Curiosities of Literature, by Isaac Disraeli

The Loves of “The Lady Arabella.”1

Where London’s towre its turrets show

So stately by the Thames’s side,

Faire Arabella, child of woe!

For many a day had sat and sighed.

And as shee heard the waves arise,

And as shee heard the bleake windes roare,

As fast did heave her heartfelte sighes,

And still so fast her teares did poure!

Arabella Stuart, in Evans’s Old Ballads.

(Probably written by Mickle.)

The name of Arabella Stuart, Mr. Lodge observes, “is scarcely mentioned in history.” The whole life of this lady seems to consist of secret history, which, probably, we cannot now recover. The writers who have ventured to weave together her loose and scattered story are ambiguous and contradictory. How such slight domestic incidents as her life consisted of could produce results so greatly disproportioned to their apparent cause may always excite our curiosity. Her name scarcely ever occurs without raising that sort of interest which accompanies mysterious events, and more particularly when we discover that this lady is so frequently alluded to by her foreign contemporaries.

The historians of the Lady Arabella have fallen into the grossest errors. Her chief historian has committed a violent injury on her very person, which, in the history of a female, is not the least important. In hastily consulting two passages relative to her, he applied to the Lady Arabella the defective understanding and headstrong dispositions of her aunt, the Countess of Shrewsbury; and by another misconception of a term, as I think, asserts that the Lady Arabella was distinguished neither for beauty nor intellectual qualities.2 This authoritative decision perplexed the modern editor, Kippis, whose researches were always limited; Kippis had gleaned from Oldys’s precious manuscripts a single note which shook to its foundations the whole structure before him; and he had also found, in Ballard, to his utter confusion, some hints that the Lady Arabella was a learned woman, and of a poetical genius, though even the writer himself, who had recorded this discovery, was at a loss to ascertain the fact! It is amusing to observe honest George Ballard in the same dilemma as honest Andrew Kippis. “This lady,” he says, “was not more distinguished for the dignity of her birth than celebrated for her fine parts and learning; and yet,” he adds, in all the simplicity of his ingenuousness, “I know so little in relation to the two last accomplishments, that I should not have given her a place in these memoirs had not Mr. Evelyn put her in his list of learned women, and Mr. Philips (Milton’s nephew) introduced her among his modern poetesses.”

“The Lady Arabella,” for by that name she is usually noticed by her contemporaries, rather than by her maiden name of Stuart, or by her married one of Seymour, as she latterly subscribed herself, was, by her affinity with James the First and our Elizabeth, placed near the throne; too near, it seems, for her happiness and quiet!3 In their common descent from Margaret, the elder daughter of Henry the Seventh, she was cousin to the Scottish monarch, but born an Englishwoman, which gave her some advantage in a claim to the throne of England. “Her double relation to royalty,” says Mr. Lodge, “was equally obnoxious to the jealousy of Elizabeth and the timidity of James, and they secretly dreaded the supposed danger of her having a legitimate offspring.” Yet James himself, then unmarried, proposed for the husband of the Lady Arabella one of her cousins, Lord Esme Stuart, whom he had created Duke of Lennox, and designed for his heir. The first thing we hear of “the Lady Arabella” concerns a marriage: marriages are the incidents of her life, and the fatal event which terminated it was a marriage. Such was the secret spring on which her character and her misfortunes revolved.

This proposed match was desirable to all parties; but there was one greater than them all who forbad the banns. Elizabeth interposed; she imprisoned the Lady Arabella, and would not deliver her up to the king, of whom she spoke with asperity, and even with contempt.4 The greatest infirmity of Elizabeth was her mysterious conduct respecting the succession to the English throne; her jealousy of power, her strange unhappiness in the dread of personal neglect, made her averse to see a successor in her court, or even to hear of a distant one; in a successor she could only view a competitor. Camden tells us that she frequently observed, that “most men neglected the setting sun,” and this melancholy presentiment of personal neglect this political coquette not only lived to experience, but even this circumstance of keeping the succession unsettled miserably disturbed the queen on her death-bed. Her ministers, it appears, harassed her when she was lying speechless; a remarkable circumstance, which has hitherto escaped the knowledge of her numerous historians, and which I shall take an opportunity of disclosing in this work.

