The tragic Arbella Stuart at Hardwick Hall

Lady Arbella Stuart as a child, 1577, at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Lady Arbella Stuart as a child, 1577, at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

2015 marks the 400th anniversary of the death of Lady Arbella Stuart, granddaughter of the redoubtable Bess of Hardwick and at one time a candidate to succeed Queen Elizabeth I.

Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, by Rowland Lockey, 1590s, at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Bethell

Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, by Rowland Lockey, 1590s, at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Bethell

To mark the anniversary, the colleagues at Hardwick Hall have put on an exhibition about Arbella’s privileged but tragic life.

The south front of Hardwick Hall seen from the Orchard. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

The south front of Hardwick Hall seen from the Orchard. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

Orphaned at the age of seven, she was brought up by her grandmother, Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury – known as Bess of Hardwick – at Hardwick Hall. She received a princely education, studying several languages and learning to play the lute, the viol and the virginals.

Lady Arbella Stuart aged 13, by Rowland Lockey after an unknown artist, 1589, at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Lady Arbella Stuart aged 13, by Rowland Lockey after an unknown artist, 1589, at Hardwick Hall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Through her father’s side Arbella was the great-great-grandaughter of King Henry VII of England and therefore potentially in line to the throne. Ultimately, however, the influential courtiers Lord Burghley and his son Sir Robert Cecil invited Arbella’s cousin King James VI of Scotland to become Elizabeth I’s successor.

Lady Arbella Stuart, by Robert Peake, 1605, in the National Galleries of Scotland. ©National Galleries of Scotland, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Lady Arbella Stuart, by Robert Peake, 1605, in the National Galleries of Scotland. ©National Galleries of Scotland, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Because of Arbella’s connection to the royal line, the question who she might marry was a fraught political issue. In 1610 Arbella secretly married William Seymour, Lord Beauchamp, who himself was sixth in line to the throne. King James imprisoned them for marrying without his permission. They managed to escape separately, but Arbella’s ship was overtaken by the King’s men just before it reached France.

The Tower of London, by Wenceslaus Hollar, 1647. Source: Project Gutenberg

The Tower of London, by Wenceslaus Hollar, 1647. Source: Project Gutenberg

After being imprisoned in the Tower of London, Arbella refused to eat, fell ill and finally died on 25 September 1615. Her life and death are a poignant illustration of the uncertainties and upheavals of Elizabethan and Jacobean Britain.

4 Responses to “The tragic Arbella Stuart at Hardwick Hall”

  1. Frank Davies Says:

    a sorry tale. Victim of her grandmothers’ ambitions?

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Perhaps, to some extent. But what if she had indeed become Queen Arbella I? And there were so many people and factors, twists and turns involved. Perhaps Hilary Mantel should write a novel about her.

  3. gailcreativestudies Says:

    On such a sad little note in history I am inclined to say that the painting of her as a child is really beautiful. it also really shows off the embroidered pattern on Arbella’s sleeves. The little doll she is holding could have been an ancestor of Barbie?

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Indeed, the detail of her clothing is wonderful. As is the detailed depiction of her doll – Tudor Barbie 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: