A Spanish Marriage
In 1590 an English agent was being employed by Sir Robert Cecil to promote the marriage between the fifteen year old Arbella and Ranuccio Farnese, one of the Duke of Parma’s sons. For a short period of time national interests ran in line with the interests of Arbella’s relations. The marriage was being promoted by the Spanish ambassador Bernardino de Mendoza .The marriage was originally proposed several years earlier, but had fallen in the Armada’s wake. Indeed James had written to Elizabeth insisting that Arbella should not be married to anyone without his express consent. During a visit to London a number of paintings of Arbella were prepared, at the request of the Farnese family, including one by Nicholas Hilliard.
That Christmas Arbella received a letter from her cousin, James acknowledging for the first time;
‘The strict band of nature and blood, whereby we are linked to [one] another.’[i]Lord Shrewsbury died on 18th November 1590, leaving Arbella’s grandmother a free woman, again in control of her fortunes.
|Duke of Palma|
Two years later on another trip to court the Farnese marriage was still being held open as an option. The death of the Duke of Parma killed off the proposed Farnese marriage as the new Duke did not have his illustrious father’s influence at the Spanish court.
Arbella was more interested in Essex, Elizabeth’s current favourite, causing much gossip at court; but Essex remained a friend to Arbella until his death in 1601. Essex’s death resulted in a year of melancholia on Arbella’s part, leading her grandmother to wonder whether Arbella was mentally unstable[ii].
A Spanish PlotIn 1595 Bess was informed by Lord Burghley of a Spanish plot to kidnap Arbella; the plot was revealed by a Jesuit priest under torture. Convinced that Arbella would be proclaimed queen when Elizabeth died, the plotters planned to carry her off to Spain.
Bess was advised to search the area around Hardwick for ‘traitorous and naughty persons.’ Bess told Burghley that there was only one suspicious person nearby and he was Arbella’s tutor Morley. Morley[iii] had demanded more monies to teach Arbella and when that was refused he left, only to return and offer to work for free. As Bess advised Burghley;
‘I will not have any unknown or suspected person come to my house……..Arbell walks not late; at such time as she shall take the air it shall be near the house, and well attended on……I see her almost every hour in the day; she lieth in my bedchamber.’[iv]More Marriage Plans
|Henry IV of France|
In 1590 it was suggested that Arbella might be a suitable wife for Archduke Matthias[v]; this was more a political tool to scupper a planned marriage with Matthias and a French princess, than a practical proposal. The French marriage went ahead, but Henri IV offered one of his bastard sons as a match for Arbella. Sir John Harington[vi] was horrified;
‘A goodly young lady, aged about twenty four years, should be so disparaged as to be matched with a bastard of France under fourteen.’[vii]By 1592 Henri’s plans changed, negotiations to annul his marriage to Marguerite de Valois had commenced and Henri was now looking for a new wife to provide an heir. Henri and his minister the Duc de Sully, were prepared to consider Arbella as a candidate;
‘Nor would I refuse Princess Arbella of England, if, it is said the Crown of England really belongs to her, she were only declared presumptive heiress of it.’[viii]
Henri’s conversion to Catholicism killed off any further English interest in the marriage[ix].
On 4th October 1597 Bess and the family moved into Hardwick Hall. Arbella shared a suite of rooms with her grandmother. The twenty-two year old Arbella now had her own bedchamber; there was also a blue and white canopied bed for her in Bess’s bedchamber. Arbella described this time in her life as being;
‘That unpleasant life she had led in the house of her grandmother, with whose severity and age she, being a young lady, could hardly agree.’[x]
Arbella was still continuing her studies with a new tutor, James Starkey, who had been tutor to her cousins. She learnt Spanish and Hebrew and read Virgil and Plutarch and other classics. Arbella played the viol, lute and virginals and the spinet; she also enjoyed dancing and embroidery.
Starkey was sympathetic to Arbella’s plight and promised to bear messages for her. But when she sent word at the end of 1602 to Starkey, wintering in London, he replied that she
‘Knoweth well that I supported her rather to endure her grief and discontent patiently than by an inconvenient course to prejudice herself.’[xi]
By the end of 1602 Arbella was becoming desperate and secretly contacted Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford[xii], suggesting she should marry his grandson[xiii]. The bearer of her letter John Dodderidge, a trusted servant of Bess’s was given instructions that the Hertfords should follow if they agreed to visit her at Hardwick;
‘If they comm like themselves they shall be shutt out at the gates, I locked up, my Grandmother [wi]ll be the first shall advertise and complaine to the Queene. If disguised they must fully prove themselves to be no sycophants to me. For the first let them make somm offer to sell land.’[xiv]
The Hertfords were to bring proof of their identities; Arbella suggested bringing a book sent by Lady Jane Grey, whose handwriting Arbella knew well.
