Sunday, November 28, 2010

Arabella: England's Lost Queen

I've read several Tudor/Stuart biographies, but I don't think I'd heard of Arabella Stuart until I wandered the aisles at Daedalus and picked up Sarah Gristwood's biography of her.   Arabella was the great-granddaughter of Margaret Tudor and the daughter of Lord Darnley's younger brother, making her Elizabeth I's first cousin twice removed and niece-by-marriage to Mary Queen of Scots.  (Royal family trees tended not to branch...)  Arabella spent most of her life as the centerpiece of various Catholic and Protestant plots to make her Elizabeth's successor and living in the shadow of her formidable grandmother, Bess of Hardwick.  Her one act of independence, an attempted escape from virtual house arrest to marry for love ended with her imprisonment in the Tower of London because her lover was William Seymour, great-grandson of Mary Tudor, grand-nephew of Lady Jane Grey, and an equally strong candidate for the throne.

Arabella's life was rather dull and spent mostly in the seclusion of semi-arrest, but Gristwood's book is not.  Like Alison Weir and Antonia Frasier, her crisp prose clarifies the convoluted political machinations of the era and enlivens passages of dry diplomatic history.  Arabella herself doesn't come across as particularly sparkling character.  It's as if the Tudor brilliance diluted over the generations and left each successive woman with a claim to the throne as a slightly blurrier copy.  Elizabeth I was a brilliant woman with an incredible education, Mary Stuart was bright and educated to be a Queen Consort.  Their younger kinswoman Arabella comes across as bright but nothing special, indifferently educated, and somewhat stunted by her enforced seclusion.  She would have made a mediocre monarch at best, but Gristwood's biography is an enjoyable and enlightening read.

No comments:

Post a Comment