Elizabeth leaving a point so important always problematical, raised up the very evil she so greatly dreaded; it multiplied the aspirants, while every party humoured itself by selecting its own claimant, and none more busily than the continental powers. One of the most curious is the project of the Pope, who, intending to put aside James the First on account of his religion, formed a chimerical scheme of uniting Arabella with a prince of the house of Savoy; the pretext, for without a pretext no politician moves, was their descent from a bastard of our Edward the Fourth; the Duke of Parma was, however, married; but the Pope, in his infallibility, turned his brother the Cardinal into the Duke’s substitute by secularising the churchman. In that case the Cardinal would then become King of England in right of this lady! — provided he obtained the crown!5

We might conjecture from this circumstance that Arabella was a catholic, and so Mr. Butler has recently told us; but I know of no other authority than Dodd, the catholic historian, who has inscribed her name among his party. Parsons, the wily Jesuit, was so doubtful how the lady, when young, stood disposed towards Catholicism, that he describes “her religion to be as tender, green, and flexible as is her age and sex, and to be wrought hereafter and settled according to future events and times.” Yet, in 1611, when she was finally sent into confinement, one well informed of court affairs writes, “that the Lady Arabella hath not been found inclinable to popery.6

Even Henry the Fourth of France was not unfriendly to this papistical project of placing an Italian cardinal on the English throne. It had always been the state interest of the French cabinet to favour any scheme which might preserve the realms of England and Scotland as separate kingdoms. The manuscript correspondence of Charles the Ninth with his ambassador at the court of London, which I have seen, tends solely to this great purpose, and perhaps it was her French and Spanish allies which finally hastened the political martyrdom of the Scottish Mary.

Thus we have discovered two chimerical husbands of the Lady Arabella. The pretensions of this lady to the throne had evidently become an object with speculating politicians; and perhaps it was to withdraw herself from the embarrassments into which she was thrown, that, according to De Thou, she intended to marry a son of the Earl of Northumberland; but, to the jealous terror of Elizabeth, an English Earl was not an object of less magnitude than a Scotch Duke. This is the third shadowy husband.

When James the First ascended the English throne, there existed an Anti-Scottish party. Hardly had the northern monarch entered into the “Land of Promise,” when his southern throne was shaken by a foolish plot, which one writer calls “a state riddle;” it involved Rawleigh, and unexpectedly the Lady Arabella. The Scottish monarch was to be got rid of, and Arabella was to be crowned. Some of these silly conspirators having written to her, requesting letters to be addressed to the King of Spain, she laughed at the letter she received, and sent it to the king. Thus for a second time was Arabella to have been Queen of England. This occurred in 1603, but was followed by no harsh measures from James the First.

In the following year, 1604, I have discovered that for the third time the lady was offered a crown! “A great ambassador is coming from the King of Poland, whose chief errand is to demand my Lady Arabella in marriage for his master. So may your princess of the blood grow a great queen, and then we shall be safe from the danger of missuperscribing letters.7 This last passage seems to allude to something. What is meant by “the danger of missuperscribing letters?”

If this royal offer were ever made, it was certainly forbidden. Can we imagine the refusal to have come from the lady, who, we shall see, seven years afterwards, complained that the king had neglected her, in not providing her with a suitable match? It was at this very time that one of those butterflies, who quiver on the fair flowers of a court, writes that “My Ladye Arbella spends her time in lecture, reiding, &c., and she will not hear of marriage. Indirectly there were speaches used in the recommendation of Count Maurice, who pretendeth to be Duke of Guildres. I dare not attempt her.”8 Here we find another princely match proposed. 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.

Arabella from certain circumstances was a dependent on the king’s bounty, which flowed very unequally; often reduced to great personal distress, we find by her letters that “she prayed for present money, though it should not be annually.” I have discovered that James at length granted her a pension. The royal favours, however, were probably limited to her good behaviour.9

From 1604 to 1608 is a period which forms a blank leaf in the story of Arabella. In this last year this unfortunate lady had again fallen out of favour, and, as usual, the cause was mysterious, and not known even to the writer. Chamberlain, in a letter to Sir Ralph Winwood, mentions “the Lady Arabella’s business, whatsoever it was, is ended, and she restored to her former place and graces. The king gave her a cupboard of plate, better than 200l., for a new year’s gift, and 1000 marks to pay her debts, besides some yearly addition to her maintenance, want being thought the chiefest cause of her discontentment, though shee be not altogether free from suspicion of being collapsed.10 Another mysterious expression, which would seem to allude either to politics or religion but the fact appears by another writer to have been a discovery of a new project of marriage without the king’s consent. This person of her choice is not named; and it was to divert her mind from the too constant object of her thoughts, that James, after a severe reprimand, had invited her to partake of the festivities of the court in that season of revelry and reconciliation.

