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