In May 1606, despite a pension of £800 per annum from the king, Arbella’s debts were mounting. She wrote to Cecil;
‘I lately moved his Majesty to graunt to me such fees as may arise out of his seale which the Bishops are by the law to use……I am inforced to make somme suite for my better support and maintenance……so I must earnestly entreate your Lordship to further this my suite.’[i]
James was not moved to grant Arbella’s petition although he was often profligate with gifts and pensions. In a court where the ethos of conspicuous consumption ruled, display was essential. Arbella was not the only courtier short of money; despite his huge income Secretary Cecil spent nearly double his income.
James wore a new pair of gloves every day and money was poured out upon the king’s favourites; Lady Frances Howard was given £10,000 of jewellery[ii] upon her marriage to the King’s favourite, Robert Carr. Fabulous amounts were spent on the wardrobe of the 13 year old Prince Henry and courtiers were quick to follow suit.
Food became ever more elaborate and costly and drinking large amounts of alcohol became commonplace. After a banquet to honour Queen Anne’s brother, King Christian IV of Denmark, the ladies of the court were so drunk that a representation of King Solomon in the temple ended with the lady playing the Queen of Sheba falling at the Danish king’s feet.
On Twelfth Night the queen had ordered the performance of a masque in her brother’s honour. Arbella performed in the Masque of Beauty[iii] wearing clothing and jewels estimated to be worth over £100,000[iv]. Anyone attending the revels had to be able to throw £300[v] on the gaming table.
In 1608, still desperately in need of money, Arbella petitioned for the right import Irish hides and to nominate the sellers of Irish wine in Ireland. In October there was talk of putting in a claim for the Lennox lands taken by Queen Elizabeth, but nothing came of these grandiose demands. But however short of money she was to keep up with court fashion, Arbella was able to buy a small house in Blackfriars for £200[vi], where she could retire from court.
|Christian IV of Denmark|
Arbella’s relative the Countess of Nottingham thought that King Christian had informed her husband that she was cuckolding him[vii]. Arbella intervened to sort out this storm in a tea cup. That she managed to smooth things over meant that Arbella had a conduit to the Danish court and she strove to keep the connection to Christian alive with over effusive letters and small gifts.
A death, hardly unexpected in an eighty year old lady, must have upset Arbella despite the recent coolness in their relationship. Bess of Hardwick died on 13th February 1608. Gilbert Talbot wrote to Robert Cecil;
‘The old lady…..had that blessing of sense and memory, even to the end.’[viii]
Immediately upon receipt of the information Arbella set out for Hardwick as Cecil informed Gilbert. She stayed for several weeks, while Bess laid in state; Arbella left before the funeral. While at Hardwick Arbella wrote to King Christian;
‘If at this time I shall seem not to have satisfied my duty unto you, I ask and implore that your most illustrious Majesty attribute this to my grandmother the Countess of Shrewsbury who, having very recently and sadly died, surrendering her wishes for her own property and me.’[ix]
Bess had died fully aware of what she was doing, having made a final alteration to her will on the 4th February, deleting a bequest to Arbella.
At the beginning of 1608 Arbella was requested to send her lutenist Thomas Cutting[x] to replace John Dowland at the Danish court. It was a request she could not refuse and Arbella mourned her loss;
‘Although I know full well how more easy it is for so great a prince to command the best musicians of the world than for me recover one not inferior.’[xi]
In December 1608 Arbella fell ill with the pox; she was looked after by a Lady Skinner, who apparently took great pains to look after her patient. With Lady Skinner’s help Arbella overcame the disease. In the summer Arbella went north to stay with Gilbert and Mary, a visit that culminated in Arbella’s grand tour; from London she went to see Gilbert and Mary and then Chatsworth and Buxton[xii]. Arbella spent £300[xiii] on the trip.
Arbella secretly married William Seymour[xiv], thirteen years her junior, on 22nd June 1610. It would appear that Arbella was the prime mover in the marriage. Despite having already been censured by the king for entertaining a marriage without his consent on 2nd February, and despite William having promised not to rekindle the relationship, Arbella and William became engaged in her chamber at Whitehall.
