The Story Of Arabella Stuart by Charles Morris

Story type: Literature

Of royal blood was the lady here named, near to the English throne. Too near, as it proved, for her own comfort and happiness, for her life was distracted by the fears of those that filled it. Her story, in consequence, became one of the romances of English history.

“The Lady Arabella,” as she was called, was nearly related to Queen Elizabeth, and became an object of jealous persecution by that royal lady. The great Elizabeth had in her disposition something of the dog in the manger. She would not marry herself, and thus provide for the succession to the throne, and she was determined that the fair Arabella should not perform this neglected duty. Hence Arabella’s misery.

The first thing we hear of this unfortunate scion of royal blood concerns a marriage. The whole story of her life, in fact, is concerned with marriage, and its fatal ending was the result of marriage. Never had a woman been more sought in marriage; never more hindered; her life was a tragedy of marriage.

Her earlier story may be briefly given. James VI. of Scotland, cousin of the Lady Arabella, chose as a husband for her another cousin, Lord Esme Stuart, Duke of Lennox, his proposed heir. The match was a desirable one, but Queen Elizabeth forbade the banns. She threw the lady into a prison, and defied King James when he demanded her delivery, not hesitating to speak with contempt of her brother monarch.

The next to choose a husband for Arabella was the pope, who would have been delighted to provide a Catholic for the succession to the English throne. A prince of the house of Savoy was the choice of his holiness. The Duke of Parma was married, and his brother was a cardinal, and therefore unmarriageable, but the pope had the power to overcome the difficulty which this created. He secularized the churchman, and made him an eligible aspirant for the lady’s hand. But, as may well be supposed, Elizabeth decisively vetoed this chimerical plan.

To escape from the plots of scheming politicians, the Lady Arabella now took the task in her own hand, proposing to marry a son of the Earl of Northumberland. Unhappily, Elizabeth would none of it. To her jealous fancy an English earl was more dangerous than a Scotch duke. Thus went on this extraordinary business till Elizabeth died, and King James of Scotland, whom she had despised, became her successor on the throne, she having paved the way to his succession by her neglect to provide an heir for it herself, and her insensate determination to prevent Arabella Stuart from doing so.

James was now king. He had chosen a husband for his cousin Arabella before. It was a natural presumption that he would not object to her marriage now. But if Elizabeth was jealous, he was suspicious. A foolish plot was made by some unimportant individuals to get rid of the Scottish king and place Arabella on the English throne. A letter to this effect was sent to the lady. She laughed at it, and sent it to the king, who, probably, did not consider it a laughing-matter.

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This was in 1603. In 1604 the king of Poland is said to have asked for the lady’s hand in marriage. Count Maurice, Duke of Guildres, was also spoken of as a suitable match. But James had grown as obdurate as Elizabeth,–and with as little sense and reason. The lady might enjoy life in single blessedness as she pleased, but marry she should not. “Thus far to the Lady Arabella crowns and husbands were like a fairy banquet seen at moonlight opening on her sight, impalpable, and vanishing at the moment of approach.”

Several years now passed, in which the lady lived as a dependant on the king’s bounty, and in which, so far as we know, no thoughts of marriage were entertained. At least, no projects of marriage were made public, whatever may have been the lady’s secret thoughts and wishes. Then came the romantic event of her life,–a marriage, and its striking consequences. It is this event which has made her name remembered in the romance of history.

Christmas of 1608 had passed, and the Lady Arabella was still unmarried; the English crown had not tottered to its fall through the entrance of this fair maiden into the bonds of matrimony. The year 1609 began, and terror seized the English court; this insatiable woman was reaching out for another husband! This time the favored swain was Mr. William Seymour, the second son of Lord Beauchamp, and grandson of the earl of Hertford. He was a man of admired character, a studious scholar in times of peace, an ardent soldier in times of war. He and Arabella had known each other from childhood.

In February the daring rebellion of the Lady Arabella became known, and sent its shaft of terror to the heart of King James. The woman was at it again, wanting to marry; she must be dealt with. She and Seymour were summoned before the privy council and sharply questioned. Seymour was harshly censured. How dared he presume to seek an alliance with one of royal blood, he was asked, in blind disregard of the fact that royal blood ran in his own veins.

He showed fitting humility before the council, pleading that he meant no offence. Thus he told the dignified councillors the story of his wooing,–

“I boldly intruded myself into her ladyship’s chamber in this court on Candlemas-day last, at which time I imparted my desire unto her, which was entertained, but with this caution on either part, that both of us resolved not to proceed to any final conclusion without his Majesty’s most gracious favor first obtained. And this was our first meeting. After this we had a second meeting at Brigg’s house in Fleet Street, and then a third at Mr. Baynton’s; at both of which we had the like conference and resolution as before.”

