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  Inside Out - East Midlands: Monday October 13, 2003


The Would-Be Queen & Bess
Tragedy awaited Arbella, pictured here in reconstruction with Bess

Two women from the East Midlands both claimed the Crown of England in the 16th Century. Most people have heard of Lady Jane Grey, but what of the obscure Arbella? Inside Out investigated.

Arbella's story starts at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, which today towers over the M1 motorway. It was one of the homes of the formidable Bess who'd built it to show off her wealth and status.

Bess engineered a marriage between her daughter, Elizabeth, and Charles Stuart, the brother of Mary, Queen of Scots' husband, Lord Darnely.

A claim to the crown.

Any child of Charles Stuart had a claim to the succession after the death of the childless Elizabeth I, and so a hurried marriage was arranged at Rufford Abbey in Nottinghamshire.

Arbella Stuart was born in 1575. Her early life was marred by tragedy after both her parents died and she was brought to live at Hardwick under the guardianship of her grandmother Bess.

And it was here that she was educated to believe that she was going to be next Queen of England - a claim that was ultimately to destroy her life.

She grew to hate her grandmother.

Arbella as a child
Arbella as a child

Historian Sarah Gristwood told Inside Out: "By her late twenties Arbella was still unmarried and being kept virtual prisoner.

"She became increasingly frustrated with her life and grew to hate her grandmother. She was desperate to take control of her life and started plotting to leave Hardwick, get a husband and possibly to make her own claim for the throne.

"But word of her plans reached the court of Elizabeth I."

Arbella became regarded as a threat to the court and the only freedom she had was through her letters.

Even when Elizabeth died in 1603 and James VI of Scotland became King, Arbella still wasn't free - since any children she had would still have a claim to the throne.

Drastic action was her downfall

So she took drastic action which led to her death in the Tower of London.

One of Arbella's letters
One of Arbella's letters

When she was 35 and James I was on the English throne, Arbella married William Seymour.

So great was the panic at court at the prospect of a new and threatening dynasty that they were deliberately separated shortly after their marriage.

At Rufford Abbey in Nottinghamshire there's a White Lady who's said to haunt the ruin. Local folklore says its Arbella Stuart - England's Lost Queen.

See also ...

On the rest of the web
Review of Sarah Gristwood's book about Arbella Stuart
BBC - Lady Jane Grey

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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