correct statement! There are many residents of eighteenth and early nineteenth century Bath, who are as iconic, or more so, than Jane Austen but have not received the same attention as the celebrated novelist. Over my next two blog posts, I will be focusing on some of the most well known male and female residents of this famous Georgian city, who deserve to be celebrated as much as Jane Austen.

Today I will be focusing on four of Bath’s most famous male residents during these two centuries.


Beau Nash

Between 1704 and 1761, Beau Nash was the Master of Ceremonies in Bath and had the greatest influence over the manners and conduct of eighteenth century Bath. Creating rules such as how people were to dress when attending balls to what sorts of entertainment were allowed in Bath, Nash had one of the largest impacts on Georgian Bath as an social setting for both the aristocracy and the gentry. Nash’s position as Master of Ceremonies was so crucial that after his death, in 1761,a competition developed between the potential candidates for the role and a fight broke out in the Assembly Rooms- resulting in the Riot Act being read three times!

Nash resided in Saw Close, now next to the entrance to Bath’s Theatre Royal.


Richard Sheridan

Politician and playwright, Richard Brinsley Sheridan is a character I’ve studied in great detail for my dissertation; especially his relationship with Henrietta Ponsonby, Lady Bessborough.His works include dramas such as The Rivals, which is about to be performed again in Bristol’s Old Vic.  Richard Sheridan lived in New King Street and famously eloped with Elizabeth Linley, who became his first wife, from her home in the Royal Crescent in 1772. While courting Elizabeth Linley, Sheridan was involved in two duels with a Captain Thomas Matthews, who had written a negative article about Linley- the first duel was fought in London while the second was fought in Kingsdown, near Bath, in 1772. Both men were injured during the final duel, with Sheridan being declared as out of danger eight days later.

herschel .png

William Herschel

William Herschel was a man of many talents and moved to Bath from Hanover in 1766 to pursue a career as a musician. However, Herschel is better known for his astronomical discoveries. In the garden of his house on New King Street, William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus as well as increasing the dimensions of the Milky Way. In 1782 Herschel received the title of King’s Astronomer and continued to work on the development of large telescopes until his death in 1822. He was assisted by his sister Caroline, who will be discussed in the future.

William Beckford.jpg

William Beckford

Beckford is arguably one of Bath’s more unique characters. Moving to Lansdown Crescent in 1822, after he had sold Fonthill Abbey (an architectural nightmare in my opinion), William Beckford was a novelist and collector, as well an inheritor of his father’s large fortune. Beckford’s largest, or tallest, endeavour while living in Bath was to create Lansdown Tower, more commonly known today as Beckford’s Tower. The 120 foot tower, which still dominates the Bath skyline, reflects Beckford’s love of architecture and interior design with the writer himself stating ‘I am growing rich, and mean to build towers’ earlier in his life. Beckford died in 1844 and is buried in Lansdown cemetery.

Fonthill .png

William Beckford’s Fonthill Abbey, before and after the collapse of the spire.


Do these men deserve to be celebrated like Jane Austen? Are there any other male Bath residents you believe should be celebrated as iconic Bathonians? And what are your opinions on William Beckford’s Fonthill Abbey?

Portrait Propaganda

In our age of the internet and celebrity formed almost entirely through carefully curated images it’s easy to forget that this idea far out dates Instagram and Youtube. Kings and queens had used portraiture for centuries to ensure proliferation of their image and the presentation of their power over subjects but arguably it was Henry VIII who kickstarted the trend of immense, vivid and detailed images that spoke of his majesty. The invention of the printing press, helped by technical advances in portraiture, saw the spread and control of images of a monarch as an essential part of statecraft, ensuring that subjects would able to see what was presented as a true image of the wealthy and powerful, though perhaps more labour intensive than a decent angle and a few filters.


Hans Holbein the Younger, ‘Anne of Cleves’, 1539


We know from the example of Anne of Cleves that portraits were often designed to be more flattering than factual, I feel I could make a Tinder joke here but I’ve never actually used it so we’ll stick with calling this a prime example of the political power of portraiture.