We now approach that event of the Lady Arabella’s life which reads like a romantic fiction: the catastrophe, too, is formed by the Aristotelian canon; for its misery, its pathos, and its terror even romantic fiction has not exceeded!

It is probable that the king, from some political motive, had decided that the Lady Arabella should lead a single life; but such wise purposes frequently meet with cross ones; and it happened that no woman was ever more solicited to the conjugal state, or seems to have been so little averse to it. Every noble youth who sighed for distinction ambitioned the notice of the Lady Arabella; and she was so frequently contriving a marriage for herself, that a courtier of that day writing to another, observes, “these affectations of marriage in her do give some advantage to the world of impairing the reputation of her constant and virtuous disposition.”11

The revels of Christmas had hardly closed when the Lady Arabella forgot that she had been forgiven, and again relapsed into her old infirmity. She renewed a connexion, which had commenced in childhood, with Mr. William Seymour, the second son of Lord Beauchamp, and grandson of the Earl of Hertford. His character has been finely described by Clarendon: he loved his studies and his repose; but when the civil wars broke out, he closed his volumes and drew his sword, and was both an active and a skilful general. Charles the First created him Marquis of Hertford, and governor of the prince; he lived to the Restoration, and Charles the Second restored him to the dukedom of Somerset.

This treaty of marriage was detected in February, 1609, and the parties summoned before the privy council. Seymour was particularly censured for daring to ally himself with the royal blood, although that blood was running in his own veins. In a manuscript letter which I have discovered, Seymour addressed the lords of the privy council. The style is humble; the plea to excuse his intended marriage is, that being but “A young brother, and sensible of mine own good, unknown to the world, of mean estate, not born to challenge anything by my birthright, and therefore my fortunes to be raised by mine own endeavour, and she a lady of great honour and virtue, and, as I thought, of great means, I did plainly and honestly endeavour lawfully to gain her in marriage.” There is nothing romantic in this apology, in which Seymour describes himself as a fortune-hunter! which, however, was probably done to cover his undoubted affection for Arabella, whom he had early known. He says, that “he conceived that this noble lady might, without offence, make the choice of any subject within this kingdom; which conceit was begotten in me upon a general report, after her ladyship’s last being called before your lordships,12 that it might be.” He tells the story of this ancient wooing —“I boldly intruded myself into her ladyship’s chamber in the court on Candlemas-day last, at what 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 favour first obtained. And this was our first meeting! After that we had a second meeting at Briggs’s house in Fleet-street, and then a third at Mr. Baynton’s; at both which we had the like conference and resolution as before.” He assures their lordships that both of them had never intended marriage without his majesty’s approbation.13

But Love laughs at privy councils and the grave promises made by two frightened lovers. The parties were secretly married, which was discovered about July in the following year. They were then separately confined, the lady at the house of Sir Thomas Parry at Lambeth, and Seymour in the Tower, for “his contempt in marrying a lady of the royal family without the king’s leave.”

This, their first confinement, was not rigorous; the lady walked in her garden, and the lover was a prisoner at large in the Tower. The writer in the “Biographia Britannica” observes that “Some intercourse they had by letters, which, after a time, was discovered.” In this history of love these might be precious documents, and in the library at Long-leat these love-epistles, or perhaps this volume, may yet lie unread in a corner.14 Arabella’s epistolary talent was not vulgar: Dr. Montford, in a manuscript letter, describes one of those effusions which Arabella addressed to the king. “This letter was penned by her in the best terms, as she can do right well. It was often read without offence, nay it was even commended by his highness, with the applause of prince and council.” One of these amatory letters I have recovered. The circumstance is domestic, being nothing more at first than a very pretty letter on Mr. Seymour having taken cold, but, as every love-letter ought, it is not without a pathetic crescendo; the tearing away of hearts so firmly joined, her solitary imprisonment availed little; for that he lived and was her own, filled her spirit with that consciousness which triumphed even over that sickly frame so nearly subdued to death. The familiar style of James the First’s age may bear comparison with our own. I shall give it entire.

