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Arbella: England's Lost Queen by Sarah…
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Arbella: England's Lost Queen

by Sarah Gristwood

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It seems is was not easy to live under the shadow of Bess of Hardwick. Arbella's proximity to the throne was another hurdle she could not overcome. I enjoyed this book but do wish we knew more about her. One gets the impression she lived on the border of total hysteria for a good deal of her life. She honestly did have a "lost" life, and her story is quite sad.
This book is well written and seems a good deal of time was spent in research. For all that, Arbella's reasoning behind some of her behaviour is just not obvious, even with all her letter writing. She comes across as more of a drama queen, rather than revealing any deep insight into her personality. ( )
  a1stitcher | Jun 22, 2019 |
A Christmas gift from the “Interesting Women” wishlist. Arbella Stuart (her name is often latinized to Arabella, but her contemporaries knew her as “Arbella” or “Arbel”) was Henry VIII’s great-grand niece, and in the confusing Tudor and Stuart lines of succession coupled with the early deaths of her father and mother, ended up second in line to the throne of England (after James VI of Scotland, who eventually did inherit as James I). You might think it’s romance novel fodder to be an heir to the throne, but the reality is more tragic than romantic; Arbella spent almost her entire life under house arrest or in the Tower, eventually dying there of self-starvation after an ill-advised marriage and an even more ill-advised escape attempt.


Unlike many of her contemporaries, Arbella left a considerable corpus of writing behind, probably because there wasn’t much else she could do for most of her life except write or embroider. Unfortunately, her letters are often disjointed or incoherent, leading author Sarah Gristwood to suggest she may have been mentally ill. Her existing portraits show her as attractive if a little dazed-looking, probably to be expected under the circumstances. Gristwood has a nicely readable style, and provides some interesting diversions on various topics, including the difficulty of writing history in an era where Robert Cecil, Sir Robert Cecil, Baron Cecil, Viscount Cranborne, and the Earl of Salisbury were all the same person; 16th century medicine (after you bled somebody, you forced several dried peas into the wound, then covered it with earthworm paste); and what was involved in dressing an Elizabethan lady for court.


In addition to the speculation that Arbella had mental problems, Gristwood offers a couple more interesting suggestions: that Arbella’s tutor “Morley”, who also acted as a spy to ensure that she wasn’t turning Catholic, was actually Christopher Marlowe; and that John Webster’s play The Duchess of Malfi is a disguised biography of Arbella. The jacket biography describes Sarah Gristwood as a journalist and broadcaster; I wonder how many Americans in those professions could turn out a book like this. Excellent index, excellent bibliography, good endnotes; could use a map or two, especially of London and south England (there’s contemporary illustrations of London and the Tower in the text and plates, but although interesting they don’t really serve to show who’s doing what where).
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  setnahkt | Dec 3, 2017 |
This is an interesting read, if it doesn't quite cover the slightly provocative sub title.
Arbella Stuart was the niece of Mary, Queen of Scots and a cousin of James I. She was, for much of her youth, touted as a possible successor to Elizabeth I. That never happened for an entire array of reasons, a lot of which seem to be Arbella doing exactly the wrong things at just the wrong moment. It seems that she spends quite a long time apologising and trying to present her actions in an alternative light.
A lot of the evidence comes from extensive letters, from Arbella herself as well as from those around her. She was of interest to the court, so appears in those records at various times. It, therefore, seems somewhat cruelt hat she ended her days in the Tower of London and there remains very little information about her time there. She was, it seems imprisoned for who she was, not so much as for what she had done.
It has a lot of possible interpretation of her actions and these remain speculative, although acknowledged as such they are well reasoned.
An interesting character at an interesting time in history who seems somehow out of step with her times. ( )
  Helenliz | Mar 27, 2017 |
The tragic story of Arbella Stuart, first cousin once removed to Queen Elizabeth I, and potential heir to her throne. ( )
  Oodles | Feb 16, 2016 |
I loved that this book gave so much insight on a woman that I really knew nothing about. I would have given it a 5 but as most biographies it can get a bit dry. ( )
1 vote Desilu42 | Aug 1, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0618341331, Hardcover)

In this U.K. bestseller, Lady Arbella Stuart emerges as a most contemporary royal, a young woman determined to shape her own destiny in the midst of her plot-ridden world.

Arbella was niece to Mary Queen of Scots and cousin to Elizabeth I — who indicated that the teenage Arbella was to be heir to her throne. A critical pawn in the struggle for succession, particularly during the long, tense period when Elizabeth lay dying, the young Arbella endured twenty-seven years of isolation at the grand Hardwick Hall, held by her scheming and powerful grandmother.

The accession of James I, Arbella’s first cousin, ended the young woman’s royal aspirations but thrust her into James’s licentious court. Then, at age thirty-five, she risked everything to make a forbidden marriage. An escape in disguise, a wild flight abroad, and capture at sea led in the end to an agonizing death in the Tower. Yet nothing is as remarkable as the almost modern freedom with which, in a series of extraordinary letters — more passionate and extensive than those of any other woman of this suffocating age — Arbella Stuart revealed her own compelling personality.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:45 -0400)

Based on letters written by England's "Lost Queen," this portrait describes the niece to Mary Queen of Scots and cousin to Elizabeth I who became a pawn in the power struggles of her age and tried unsuccessfully to flee her fate, dying a tragic death in the tower of London.… (more)

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