Henry’s daughter Elizabeth I learned from her father’s example; she and her council were particularly adept at exploiting public goodwill through the frequent creation and distribution of new images of the queen, all laden with obvious iconography and subtle symbolism which spoke of the patriotism and loyalty expected of the viewer. Unauthorised images of the queen, whether original or reproductions were subject to attempts at heavy regulation, not just to restrict their use to permitted means, but because Elizabeth despised images which included ‘grievous and offensive “errors and deformities”‘ in her appearance.


Unknown Artist, ‘Elizabeth I: The Armada Portrait’, c.1588


While no original copy exists, the coronation portrait of Elizabeth was her first opportunity to state her intentions to the world. Despite the extravagant cost of her coronation Elizabeth wears her sister Mary’s robes, reworked and styled, as a visible link to the previous monarch, and only officially acknowledged Queen Regnant. The pose and style of the portrait is unusual for the time; the front facing pose is said to mimic the coronation portrait of Richard II, so that Elizabeth is ‘physically modelling herself on the last English monarch with an unquestioned claim to the throne’.


Unknown Artist, ‘Elizabeth i: The Coronation Portrait’ c.1600 copy of a lost original


Elizabeth’s life during the reigns of her father, brother and sister had invested in her both an unwavering pride in her position, and a seemingly never ending internal and external conflict to assert the dominance of her claim to the throne. Modelling her coronation portrait on that of Richard II created ‘link that overarches Elizabeth’s bastardisation’. Elizabeth’s love of spectacle and obsession with asserting her lineage and status came to define her reign, and our most lasting impressions are formed by the scrupulously refined images of her that survive, exactly as she would have intended. 



Some Sources

Thomas Heywood ‘Englands Elizabeth her life and troubles, during her minoritie, from the cradle to the crowne. Historically laid open and interwouen with such eminent passages of state, as happened vnder the reigne of Henry the Eight, Edvvard the Sixt, Q. Mary; all of them aptly introducing to the present relation’, 1631  

Lisa Hilton, Elizabeth: Renaissance Prince, 2014

Louis A. Montrose, ‘Idols of the Queen: Policy, Gender, and the Picturing of Elizabeth I’


Dear Fresher Self…

Dear First Year Jess,

Hello Jess, this is your grown up self talking so pay attention!!! University will be both terrifying and brilliant- there will be moments when you want to scream and times when you regret that it’s reaching an end; especially when you’re walking across the stage at your graduation with the proudest smile on your face. That’s a long way off yet, or at least that’s how it seems now- the time does go fast!

As a shy and quiet recluse, the idea of Fresher’s Week will be terrifying you! Don’t panic! It’s a time to do what you want, to try new things and to meet new people. Try everything, if you don’t like it then you know and don’t have to do it again. Try clubbing, you won’t like it, but it’s pretty amusing to look back on and you will enjoy spending time with people- even if you think the music is bad! And don’t worry about looking like an idiot in various costumes, you will actually rather enjoy it!! Over the next week you will dress up as a pirate, in a toga, cat woman and over the next couple of years you will also appear as Marie Antoinette, yet another pirate, and Red Riding Hood. Why do you always dress up as a pirate when someone says costume!?

Make your room your own! It’s going to be your home for a year so fill it with cushions, rugs, posters! It’s your space, so don’t be afraid to go mad with decoration! You will feel more comfortable if you make it yours and not just a room (and everyone will want to live in your room because yours is the most comfortable).  Buy a doorstop as well, you will need it. You will end up being the only person not locked out of your bedroom because you’ve left your keys behind because of the doorstop and you will shake your head at every single person who gets locked out of their room after having a shower- it happens a lot!

My First Year Bedroom

And don’t forget the chocolate! It is the best way to get to know your housemates, the people who will see you when sick, when you’re drunk and when you’re not in the best of moods! You will sit around piles of chocolate and get to know one another! Always pick a box with a variety of flavours!

University is an experience that is like no other. It’s the only place where you will find it totally normal to have pepperoni stuck to the ceiling (don’t ask), someone playing an electrical drum kit at stupid o’clock in the morning because it’s funny to see the confused faces of your fellow students and the only time it’s totally normal to avoid touching the kitchen floor because it’s covered in cider so you climb over chairs. It’s mad, unhygienic but wonderful and the only time it’s acceptable to live like that!

Cider before it hit the floor…

Good luck and enjoy, first year is a fantastic experience! Also enjoy it, because this year, the grades don’t count!!!

Your Graduated Self.

Jessica, BA (Hons) History