Extraordinary Women of the Medieval and Renaissance World: A Biographical Dictionary

By Carole Levin; Debra Barrett-Graves et al. | Go to book overview

ARBELLA STUART
(1575-1615)

Britain
Scholar and Courtier

At the end of the sixteenth century in England, the last Tudor monarch Elizabeth I's childlessness and refusal to name an heir created both problems and possibilities for a variety of people related to her. For Arbella Stuart, great-granddaughter of Henry VIII's older sister Margaret through her father Charles Stuart, the problems were all too severe. Although Arbella did all she could to fight against the restrictions placed on her and create a life that was satisfying, including a secret marriage, though she crafted much admired letters that demonstrate her literary prowess, her nearness to the throne made her life a tragedy.

In 1574 Lady Margaret Douglas Stuart, Dowager Countess of Lennox, and Elizabeth Hardwick (Bess of Hardwick), Countess of Shrewsbury, secretly arranged a marriage between her son, Charles Stuart, Earl of Lennox, and Elizabeth Cavendish, Bess's daughter by her second husband. At the time of the marriage, Charles was his mother's only surviving child; his older brother, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, the second husband of Mary Queen of Scots, had been murdered in mysterious circumstances a decade earlier. The mothers deliberately brought the young people together--Charles was nineteen and Elizabeth twenty--and they fell so deeply in love they refused to be parted. The mothers were successful at keeping the arrangement from Queen Elizabeth until after the marriage. The queen was seriously upset when those close to the Crown married, and Margaret Douglas spent some time in the Tower for her part in the plot.

Arbella, born the year following the marriage, was the couple's only child. She was not only a somewhat distant cousin to Elizabeth but through her father the first cousin of James VI of Scotland, who hoped to succeed Elizabeth. Since Arbella was born in England and also related to Elizabeth, some saw her as an alternate heir to the English throne. Arbella was still an infant when her father died in April 1576 of tuberculosis, or consumption as it was then called. Less

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