|Traitor's Gate and lodgings above|
On Monday 3rd June 1611 Arbella’s maid slipped the porter some dishes from Arbella’s table as Arbella walked to the stables in male costume; she rode thirteen miles to the river where she took a boat down to Blackwall where she waited in a tavern before fleeing on towards Calais.
Meanwhile in the Tower William made out that he was sick and slipped out of his rooms over Traitor’s Gate. William walked in disguise out of the Tower and down to the river near St Katherine’s Docks where he and his friend Edward Rodney embarked in a rowing boat. They were late at the meeting point at Blackwall and pressed further down river where they joined an empty coal vessel that took William and his friends to France.
Alerted by a letter from Rodney[i], Francis Seymour hastened to see Cecil and he was examined by the council. The King’s Shipwright Phineas Pette had orders to take twenty musketeers and search every vessel for the escapee, while Admiral Monson went to Blackwall to question the watermen who uncovered Arbella’s presence at the tavern.
By Wednesday William was becalmed in Harwich while Arbella was caught mid-channel by the Adventure, her captain having received orders to stop all shipping to France a mere two hours before. Her boat was ordered to heave to and refused;
‘The royal ship proceeded to compel obedience by firing, but finding this useless she dispatched her frigate and as the sea was calm and the wind had dropped, about a league off Calais she came up with the Lady Arbella’s ship and instantly seized her.’[ii]
£2,800[iii] had been raised for the escape, but Arbella’s captors found only £868[iv], some jewels and gold on her. The Venetian ambassador said that she had given most of the money she had to the ship’s captain, Tassin Corvé. What was found on Arbella was confiscated and handed to the Exchequer to be used, by James’ order, to compensate those who had apprehended Arbella.
On Thursday William’s ship set sail again reaching Ostend and freedom on Friday morning. While William was sending to Gravelines for word of his wife, Admiral Monson was informed he was to take Arbella to the Tower.
To the Tower
A number of Arbella and William’s accomplices in their escapes were arrested and interrogated, as was Arbella who was still being questioned in July. The French ambassador was most apologetic that Arbella had used a French boat in her abortive escape. The inquiry was headed by Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton[v], a crypto-Catholic. Howard’s conclusion was that Mary Talbot had been the evil genius behind the plot;
‘Lady Arbella dares not clear her [Mary] by oath, though she clears all foreign princes…….by confession we can prove that of that £1800 which [Arbella] brought together, £1400 at the least came out of her aunt’s purse.’[vi]
Another crypto-Catholic, Mary, now in the Tower herself, was alleged to be hoping that Arbella could be persuaded to change her religion;
‘Yet her aunt made account that being beyond the seas in the hands of the Jesuits and priests, either the stroke of their argument or the pinch of poverty might force her to the other side.’[vii]
|Sir William Wade|
Arbella appears to have been held in the royal lodgings, in the south east corner of the Tower precinct. Mary had a three or four room suite here as well. Arbella had a kitchen where her servants could prepare food. Mary was given some freedom and was able to conduct her financial affairs from her prison suite, but Arbella was kept ‘close.’
The lieutenant of the Tower was one Sir William Wade[viii], a staunch Protestant who had personally tortured some of the Gunpowder plotters. He tightened up slack regulations when he was appointed lieutenant in 1606. Prisoners were expected to pay towards their own upkeep and Mary had to apply to Gilbert for funds. Arbella was allowed the use of her jewels to pay her way.
Mary had her own servants and Arbella applied for the same favour;
‘The lady Arbella desireth that her servants that are now in the Tower, or so many of them as shall be thought fit, to be allowed to her. That Peter, who attended Mr Seymour, an ancient servant of hers, may be her bottleman. To have herewith another servant, an embroiderer, whose name is Roger Fretwell. For a woman she desireth the Lady Chaworth.’[ix]
It was two years before one Samuel Smyth, who managed her private estate, was allowed access to Arbella, and even then only in the presence of the lieutenant.
