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.

220px-elizabeth_i_in_coronation_robes
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
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

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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.

arbella-stuart
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