“LADY ARABELLA TO MR. WILLIAM SEYMOUR.

“SIR,

“I am exceeding sorry to hear you have not been well. I pray you let me know truly how you do, and what was the cause of it. I am not satisfied with the reason Smith gives for it; but if it be a cold, I will impute it to some sympathy betwixt us, having myself gotten a swollen cheek at the same time with a cold. For God’s sake, let not your grief of mind work upon your body. You may see by me what inconveniences it will bring one to; and no fortune, I assure you, daunts me so much as that weakness of body I find in myself; for si nous vivons l’age d’un veau, as Marot says, we may, by God’s grace, be happier than we look for, in being suffered to enjoy ourself with his majesty’s favour. But if we be not able to live to it, I for my part shall think myself a pattern of misfortune, in enjoying so great a blessing as you, so little awhile. No separation but that deprives me of the comfort of you. For wheresoever you be, or in what state soever you are, it sufficeth me you are mine! Rachel wept, and would not be comforted, because her children were no more. And that, indeed, is the remediless sorrow, and none else! And therefore God bless us from that, and I will hope well of the rest, though I see no apparent hope. But I am sure God’s book mentioneth many of his children in as great distress, that have done well after, even in this world! I do assure you 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 too with 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 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.”15

In examining the manuscripts of this lady, the defect of dates must be supplied by our sagacity. The following “petition,” as she calls it, addressed to the king in defence of her secret marriage, must have been written at this time. She remonstrates with the king for what she calls his neglect of her, and while she fears to be violently separated from her husband, she asserts her cause with a firm and noble spirit, which was afterwards too severely tried!

“TO THE KING.
“MAY IT PLEASE YOUR MOST EXCELLENT MAJESTY.

“I do most heartily lament my hard fortune that I should offend your majesty the least, especially in that whereby I have long desired to merit of your majesty, as appeared before your majesty was my sovereign. And though your majesty’s neglect of me, my good liking of this gentleman that is my husband, and my fortune, drew me to a contract before I acquainted your majesty, I humbly beseech your majesty to consider how impossible it was for me to imagine it could be offensive to your majesty, having few days before given me your royal consent to bestow myself on any subject of your majesty’s (which likewise your majesty had done long since). Besides, never having been either prohibited any, or spoken to for any, in this land, by your majesty, these seven years that I have lived in your majesty’s house, I could not conceive that your majesty regarded my marriage at all; whereas if your majesty had vouchsafed to tell me your mind, and accept the free-will offering of my obedience, I would not have offended your majesty, of whose gracious goodness I presume so much, that if it were now as convenient in a worldly respect, as malice make it seem, to separate us, whom God hath joined, your majesty would not do evil that good might come thereof, nor make me, that have the honour to be so near your majesty in blood, the first precedent that ever was, though our princes may have left some as little imitable, for so good and gracious a king as your majesty, as David’s dealing with Uriah. But I assure myself, if it please your majesty in your own wisdom to consider thoroughly of my cause, there will no solid reason appear to debar me of justice and your princely favour, which I will endeavour to deserve whilst I breathe.”

It is indorsed, “A copy of my petition to the King’s Majesty.” In another she implores that “If the necessity of my state and fortune, together with my weakness, have caused me to do somewhat not pleasing to your majesty, let it be all covered with the shadow of your royal benignity.” Again, in another petition, she writes:—

“Touching the offence for which I am now punished, I most humbly beseech your majesty, in your most princely wisdom and judgment, to consider in what a miserable state I had been, if I had taken any other course than I did; for my own conscience witnessing before God that I was then the wife of him that now I am, I could never have matched any other man, but to have lived all the days of my life as a harlot, which your majesty would have abhorred in any, especially in one who hath the honour (how otherwise unfortunate soever) to have any drop of your majesty’s blood in them.”

I find a letter of Lady Jane Drummond, in reply to this or another petition, which Lady Drummond had given the queen to present to his majesty. It was to learn the cause of Arabella’s confinement. The pithy expression of James the First is characteristic of the monarch; and the solemn forebodings of Lady Drummond, who appears to have been a lady of excellent judgment, showed, by the fate of Arabella, how they were true!