William meanwhile was in France and in December wrote to Sir William requesting that his possessions, of necessity left behind during his escape, be forwarded on to him. Wade alerted Cecil to the request. Cecil had been keeping tabs on William in any event.
In May 1612 Cecil died; he had long been sympathetic towards Arbella. The following month Mary Talbot’s case was finally heard by a select council. Mary Talbot refused to answer any of the questions put to her and she was fined £20,000[x] and was returned to the Tower.
In July Lord Beauchamp died and then in November came the loss of a friend at court; Prince Henry’s death was a tragedy for the nation. The eighteen year old Henry had been tutored in statecraft and his death left the young Charles as James’ inadequate heir.
|Frederick, Elector Palatine|
The spring of 1613 saw the wedding of Princess Elizabeth to Frederick, the Elector Palatine. Arbella bought four new dresses, one embroidered with hundreds of pounds worth of pearls, Arbella clearly believed that she would be would be a guest at the wedding and attendant celebrations. This was despite the fact that Wade had uncovered an escape planned by Arbella’s aunt.
The only evidence of the plot came from Arbella who claimed that Mary was going to hand her over to the Papists once they reached Lambeth. Arbella possibly hoped that this farrago of lies would help obtain her an invitation to the wedding.
Dr Moundford was attending Arbella, who had been ill for several months and seems to have fallen out with Mary, calling her
‘The most wicked woman in the world, enemy to the state.’[xi]
Arbella claimed the falling out was due to Arbella’s refusal to change her religion; it is not clear what occasioned the claim which may have been due to insanity, a desire for attention or even the desire to attend Elizabeth’s wedding as a reward for uncovering the ‘plot.’ Arbella told Moundford that she was disclosing the plot for Wade’s sake as Mary had claimed that the lieutenant’s throat would be cut.
|The Lady Arbella|
On 10th March John Chamberlain[xii] noted that Arbella had suffered from convulsions and on 26th that she was under restraint though;
‘She continues crackt in the brain.’[xiii]
In November Mary Talbot, who had been granted leave of absence to visit an ailing Gilbert, was suddenly recalled to the Tower. Another escape attempt by Arbella had been uncovered and several of Arbella’s servants and acquaintances were imprisoned. An intermediary had been caught selling some of Arbella’s jewels by proxy;
‘For my Lady Arbella’s escape out of the Tower.’[xiv]
In the autumn of 1613 Arbella heard a rumour that William had died; he had been sick with smallpox, but like Arbella had survived. In the summer of 1614 Arbella’s accounts were organised by her steward Hugh Crompton. He was also able to pawn some of her jewels. But by now Arbella was beyond caring and was frequently ill. The Earl of Northampton wrote of her;
‘She prays, she rails, she laughs, she cries and talks idly. Her mind runs only on Devonshire[xv] by whom she affirms that she had a child and at this instance he nightly lies withal.’[xvi]
|The Tomb of Mary, Queen of Scots|
For a year Arbella would not allow the doctors to feel her pulse or inspect her urine. Arbella finally died on 25th September 1615 at the age of forty, having refused food for some time. On 25th September Sir Ralph Winwood ordered Dr Moundford to view the corpse and a post mortem was ordered as rumours of poison ran rife[xvii]. The verdict was that the death was caused by a chronic and long sickness.
She was buried in Westminster Abbey on 29th in the tomb James had erected for his mother.
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
The Letters of Lady Arbella Stuart – Sara Jayne Steen ed, Oxford University Press 1994www.wikipedia.en
[i] A mutual friend of William and his brother Francis
[ii] Arbella - Gristwood
[vi] Arbella - Gristwood
[viii] Also known as Waad or Wadd, Wade had been one of Cecil’s informants when he lived abroad
[ix] Arbella - Gristwood
[xi] Arbella - Gristwood
[xii] MP for Clitheroe
[xiii] Arbella - Gristwood
[xv] Lord Mountjoy, friend of the long deceased Earl of Essex
[xvi] Arbella - Gristwood