Hertford panicked and immediately informed the council who sent Sir Henry Brounker[xv] to interview a tearful Arbella who confessed all, much to the fury of her grandmother who refrained from boxing Arbella’s ears with great difficulty. Bess wrote to Elizabeth demanding that the child be removed from her care as she [Bess] was unable to control Arbella any longer; Elizabeth did not comply with Bess’s demand.
Rumours spread about Arbella; some claimed that Arbella was to marry Robert Cecil, a rumour possibly created due to the current closeness between Gilbert Talbot and Cecil. Rumour also married Arbella to Lord Mountjoy or Fulke Greville, a bachelor of fifty.
Death of a Queen
During the last weeks of Elizabeth’s reign, it was not just Bess who was desperate for Arbella to leave her care; Arbella too wrote asking to live in a place of her own choosing and release from;
‘An extraordinary yoke of bondage……and without ambiguity to prescribe me the rules wherby it pleaseth her Majesty to try my obedience.’[xvi]
The queen, depressed by the death of her friend the Countess of Nottingham[xvii], was in no mood to accede to the demands of a, by now, neurotic young lady. Elizabeth was ill and her failing health was of interest to politicians and courtiers alike. They were also interested in Arbella as a possible candidate for the throne, something that Elizabeth was very much aware of. The Venetian ambassador reported that the guards at Hardwick had been increased in number.
Elizabeth made her last public appearance on 26th February 1603 and by March was ill with a fever. She could not swallow food nor could she sleep. At the same time Arbella was planning her escape from Hardwick; she planned to use her uncle Henry Cavendish[xviii] to assist her. He and Henry Stapleton, a notorious Catholic, were to meet her at the gates of Hardwick Hall on 10th March, along with forty armed men.
|Bess of Hardwick|
Henry and Stapleton were at the rendezvous, but Arbella had been stopped by Bess. Arbella managed to send a message to the two men, adjourning her departure for a fortnight. Henry made an attempt to see Arbella in the afternoon, but Arbella was stopped at the gatehouse and turned back after a few words with Stapleton following a message from Bess who informed Brounker;
‘I sent word to her [Arbella] that I did not think it good she should speak with Stapleton, and wished her to forbear it, for I thought Stapleton no fit man for her to converse with.’[xix]
Brounker travelled north again, to investigate this excitement; meanwhile in London the queen took to her bed. On 20th March Bess added a codicil to her will revoking the bequests made to both Arbella and Henry; she had had enough of the pair of them. Six days later the queen died without nominating a successor; Cecil and his fellow counsellors claimed that Elizabeth had given them a sign that James was to succeed her.Bibliography
The Early Stuarts – Godfrey Davies, Oxford University Press 1987The Gunpowder Plot – Antonia Fraser, BCA 1996
King James – Antonia Fraser, BCA 1974
Arbella – Sarah Gristwood, Bantam 2004
Robert Cecil – Alan Haynes, Peter Owen Publishers 1989
After Elizabeth – Leanda de Lisle, Harper Perennial 2006
Bess of Hardwick – Mary S Lovell, Abacus 2006
The Letters of Lady Arbella Stuart – Sara Jayne Steen ed, Oxford University Press 1994
Mary, Queen of Scots – Alison Weir, BCA 2003www.wikipedia.en
[i] Bess of Hardwick - Lovell
[iv] Bess of Hardwick - Lovell
[v] Later Holy Roman Emperor
[vi] Courtier and politician
[vii] Arbella - Gristwood
[viii] Bess of Hardwick - Lovell
[x] Bess of Hardwick - Lovell
[xi] Arbella - Gristwood
[xii] With the help of one of her grandmother’s servants
[xiii] Thus uniting two rival claims to the throne
[xiv] The Letters of Lady Arbella Stuart - Steen
[xv] Brounker had been one of those who held London for the queen during the Essex rebellion
[xvi] Arbella - Gristwood
[xvii] Catherine Howard of the ubiquitous Howard family
[xix] Bess of Hardwick - Lovell