“LADY JANE DRUMMOND TO LADY ARABELLA.

Answering her prayer to know the cause of her confinement.

“This day her majesty hath seen your ladyship’s letter. Her majesty says, that when she gave your ladyship’s petition to his majesty, he did take it well enough, but gave no other answer than that ye had eaten of the forbidden tree. This was all her majesty commanded me to say to your ladyship in this purpose; but withal did remember her kindly to your ladyship, and sent you this little token in witness of the continuance of her majesty’s favour to your ladyship. Now, where your ladyship desires me to deal openly and freely with you, I protest I can say nothing on knowledge, for I never spoke to any of that purpose but to the queen; but the wisdom of this state, with the example how some of your quality in the like case has been used, makes me fear that ye shall not find so easy end to your troubles as ye expect or I wish.

In return, Lady Arabella expresses her grateful thanks — presents her majesty with “this piece of my work, to accept in remembrance of the poor prisoner that wrought them, in hopes her royal hands will vouchsafe to wear them, which till I have the honour to kiss, I shall live in a great deal of sorrow. Her case,” she adds, “could be compared to no other she ever heard of, resembling no other.” Arabella, like the Queen of Scots, beguiled the hours of imprisonment by works of embroidery; for in sending a present of this kind to Sir Andrew Sinclair to be presented to the queen, she thanks him for “vouchsafing to descend to these petty offices to take care even of these womanish toys, for her whose serious mind must invent some relaxation.”

The secret correspondence of Arabella and Seymour was discovered, and was followed by a sad scene. It must have been now that the king resolved to consign this unhappy lady to the stricter care of the Bishop of Durham. Lady Arabella was so subdued at this distant separation, that she gave way to all the wildness of despair; she fell suddenly ill, and could not travel but in a litter, and with a physician. In her way to Durham, she was so greatly disquieted in the first few miles of her uneasy and troublesome journey, that they would proceed no further than Highgate. The physician returned to town to report her state, and declared that she was assuredly very weak, her pulse dull and melancholy, and very irregular; her countenance very heavy, pale, and wan; and though free from fever, he declared her in no case fit for travel. The king observed, “It is enough to make any sound man sick to be carried in a bed in that manner she is; much more for her whose impatient and unquiet spirit heapeth upon herself far greater indisposition of body than otherwise she would have.“ His resolution, however, was, that “she should proceed to Durham, if he were king!” “We answered,” replied the Doctor, “that we made no doubt of her obedience."—“Obedience is that required,” replied the king, “which being performed, I will do more for her than she expected.”16

The king, however, with his usual indulgence, appears to have consented that Lady Arabella should remain for a month at Highgate, in confinement, till she had sufficiently recovered to proceed to Durham, where the bishop posted, unaccompanied by his charge, to await her reception, and to the great relief of the friends of the lady, who hoped she was still within the reach of their cares, or of the royal favour.

A second month’s delay was granted, in consequence of that letter which we have before noticed as so impressive and so elegant, that it was commended by the king, and applauded by Prince Henry and the council.