Neither of them would think of marrying without “his Majesty’s most gracious favor,” they declared. This favor could not be granted. The safety of the English crown had to be considered. The lovers were admonished by the privy council and dismissed.

But love laughs at privy councils, as well as at locksmiths. This time the Lady Arabella was not to be hindered. She and Seymour were secretly married, without regard to “his Majesty’s most gracious favor,” and enjoyed a short period of connubial bliss in defiance of king and council.

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Their offence was not discovered till July of the following year. It roused a small convulsion in court circles. The king had been defied. The culprits must be punished. The lovers–for they were still lovers–were separated, Seymour being sent to the Tower, for “his contempt in marrying a lady of the royal family without the king’s leave;” the lady being confined at the house of Sir Thomas Parry, at Lambeth.

Their confinement was not rigorous. The lady was allowed to walk in the garden. The gentleman was given the freedom of the Tower. Letters seem to have passed between them. From one of these ancient love-letters we may quote the affectionate conclusion. Seymour had taken cold. Arabella writes:

“I do assure you that nothing the State can do with me can trouble me so much as this news of your being ill doth; and, you see, when I am troubled I trouble you with too tedious kindness, for so I think you will account so long a letter, yourself not having written to me this good while so much as how you do. But, sweet sir, I speak not of this to trouble you with writing but when you please. Be well, and I shall account myself happy in being

“Your faithful, loving wife.

ARB. S.”

They wrote too much, it seems. Their correspondence was discovered. Trouble ensued. The king determined to place the lady in closer confinement under the bishop of Durham.

Arabella was in despair when this news was brought her. She grew so ill from her depression of spirits that she could only travel to her new place of detention in a litter and under the care of a physician. On reaching Highgate she had become unfit to proceed, her pulse weak, her countenance pale and wan. The doctor left her there and returned to town, where he reported to the king that the lady was too sick to travel.

“She shall proceed to Durham if I am king,” answered James, with his usual weak-headed obstinacy.

“I make no doubt of her obedience,” answered the doctor.

“Obedience is what I require,” replied the king. “That given, I will do more for her than she expects.”

He consented, in the end, that she should remain a month at Highgate, under confinement, at the end of which time she should proceed to Durham. The month passed. She wrote a letter to the king which procured her a second month’s respite. But that time, too, passed on, and the day fixed for her further journey approached.

The lady now showed none of the wild grief which she had at first displayed. She was resigned to her fate, she said, and manifested a tender sorrow which won the hearts of her keepers, who could not but sympathize with a high-born lady thus persecuted for what was assuredly no crime, if even a fault.

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At heart, however, she was by no means so tranquil as she seemed. Her communications with Seymour had secretly continued, and the two had planned a wildly-romantic project of escape, of which this seeming resignation was but part. The day preceding that fixed for her departure arrived. The lady had persuaded an attendant to aid her in paying a last visit to her husband, whom she declared she must see before going to her distant prison. She would return at a fixed hour. The attendant could wait for her at an appointed place.

This credulous servant, led astray, doubtless, by sympathy with the loving couple, not only consented to the request, but assisted the lady in assuming an elaborate disguise.

“She drew,” we are told, “a pair of large French-fashioned hose or trousers over her petticoats, put on a man’s doublet or coat, a peruke such as men wore, whose long locks covered her own ringlets, a black hat, a black coat, russet boots with red tops, and a rapier by her side. Thus accoutred, the Lady Arabella stole out with a gentleman about three o’clock in the afternoon. She had only proceeded a mile and a half when they stopped at a post-inn, where one of her confederates was waiting with horses; yet she was so sick and faint that the hostler who held her stirrup observed that the gentleman could hardly hold out to London.”

But the “gentleman” grew stronger as she proceeded. The exercise of riding gave her new spirit. Her pale face grew rosy; her strength increased; by six o’clock she reached Blackwall, where a boat and servants were waiting. The plot had been well devised and all the necessary preparations made.

The boatmen were bidden to row to Woolwich. This point reached, they were asked to proceed to Gravesend. Then they rowed on to Tilbury. By this time they were fatigued, and landed for rest and refreshment. But the desired goal had not yet been reached, and an offer of higher pay induced them to push on to Lee.

Here the fugitive lady rested till daybreak. The light of morn discovered a French vessel at anchor off the harbor, which was quickly boarded. It had been provided for the escape of the lovers. But Seymour, who had planned to escape from the Tower and meet her here, had not arrived. Arabella was desirous that the vessel should continue at anchor until he appeared. If he should fail to come she did not care to proceed. The land that held her lord was the land in which she wished to dwell, even if they should be parted by fate and forced to live asunder.