‘The Lady Arbella who (as you know) was not long ago censured for having without the king’s privity entertained a motion of marriage, was again within these few days was apprehended in the like treaty with the Lord Beauchamp’s second son, and both were called and examined at the court about it.’[xv]
The marriage of his only cousin Arbella to William[xvi], another descendant of Henry VII did not please James. His policy was to keep Arbella unmarried and childless to protect his children’s inheritance. Only days before Arbella had performed in a masque with the queen as part of the celebrations of the investiture of the seventeen year old Prince Henry as Prince of Wales.
|Tower of London|
On 8th July William was sent to the Tower and the following day Arbella was given into the custody of Sir Thomas Parry, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Arbella was concerned about her servants, many of whom had been with her for years; Mary and Gilbert undertook to look after them.
Within a month Arbella’s body started bloating and her dresses needed taking out. Arbella thought she was pregnant[xvii]. Queen Anne, Prince Henry and Cecil all advised James to be lenient. By December, despite countless letters from Arbella, James was still determined to keep Arbella under lock and key.
Arbella wrote to James protesting her loyalty
‘I have long desired to merit of your Majesty…….and though your Majesties neglect of me [and] my love to this gentleman that is my husband and my fortune drew me to a contract before I acquainted your Majesty I humbly beseech your Majesty to consider how impossible it was for me to imagine it could be offensive to your Majesty.’[xviii]
In January 1611 Arbella was informed that her husband was sentenced to life imprisonment in the Tower and that she was to be sent north to Durham.
|Sir Edward Coke|
Arbella was driven into a frenzy of letter writing to Sir Edward Coke[xix], Sir Thomas Fleming[xx], Viscount Fenton and others protesting this move from all that she had known. It was in vain; the Bishop of Durham presented himself at Lambeth on 15th March. Arbella refused to go quietly and the bishop’s men had to carry her out on a mattress.
Arbella was carried to Highgate where she was attended by her own physician, Dr Moundford. The following day Moundford told the bishop that Arbella could not be moved. She protested against this sentence writing to the Privy Council;
‘I protest I am in so weak a case as I verily think it would be the cuase of my death to be removed any whither at this time though it weare to a place of my likeing. My late discomfortable journey(which I have not yet recovered)had almost ended my days.’[xxi]
On 21st March the Bishop of Durham was commanded by the king to move his charge to Barnet. Once again Arbella was carried out on a litter. The Bishop spoke to the king about Arbella’s plight, but James was unmoved. Arbella wrote to Fenton;
‘I can neither gett clothes nor posset ale for example nor anything but ordinary diett and complement fitt for a sicke body in my case when I call for it not so much as a glister[xxii]……that unlesse I may be suffered to have those about me that I may trust.’[xxiii]
Although James was determined to have Arbella in Durham he was persuaded to allow her to stay in Barnet until 5th June, when she might be fit enough to make the long journey north.
The Early Stuarts – Godfrey Davies, Oxford University Press 1987King James – Antonia Fraser, BCA 1974
Arbella – Sarah Gristwood, Bantam 2004Robert Cecil – Alan Haynes, Peter Owen Publishers 1989
Bess of Hardwick – Mary S Lovell, Abacus 2006The Letters of Lady Arbella Stuart – Sara Jayne Steen ed, Oxford University Press 1994
[i] The Letters of Lady Arbella Stuart - Steen
[vii] Christian’s English was not very good
[viii] Bess of Hardwick - Lovell
[ix] The Letters of Lady Arbella Stuart - Steen
[xi] Arbella - Gristwood
[xii] Developed as a spa by the former Earl of Shrewsbury, Mary, Queen of Scots had taken the waters there
[xiv] Later Duke of Somerset
[xv] Arbella - Gristwood
[xvi] His Great-Great Grandmother was Princess Mary, youngest child of Henry VII
[xvii] Gristwood believes this may have been a symptom of porphyria as, unless the couple had already anticipated their marriage, the child in the womb would have been too small to cause any swelling
[xviii] The Letters of Lady Arbella Stuart - Steen
[xxi] The Letters of Lady Arbella Stuart - Steen
[xxiii] The Letters of Lady Arbella Stuart - Steen