But the day of her departure hastened, and the Lady Arabella betrayed no symptom of her first despair. She openly declared her resignation to her fate, and showed her obedient willingness, by being even over-careful in little preparations to make easy a long journey. Such tender grief had won over the hearts of her keepers, who could not but sympathise with a princess whose love, holy and wedded too, was crossed only by the tyranny of statesmen. But Arabella had not within that tranquillity with which she had lulled her keepers. She and Seymour had concerted a flight, as bold in its plot, and as beautifully wild, as any recorded in romantic story. The day preceding her departure, Arabella found it not difficult to persuade a female attendant to consent that she would suffer her to pay a last visit to her husband, and to wait for her return at an appointed hour. More solicitous for the happiness of lovers than for the repose of kings, this attendant, in utter simplicity, or with generous sympathy, assisted the Lady Arabella in dressing her in one of the most elaborate disguisings. “She drew a pair of large French-fashioned hose or trowsers 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 poor inn, where one of her confederates was waiting with horses, yet she was so sick and faint, that the ostler, who held her stirrup, observed, that “the gentleman could hardly hold out to London.” She recruited her spirits by riding; the blood mantled in her face; and at six o’clock our sick lover reached Blackwall, where a boat and servants were waiting. The watermen were at first ordered to Woolwich; there they were desired to push on to Gravesend; then to Tilbury, where, complaining of fatigue, they landed to refresh; but, tempted by their freight, they reached Lee. At the break of morn, they discovered a French vessel riding there to receive the lady; but as Seymour had not yet arrived, Arabella was desirous to lie at anchor for her lord, conscious that he would not fail to his appointment. If he indeed had been prevented in his escape, she herself cared not to preserve the freedom she now possessed; but her attendants, aware of the danger of being overtaken by a king’s ship, overruled her wishes, and hoisted sail, which occasioned so fatal a termination to this romantic adventure. Seymour indeed had escaped from the Tower; he had left his servant watching at the door, to warn all visitors not to disturb his master, who lay ill of a raging toothache, while Seymour in disguise stole away alone, following a cart which had brought wood to his apartment. He passed the warders; he reached the wharf, and found his confidential man waiting with a boat; and he arrived at Lee. The time pressed; the waves were rising; Arabella was not there; but in the distance he descried a vessel. Hiring a fisherman to take him on board, to his grief, on hailing it, he discovered that it was not the French vessel charged with his Arabella. In despair and confusion, he found another ship from Newcastle, which for a good sum altered its course, and landed him in Flanders. In the meanwhile, the escape of Arabella was first known to government; and the hot alarm which spread may seem ludicrous to us. The political consequences attached to the union and the flight of these two doves from their cotes, shook with consternation the grey owls of the cabinet, more particularly the Scotch party, who, in their terror, paralleled it with the gunpowder treason; and some political danger must have impended, at least in their imagination, for Prince Henry partook of this cabinet panic.

Confusion and alarm prevailed at court; couriers were despatched swifter than the winds wafted the unhappy Arabella, and all was hurry in the seaports. They sent to the Tower to warn the lieutenant to be doubly vigilant over Seymour, who, to his surprise, discovered that his prisoner had ceased to be so for several hours. James at first was for issuing a proclamation in a style so angry and vindictive, that it required the moderation of Cecil to preserve the dignity while he concealed the terror of his majesty. By the admiral’s detail of his impetuous movements, he seemed in pursuit of an enemy’s fleet; for the courier is urged, and the post-masters are roused by a superscription, which warned them of the eventful despatch: “Haste, haste, post haste! Haste for your life, your life!”17 The family of the Seymours were in a state of distraction; and a letter from Mr. Francis Seymour to his grandfather, the Earl of Hertford, residing then at his seat far remote from the capital, to acquaint him of the escape of his brother and the lady, still bears to posterity a remarkable evidence of the trepidation and consternation of the old earl; it arrived in the middle of the night, accompanied by a summons to attend the privy council. In the perusal of a letter written in a small hand, and filling more than two folio pages, such was his agitation, that in holding the taper he must have burnt what he probably had not read; the letter is scorched, and the flame has perforated it in so critical a part, that the poor old earl journeyed to town in a state of uncertainty and confusion. Nor was his terror so unreasonable as it seems. Treason had been a political calamity with the Seymours. Their progenitor, the Duke of Somerset the Protector, had found that “all his honours,” as Frankland strangely expresses it, “had helped him too forwards to hop headless.” Henry, Elizabeth, and James, says the same writer, considered that it was needful, as indeed in all sovereignties, that those who were nearest the crown “should be narrowly looked into for marriage.”

But we have left the Lady Arabella alone and mournful on the seas, not praying for favourable gales to convey her away, but still imploring her attendants to linger for her Seymour; still straining her sight to the point of the horizon for some speck which might give a hope of the approach of the boat freighted with all her love. Alas! never more was Arabella to cast a single look on her lover and her husband! She was overtaken by a pink in the king’s service, in Calais roads and now she declared that she cared not to be brought back again to her imprisonment should Seymour escape, whose safety was dearest to her!

The life of the unhappy, the melancholy, and the distracted Arabella Stuart is now to close in an imprisonment, which lasted only four years; for her constitutional delicacy, her rooted sorrow, and the violence of her feelings, sunk beneath the hopelessness of her situation, and a secret resolution in her mind to refuse the aid of her physicians, and to wear away the faster if she could, the feeble remains of life. But who shall paint the emotions of a mind which so much grief, and so much love, and distraction itself, equally possessed!