This view did not please those who were aiding her escape. They would be pursued, and might be overtaken. Delay was dangerous. In disregard of her wishes, they ordered the captain to put to sea. As events turned out, their haste proved unfortunate for the fair fugitive, and the “cause of woes unnumbered” to the loving pair.

Leaving her to her journey, we must return to the adventures of Seymour. Prisoner at large, as he was, in the Tower, escape proved not difficult. A cart had entered the enclosure to bring wood to his apartment. On its departure he followed it through the gates, unobserved by the warder. His servant was left behind, with orders to keep all visitors from the room, on pretence that his master was laid up with a raging toothache.

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Reaching the river, the escaped prisoner found a man in his confidence in waiting with a boat. He was rowed down the stream to Lee, where he expected to find his Arabella in waiting. She was not there, but in the distance was a vessel which he fancied might have her on board. He hired a fisherman to take him out. Hailing the vessel, he inquired its name, and to his grief learned that it was not the French ship which had been hired for the lovers’ flight. Fate had separated them. Filled with despair, he took passage on a vessel from Newcastle, whose captain was induced, for a fair consideration, to alter his course. In due time he landed in Flanders, free, but alone. He was never to set eyes on Arabella Stuart again.

Meanwhile, the escape of the lady from Highgate had become known, and had aroused almost as much alarm as if some frightful calamity had overtaken the State. Confusion and alarm pervaded the court. The Gunpowder Plot itself hardly shook up the gray heads of King James’s cabinet more than did the flight of this pair of parted doves. The wind seemed to waft peril. The minutes seemed fraught with threats. Couriers were despatched in all haste to the neighboring seaports, and hurry everywhere prevailed.

A messenger was sent to the Tower, bidding the lieutenant to guard Seymour with double vigilance. To the surprise of the worthy lieutenant, he discovered that Seymour was not there to be guarded. The bird had flown. Word of this threw King James into a ludicrous state of terror. He wished to issue a vindictive proclamation, full of hot fulminations, and could scarcely be persuaded by his minister to tone down his foolish utterances. The revised edict was sent off with as much speed as if an enemy’s fleet were in the offing, the courier being urged to his utmost despatch, the postmasters aroused to activity by the stirring superscription, “Haste, haste, post-haste! Haste for your life, your life!” One might have thought that a new Norman invasion was threatening the coast, instead of a pair of new-married lovers flying to finish their honey-moon in peace and freedom abroad.

When news of what had happened reached the family of the Seymours, it threw them into a state of alarm not less than that of the king. They knew what it meant to offend the crown. The progenitor of the family, the Duke of Somerset, had lost his head through some offence to a king, and his descendants had no ambition to be similarly curtailed of their natural proportions. Francis Seymour wrote to his uncle, the Earl of Hertford, then distant from London, telling the story of the flight of his brother and the lady. This letter still exists, and its appearance indicates the terror into which it threw the earl. It reached him at midnight. With it came a summons to attend the privy council. He read it apparently by the light of a taper, and with such agitation that the sheet caught fire. The scorched letter still exists, and is burnt through at the most critical part of its story. The poor old earl learned enough to double his terror, and lost the section that would have alleviated it. He hastened up to London in a state of doubt and fear, not knowing but that he was about to be indicted for high treason.

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Meanwhile, what had become of the disconsolate Lady Arabella? The poor bride found herself alone upon the seas, mourning for her lost Seymour, imploring her attendants to delay, straining her eyes in hopes of seeing some boat bearing to her him she so dearly loved. It was in vain. No Seymour appeared. And the delay in her flight proved fatal. The French ship which bore her was overtaken in Calais roads by one of the king’s vessels which had been so hastily despatched in pursuit, and the lady was taken on board and brought back, protesting that she cared not what became of her if her dear Seymour should only escape.

The story ends mournfully. The sad-hearted bride was consigned to an imprisonment that preyed heavily upon her. Never very strong, her sorrow and depression of spirits reduced her powers, while, with the hope that she might die the sooner, she refused the aid of physicians. Grief, despair, intense emotion, in time impaired her reason, and at the end of four years of prison life she died, her mind having died before. Rarely has a simple and innocent marriage produced such sad results through the uncalled-for jealousy of kings. The sad romance of the poor Lady Arabella’s life was due to the fact that she had an unreasonable woman to deal with in Elizabeth, and a suspicious fool in James. Sound common-sense must say that neither had aught to gain from this persecution of the poor lady, who they were so obstinately determined should end life a maid.

Seymour spent some years abroad, and then was permitted to return to England. His wife was dead; the king had naught to fear. He lived through three successive reigns, distinguishing himself by his loyalty to James and his two successors, and to the day of his death retaining his warm affection for his first love. He married again, and to the daughter born from this match he gave the name of Arabella Stuart, in token of his undying attachment to the lady of his life’s romance.

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