Arbella Stuart: The Uncrowned Queen by Jill Armitage
|Arbella Stuart: The Uncrowned Queen by Jill Armitage|
|Reviewer: John Van der Kiste|
|Summary: Lady Arbella Stuart, cousin to Queen Elizabeth I and King James VI and I, was one of the unfortunate figures of English history who might have been Queen – and who, like the even more tragic Lady Jane Grey, might have paid the ultimate price. As the author says at the end of the last chapter, hers was a sad story, and her only crime was to have royal blood coursing through her veins. Arbella remains a rather shadowy figure, but this is a very interesting and well-researched biography which has added plenty of substance to a life which has so long remained such an elusive one.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: April 2017|
Lady Arbella Stuart, cousin to both Elizabeth I of England and James VI of Scotland, was one of the unfortunate figures of English history who might have been Queen. Shadowy figure that she is, the author has added plenty of substance to what has long been a very elusive life.
Born in 1575, the only child of Charles Stuart, Earl of Lennox, she was orphaned by the time she was seven and brought up by her formidable grandmother, Bess of Hardwick, at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire. With a childless sovereign on the throne who was clearly too old to marry and produce an heir, there was every chance that she would be the next monarch, and she enjoyed regular visits to the court at London. During the last years of the Queen's reign, it was reported that she intended to marry Edward Seymour, a member of the prominent and ambitious family which had already been something of a thorn in the side of the earlier Tudors. Marrying without the Queen's permission was illegal, and although she strongly denied it, the mere assertion was enough to place her in possible danger.
Being so close to the throne, there were frequent suggestions that she should be married to some ambitious nobleman or foreign prince. Yet none of these placed her in as much potential trouble as a plan by those involved in the gunpowder plot to overthrow if not kill King James, and make her Queen instead, and she successfully pleaded her innocence as an innocent victim. However her good fortune ran out in 1610, seven years into King James' reign. By then fourth in line to the throne, she had another Seymour in her sights – William, Lord Beauchamp and Duke of Somerset. In the circumstances, the King could be pardoned for wondering whether the marriage was the prelude to an attempt to seize the Crown itself. For marrying in secret and without his permission, he imprisoned them, both separately. Each of them escaped, she dressed in a man's clothes, but she was captured while sailing for France, brought back to England and imprisoned in the Tower of London. She never saw her husband again and died in captivity in 1615 from illnesses exacerbated by her refusal to eat.
Throughout the narrative, Jill Armitage portrays with sympathy the life of a woman often placed in an impossible situation. It was an age when merely knowing the wrong people – those who knew the monarch and might offend them for the most trivial thing, and end up on a charge of treason – was to live dangerously. Queen Elizabeth (who had been in similar jeopardy during her half-sister Mary's reign) and King James were suspicious people who, it seems, often imagined plots against them for very little reason, and the flavour of an uncertain existence comes across very well. This makes for a very interesting if ultimately poignant read.
One of the appendices discusses the possibility that Arbella suffered from the hereditary condition or disease of porphyria, which affected so many members of the family from Mary Queen of Scots to, most famously, George III, and in our own time possibly Princess Margaret. Arbella remains a rather shadowy figure, but this is a very interesting and well-researched biography which has added plenty of substance to a life which has so long remained such an elusive one.
The lives of Arbella Stuart and those around her also feature prominently in Elizabeth's Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen by Tracy Borman, while The Lost Tudor Princess: A Life of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox by Alison Weir similkarly tells of another 'almost Queen' of the same era. Her upbringing is one of those described in The Devonshires: The Story of a Family and a Nation by Roy Hattersley.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Arbella Stuart: The Uncrowned Queen by Jill Armitage at Amazon.com.
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