What passed in that dreadful imprisonment cannot perhaps be recovered for authentic history; but enough is known; that her mind grew impaired, that she finally lost her reason, and if the duration of her imprisonment was short, it was only terminated by her death.18 Some loose effusions, often begun and never ended, written and erased, incoherent and rational, yet remain in the fragments of her papers. In a letter she proposed addressing to Viscount Fenton, to implore for her his majesty’s favour again, she says, “Good my lord, consider the fault cannot be uncommitted; neither can any more be required of any earthly creature but confession and most humble submission.” In a paragraph she had written, but crossed out, it seems that a present of her work had been refused by the king, and that she had no one about her whom she might trust.

“Help will come too late; and be assured that neither physician nor other, but whom I think good, shall come about me while I live, till I have his majesty’s favour, without which I desire not to live. And if you remember of old, I dare die, so I be not guilty of my own death, and oppress others with my ruin too, if there be no other way, as God forbid, to whom I commit you; and rest as assuredly as heretofore, if you be the same to me,

“Your lordship’s faithful friend,
“A.S.”

That she had frequently meditated on suicide appears by another letter —“I could not be so unchristian as to be the cause of my own death. Consider what the world would conceive if I should be violently enforced to do it.”

One fragment we may save as an evidence of her utter wretchedness.

“In all humility, the most wretched and unfortunate creature that ever lived, prostrates itselfe at the feet of the most merciful king that ever was, desiring nothing but mercy and favour, not being more afflicted for anything than for the losse of that which hath binne this long time the onely comfort it had in the world, and which, if it weare to do again, I would not adventure the losse of for any other worldly comfort; mercy it is I desire, and that for God’s sake!”

Such is the history of the Lady Arabella, who, from some circumstances not sufficiently opened to us, was an important personage, designed by others, at least, to play a high character in the political drama. Thrice selected as a queen; but the consciousness of royalty was only felt in her veins while she lived in the poverty of dependence. Many gallant spirits aspired after her hand, but when her heart secretly selected one beloved, it was for ever deprived of domestic happiness! She is said not to have been beautiful, and to have been beautiful; and her very portrait, ambiguous as her life, is neither the one nor the other. She is said to have been a poetess, but not a single verse substantiates her claim to the laurel. She is said not to have been remarkable for her intellectual accomplishments, yet I have found a Latin letter of her composition in her manuscripts. The materials of her life are so scanty that it cannot be written, and yet we have sufficient reason to believe that it would be as pathetic as it would be extraordinary, could we narrate its involved incidents, and paint forth her delirious feelings. Acquainted rather with her conduct than with her character, for us the Lady ARABELLA has no palpable historical existence; and we perceive rather her shadow than herself! A writer of romance might render her one of those interesting personages whose griefs have been deepened by their royalty, and whose adventures, touched with the warm hues of love and distraction, closed at the bars of her prison gate: a sad example of a female victim to the state!

Through one dim lattice, fring’d with ivy round,

Successive suns a languid radiance threw,

To paint how fierce her angry guardian frown’d,

To mark how fast her waning beauty flew!

SEYMOUR, who was afterwards permitted to return, distinguished himself by his loyalty through three successive reigns, and retained his romantic passion for the lady of his first affections; for he called the daughter he had by his second lady by the ever-beloved name of ARABELLA STUART.

1 Long after this article was composed, Miss Aikin published her “Court of James the First.” That agreeable writer has written her popular volumes without wasting the bloom of life in the dust of libraries; and our female historian has not occasioned me to alter a single sentence in these researches.

2 Morant in the “Biographia Britannica.” This gross blunder has been detected by Mr. Lodge. The other I submit to the reader’s judgment. A contemporary letter-writer, alluding to the flight of Arabella and Seymour, which alarmed the Scottish so much more than the English party, tells us, among other reasons of the little danger of the political influence of the parties themselves over the people, that not only their pretensions were far removed, but he adds, “They were UNGRACEFUL both in their persons and their houses.“ Morant takes the term UNGRACEFUL in its modern acceptation; but in the style of that day, I think UNGRACEFUL is opposed to GRACIOUS in the eyes of the people, meaning that their persons and their houses were not considerable to the multitude. Would it not be absurd to apply ungraceful in its modern sense to a family or house? And had any political danger been expected, assuredly it would not have been diminished by the want of personal grace in these lovers. I do not recollect any authority for the sense of ungraceful in opposition to gracious, but a critical and literary antiquary has sanctioned my opinion.

