Arabella Stuart

Arabella Stuart

Tower of London

James I's cousin was imprisoned at the Tower

Marrying against the monarch's wishes

Arabella Stuart had been one of Elizabeth I ladies in waiting until she was caught flirting with Robert Devereux – Elizabeth’s favourite – and was sent away in disgrace. Arabella went to her grandmother Bess’s estate in Derbyshire. Unfortunately Arabella and Bess got on each other’s nerves. After one particularly blazing row, Arabella decided she had to leave. Her friends suggested she marry the gorgeous Edward Seymour, grandson of the first Earl of Hertford so she wrote to the Earl to see what he thought. 

The Earl was furious because both Arabella and his son had Royal Blood - and their alliance would threaten Queen Elizabeth I. When Elizabeth found out what Arabella was up to, she sent an advisor to ferret out the truth. The Earl firmly denied any involvement in a plot and the advisor reported that Arabella seemed more interested in finding a husband than taking over the country.

Eventually Elizabeth I died and Arabella was delighted to find her position had improved. Her cousin James I invited her to his court. By now she was in her early 30s and desperate to get married. Despite finding the ladies at court childish and the politics pointless, she stuck it out in the hopes that James would find her a husband from the many men visiting his court.

But as the years went by Arabella realised that James seemed just as reluctant as Elizabeth in letting her marry. In fact it became a bit of a joke at court. In desperation, she went back to her original plan: The Seymours – but this time she had her eyes set on another grandson, William. 

On the 22 June 1610 Arabella married William in secret. She was 35 and he was 22. She had a handsome young husband, he’d been flattered by her attentions and persuaded by her money. Their marriage lasted 17 days until the couple were found out and the Bridegroom sent to the Tower of London. Arabella was put under house arrest in Lambeth. William realised he’d made a big mistake in angering the King and that his new wife had neither the power nor money he’d hoped. Stewing away at the Tower he was starting to regret his actions. Arabella wrote letter after letter to him but he ignored her.

Arabella in the Tower

Fed up of being ignored Arabella decided to sneak along to The Tower to see her husband. But the King found out and he banished her. But Arabella was not going to be parted from her lover and she daringly hatched another plan. 

First Arabella pretended to be ill and persuaded her Doctor to bring her to his house in London. On the appointed day she disguised herself as a man, snuck through the back garden, jumped on a horse and escaped. Meanwhile her husband William escaped from the Tower. His cunning escapade was reported by the Venetian ambassador:

'Seymour escaped from the Tower by the help of his barber, who bandaged a leg, put on a false beard and otherwise disguising himself, and came to the Tower and asked for the barber, that was for himself. He was told the barber was there. He went in and Seymour disguised himself in the barber's clothes and both went out together; nor did the guards raise any difficulty as they took him for the man who had just gone in; nor did they say anything to the barber, for he was accustomed to go in and out almost daily.'

The plan was for Arabella and William to meet up in Blackwall. But when Arabella arrived William wasn’t there. She waited for him but it grew too dangerous and her servants pleaded with her to get on board. But she’d delayed too long. As her ship approached Calais the English authorities caught up with her and she was rearrested and taken to the Tower. Meanwhile William had caught another ship and made it to safety at a Belgium port. 

Arabella was imprisoned in a room in the Tower of London. She wrote letters pleading with the King to release her but he ignored her. Neither did her husband William write. As the months became years, Arabella started to lose hope and became ill. The conditions of her imprisonment were harsh and weren’t relaxed even when she got sick, because Lieutenant Waad believed that her death would be welcomed by the King. As the years went by, the strain of imprisonment, sometimes in solitary confinement, her abandonment by her husband and the King was unbearable.

When a final hopeless plan to escape failed, she gave up hope. Having spent 5 years in prison, Arabella couldn’t face any more. She climbed into bed, refused her food and medicine, and over the next few months slowly killed herself. She died on 25 September 1615. When William heard that his wife was dead, he wrote to King James for a pardon and asked to return home. His wish was granted. Six months after Arabella died he remarried.

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