As Sarah Gristwood remarks in her preface, ‘History has an unamiable habit of losing the losers.’ This being so, Arbella Stuart usually features as little more than a footnote in studies of the Elizabethan and Jacobean courts. With hindsight it is easy to assume that she was always destined to be consigned to obscurity, but Gristwood reminds us that in her own day Arbella was believed to have a respectable chance of succeeding Elizabeth I as England’s Queen.
Arbella was the granddaughter of two formidable women. Her paternal grandmother was Henry VIII’s niece, the Countess of Lennox, and it was from her that Arbella derived her claim to the crown. Her mother’s mother was the Countess of Shrewsbury (better known as Bess of Hardwick), a terrifying virago who