3 “She was the only child of Charles Stuart, fifth earl of Lennox, by Elizabeth, daughter of Sir William Cavendish of Hardwick, in Derbyshire, and is supposed to have been born in 1577. Her father, unhappily for her, was of the royal blood both of England and Scotland; for he was a younger brother of King Henry, father of James the Sixth, and great-grandson through his mother, who was daughter of Margaret, Queen of Scots, to our Henry the Seventh.” Such is Lodge’s account of “this illustrious misfortune,” which made the life of a worthy lady wretched.

4 A circumstance which we discover by a Spanish memorial, when our James the First was negotiating with the cabinet of Madrid. He complains of Elizabeth’s treatment of him; that the queen refused to give him his father’s estate in England, nor would deliver up his uncle’s daughter, Arabella, to be married to the Duke of Lennox, at which time the queen uso palabras muy asperas y de mucho disprechia contra el dicho Rey de ascocia; she used harsh words, expressing much contempt of the king. Winwood’s Mem. i. 4.

5 See a very curious letter, the CCXCIX. of Cardinal d’Ossat, vol. v. The catholic interest expected to facilitate the conquest of England by joining their armies with those of “Arbelle;” and the commentator writes that this English lady had a party, consisting of all those English who had been the judges or the avowed enemies of Mary of Scotland, the mother of James the First.

6 Winwood’s Memorials, iii. 281.

7 This manuscript letter from William, Earl of Pembroke, to Gilbert Earl of Shrewsbury, is dated from Hampton Court, October 3, 1604. — Sloane MSS. 4161.

8 Lodge’s “Illustrations of British History,” iii. 286. It is curious to observe, that this letter, by W. Fowler, is dated on the same day as the manuscript letter I have just quoted, and it is directed to the same Earl of Shrewsbury; so that the Earl must have received, in one day, accounts of two different projects of marriage for his niece! This shows how much Arabella engaged the designs of foreigners and natives. Will. Fowler was a rhyming and fantastical secretary to the queen of James the First.

9 Two letters of Arabella, on distress of money, are preserved by Ballard. The discovery of a pension I made in Sir Julius Cæsar’s manuscripts; where one is mentioned of 1600l. to the Lady Arabella. — Sloane MSS. 4160. Mr. Lodge has shown that the king once granted her the duty on oats.

10 Winwood’s Memorials, vol. iii. 117-119.

11 Winwood’s Memorials, vol. iii. 119.

12 This evidently alludes to the gentleman whose name appears not, which occasioned Arabella to incur the king’s displeasure before Christmas; the Lady Arabella, it is quite clear, was resolvedly bent on marrying herself!

13 Harl. MSS. 7003.

14 It is on record that at Long-leat, the seat of the Marquis of Bath, certain papers of Arabella are preserved. I leave to the noble owner the pleasure of the research.

15 Harl. MSS. 7003.

16 These particulars I derive from the manuscript letters among the papers of Arabella Stuart. Harl. MSS. 7003.

17 “This emphatic injunction,” observed a friend, “would be effective when the messenger could read;” but in a letter written by the Earl of Essex about the year 1597, to the Lord High Admiral at Plymouth, I have seen added to the words “Hast, hast, hast, for lyfe!” the expressive symbol of a gallows prepared with a halter, which could not be well misunderstood by the most illiterate of Mercuries, thus

                   --------
                       }   ¦
                       {   ¦
                       }   ¦
                   ¦       ¦
                   ¦       ¦

18 Lodge says she “was remanded to the Tower, where she soon afterwards sank into helpless idiocy, surviving in that wretched state till September, 1615,” when, with miserable mockery of state, she was buried in Westminster Abbey, beside the body of Henry Prince of Wales. Bishop Corbet wrote some lines on her death, very indicative of the poor lady’s thoughts:—

How do I thank ye, death, and bless thy power,

That I have passed the guard, and ‘scaped the Tower!

And now my pardon is my epitaph,

And a small coffin my poor carcass hath;

For at thy charge both soul and body were

Enlarged at last, secur’d from hope and fear.

That amongst saints, this amongst kings is laid;

And what my birth did claim, my death hath paid.

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