STUART, ARABELLA (1575-1615), daughter of Charles Stuart, earl of Lennox, younger brother of Lord Darnley and of Elizabeth, daughter of Sir William Cavendish and " Bess of Hardwick," is interesting historically as having been (by strict pedigree) next in succession to James VI. of Scotland to the thrones of England and Scotland, after Queen Elizabeth. Her father's mother was Margaret Douglas, the daughter of Henry VII. 's daughter, Queen Margaret of Scotland, and the earl of Angus. She was born in 1575 and early became the centre of the intrigues of those who in Elizabeth's reign refused to accept James as her successor. Various suitors for her hand were proposed, including Henry IV. of France, the earl of Northumberland, and Esme Stuart, duke of Lennox. In 1590 a plot was formed by the moderate section of the Roman Catholics of marrying her to Ranuccio, eldest son of the duke of Parma, who was descended from John of Gaunt, and of raising her with Spanish support to the throne. She was in consequence regarded with suspicion and disfavour by Elizabeth and closely watched and guarded at Hardwick by the dowager countess of Shrewsbury. In 1602 the queen's suspicions were increased by the discovery of a plot to marry Arabella to Edward, eldest son of Lord Beauchamp, who as grandson of Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford, and of Lady Catherine Grey (younger sister of Lady Jane Grey), was heir to the throne after Elizabeth according to the will of Henry VIII. According to other accounts the intended husband was Thomas Seymour, a younger son of the earl of Hertford. Arabella entered with ardour into the project, and planned an escape from Hardwick with the aid of her chaplain Starkey, who after its failure committed suicide. In December she wrote secretly to Lord Hertford proposing her marriage with his grandson, but the latter immediately informed the council. In February 1603 another attempt at escape failed, and she was then transferred to the care of the earl of Kent at Wrest House. The anxiety and anger aroused by her conduct was reputed to be the cause of Elizabeth's death the same year. When James I. had gained secure possession of the throne, Arabella was received at court and treated with favour, and she showed her fidelity to James by revealing a communication made to her by the conspirators in the Main and Bye Plots, in which her name had been used without her sanction. Every effort, however, was made to prevent her marriage. She is described at this time by Scaramelli, Venetian secretary in London, as " of great beauty and remarkable qualities, being gifted with many accomplishments, among them being the knowledge of Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, besides her native English"; as having "very exalted ideas, having been brought up in firm belief that she would succeed to the crown," as limited in means, of the Puritan persuasion, and very proud, insisting on a precedence over the princesses, though ordered back by the master of the ceremonies and in consequence being expelled from the court. A little later she is called " a regular termagant " and in 1607 " not very beautiful." 1 In December 1609 she planned an escape with Sir George Douglas to Scotland, apparently with a view of arranging a marriage with Stephen Bogdan, pretender to Moldavia, and on the scheme being discovered she was arrested. She was, however, restored to favour, granted a pension of 1600 a year by James, and given 10,000 crowns to pay her debts. But on the 2nd of February 1610 she became engaged to William Seymour, younger brother of Edward, and grandson of Lord Hertford, a suitor especially forbidden by James. A promise was exacted from them by the privy council that they would not marry without the king's consent, but nevertheless they were secretly married on the 22nd of June at Greenwich. Immediately it was known the culprits were imprisoned, Arabella at Lambeth and her husband in the Tower. In 1611 she was placed in charge of the bishop of Durham. Her application for a writ of habeas corpus was refused, and on the 16th of March she left London, progressing however, on account of illness and prostration, only as far as Barnet. She escaped on the 3rd of June 1611 disguised in man's clothing, and succeeded in getting on board a ship bound for Calais. Meanwhile her husband had also effected his escape and was sailing towards the French coast. Their two ships were drawing together when " a great wind arose and prevented them from seeing each other ever more." 2 Soon afterwards the unfortunate Arabella was captured and brought back to the Tower, where she spent the rest of her unhappy career. James was deaf to all intercession in her favour, and is reported to have answered the queen when pleading for her that " she had eaten of the forbidden fruit." In November 1613 a new plot for her escape failed. Abandoning at last all hope she sank into melancholy, ill health, and, according to some accounts, insanity, and died a victim to state policy on or about the 25th of September 1615. She was buried in the tomb of Mary Queen of Scots in Henry VII. 's chapel in Westminster Abbey. There appears to be no support for the statement that a child was born to her.
Her husband, after awaiting her in vain at Ostend, went on to Paris. He returned to England in 1616 after his wife's death and was restored to favour. He married in 1618 Frances, daughter of Robert Devereux, earl of Essex, became earl of Hertford by the death of his grandfather in 1621, and marquess in 1640. He took an active part in the civil war in Charles I.'s reign, was governor of the prince of Wales, and at the Restoration the dukedom of Somerset was revived in his favour. He died in 1660, and, on the failure of his male descendants in the person of his son John, 4th duke, the dukedom of Somserset passed to the descendants of his brother, Francis, Baron Seymour of Trowbridge, and, on the extinction of the latter's male line to the elder branch of the Seymour family, descended from Sir Edward Seymour of Berry Pomeroy, Devon.
See also The Life and Letters of Arabella Stuart, by E. T. Bradley (1889), which supersedes the Life by E. Cooper (1866).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)