The New King
|Funeral of Elizabeth I|
In early April James wrote to Henry Grey[i], the Earl of Kent, asking if he would take Arbella to live with him;
‘We are desirous to free our cousin, the Lady Arbella from that unpleasant life which she hath led in the house of her Grandmother, with whose severity and age, she – being a young lady – could hardly agree.’[ii]
Arbella departed on a visit to her cousin at Wrest Park[iii]. As Elizabeth’s highest ranking female relative Arbella was invited to attend the state funeral on 28th April as Principal Mourner. She refused on the grounds that she was not allowed near Elizabeth during her lifetime and had no intention of being staged as a public spectacle.
James entered his new capital on 7th May; and on the 11th wrote inviting Arbella to visit the new court at Greenwich. Of the meeting the Venetian envoy wrote;
‘Lady Arbella, who is a regular termagent came to visit the King on Sunday last with a suite of ladies and gentlemen.’[iv]Her behaviour impressed Lord Cobham to write that he would never press his suit upon Arbella. A Talbot retainer hinted that Arbella showed a lack of composure and talked in a tumultuous fashion, something that is noticeable in some of her letters. James allowed Arbella freedom of movement and she went to stay at Sheen, home of the Marchioness of Northampton[v].
Freedom of a Sort
On 14th June 1603 Arbella wrote to Cecil asking him to petition James to allow her a pension; the annual monies she received from Elizabeth had ceased on her death. Four letters later Arbella took pen in hand to write again to Cecil on 30th June thanking him for the lump sum of £666[vi] granted as a stop gap until the matter of her pension was decided.
‘I have received His Majestie’s liberality by your Lordship’s meanes; for which I acknowledge myself greatly bounden to your Lordship.’[vii]
|Anne of Denmark|
When Queen Anne arrived at in London Arbella returned to court. Although there is no record of her having attended the coronation, Arbella’s absence would surely have been noted by interested observers. She was certainly in attendance when the court moved to Farnham, taking precedence over all ladies with the exception of the queen and the princesses;
‘In her [Arbella] appointments, table and rank, she takes precedence of all the other ladies of court. She has already begun to bear her Majestie’s train when she goes to chapel.’[viii]
At the age of twenty seven Arbella was now in partial control of her destiny. She was tangentially linked to the Bye Plot[ix], by one of the conspirators, Griffin Markham[x], who had been a neighbour at Hardwick. The Bye Plot was linked to the Main Plot; the plotters planned to kill James and the eleven year old Prince Henry and place the Princess Elizabeth, or in default of her Arbella, on the throne with the assistance of the Spanish.
The Venetian envoy wrote;
‘Most of the conspirators belong to her [Arbella’s] faction.’[xi]
Lord Cobham had written to Arbella asking her to write to Philip III of Spain and other Spanish dignatories, promising that she would allow Catholic toleration and stop English support for the revolt in the Netherlands. Arbella immediately handed the letter over to the authorities.
The summer and autumn of 1603 saw the plague return with a virulence to London[xii] and the court wended its way round southern England, Arbella in its train. James enjoyed the hunting at Woodstock, but his courtiers were less impressed with the old palace.
November saw the beginning of the Main Plot trial and Henry Cavendish was summonsed to London for interrogation and then released. Arbella complained much of her health at this time in her letters to Gilbert and Mary Talbot; the strain of the trial was telling on her. The prosecutor Coke’s attempts to involve Arbella were forestalled by Cecil;
‘Here hath been a touch of the Lady Arbella Stuart, the king’s near kinswoman. She is as innocent of all these things as I, or any man here: only she received a letter from my Lord Cobham to prepare her, which she laughed at and immediately sent to the king.’[xiii]
But records of the interrogations[xiv] indicate that Arbella was more involved than the evidence made public showed. There was more than one letter from Lord Cobham and Arbella answered them, such answers being burnt by Cobham. Indeed Frances Kirton, Cobham’s kinswoman in Arbella’s employ, stated that;
‘The lady [Arbella] was desirous to be acquainted with him [Cobham] and to be advised by him.’[xv]
On 28th November Arbella had a headache that meant she could only write a few lines to Uncle Gilbert and thanks to Mary who had sent pills and hartshorn[xvi]. On 8th December her letter to Gilbert rambled through visions of St Ursula and her thousand virgins and biblical prophecies. The letter ended with the news that James had pardoned the ‘not-executed’ traitors.
In the summer of 1604 Sir William Cavendish came to court and Arbella was reconciled with her uncle; she even sent her regards to Bess and a short note; the first communication between the two since Arbella had left Hardwick. William stayed at court as Arbella was trying to get her uncle a peerage[xvii]; she spoke four times to James on the matter and even recruited Prince Henry’s support with a marked lack of success;
‘Mr Cavendish……waits hard on my Lady Arbella for his barony; but I am confidently assured that he will not prevail.’[xviii]
Arbella was incapable of living within her income and was running up debts[xix]; she also seems to have been homesick, often asking about Hardwick in her letters to Gilbert and Mary Talbot. Gilbert and Mary were also piling up the debts. During this period Arbella turned down a number of proposals for her hand in marriage.
In early 1605, when Bess was reported to be very unwell, Arbella asked James for permission to leave court to visit her grandmother. James was only too happy to promote a reconciliation between the two, even writing personally to Bess asking her to treat Arbella kindly. The visit did result in Arbella and Bess reconciling, but Arbella was no longer Bess’s favourite ‘jewel’[xx].
Back at Court
On her return to court Arbella was chief godmother of the baby Princess Mary[xxi]; the Countess of Northumberland was the other godmother and the Queen’s brother Duke Ulrik of Holstein[xxii] was Mary’s godfather. The ceremony was held on 19th April and to mark the occasion a number of peerages were bestowed; Cecil was made a baron and James gave Arbella a blank warrant to complete herself. She made her uncle William a baron[xxiii] and he was one of eight who carried the canopy over Princess Mary at the baptism.
|Gunpowder Plot Conspirators|
At the end of the year Gilbert Talbot was implicated in the Gunpowder Plot, he was vindicated but there was gossip about Mary Talbot’s involvement. Mary was known to have leanings towards Catholicism, wore a crucifix and was friendly with Walter Ralegh. Mary issued a writ against Lady Anne Markham and Edmund Lascelles, the perpetrators of the rumours; the pair retracted their accusations and apologised.
BibliographyThe Early Stuarts – Godfrey Davies, Oxford University Press 1987
The Gunpowder Plot – Antonia Fraser, BCA 1996
King James – Antonia Fraser, BCA 1974Arbella – Sarah Gristwood, Bantam 2004
Robert Cecil – Alan Haynes, Peter Owen Publishers 1989After Elizabeth – Leanda de Lisle, Harper Perennial 2006
Bess of Hardwick – Mary S Lovell, Abacus 2006The Letters of Lady Arbella Stuart – Sara Jayne Steen ed, Oxford University Press 1994
[i] Arbella’s cousin was married to the Earl’s nephew and eventual heir
[ii] Bess of Hardwick - Lovell
[iii] Near Bedford
[iv] Arbella - Gristwood
[v] A friend of the old queen
[vii] The Letters of Lady Arbella Stuart - Steen
[viii] Arbella - Gristwood
[ix] James was to be kidnapped and forced to give Catholics wider rights than they already possessed
[x] He went abroad to Europe as a spy for Cecil
[xi] Arbella - Gristwood
[xii] The first week of August saw 1,922 dead
[xiii] Arbella - Gristwood
[xiv] Uncovered at the end of the 20th century
[xv] Arbella - Gristwood
[xvi] Hartshorn salts used as a treatment for fevers and smelling salts; jellied and calcinated hartshorn used for diarrhea and dysentery
[xvii] William was made Earl of Devonshire on 2nd August 1618
[xviii] Bess of Hardwick - Lovell
[xix] She may have been trying to get back into her grandmother’s good books by helping her uncle
[xx] Bess’s pet name for her grandchildren
[xxi] Born on the 8th April 1605
[xxii] On a visit to his sister
[xxiii] It is possible that William paid Arbella the sum of £2,000 for her assistance. In 2013 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £389,100.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £11,950,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £87,820,000.00 www.measuringworth.com