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

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