Lady Arbella Stuart (1575–1615) was potentially heir to the thrones of both England and Scotland, though in the end she inherited neither. Before James VI had children, Arbella was arguably his closest heir; even after that, she had a credible claim to succeed Elizabeth I, since unlike James she was born in England. This chapter considers how Arbella's actual and potential identities were shaped and represented by both herself and others in the various Renaissance plays that seem to echo her story, and also the various role models available to her: her aunt Mary, Queen of Scots; her formidable grandmother Bess of Hardwick; Elizabeth I; and the two Grey sisters, Lady Jane and Lady Catherine, with whom she seems to have felt a special affinity.
Keywords: starvation; drama; succession
Lady Arbella Stuart (1575–1615) sat on the edge of two thrones, though in the end she inherited neither. As the daughter of Charles Stuart, Earl of Lennox, the younger brother of James VI's father Lord Darnley, Arbella could trace her ancestry back through her paternal grandmother Margaret Douglas to a royal great-grandmother, Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII, sister of Henry VIII, and wife of James IV of Scots. Before James VI married and had children, Arbella was arguably his closest heir; even after that, she retained a very credible claim to be considered as the successor of Elizabeth I, since she shared James's Tudor blood but not his disadvantage of having been born outside the realm. In this chapter, I consider both what Arbella was, and what she might have been, and how her actual and potential identities were shaped and represented by both herself and others.
While her maternal grandmother, Bess of Hardwick, sewed the self and built the self, Arbella Stuart wrote the self. Sara Jayne Steen notes that ‘At court, she was acknowledged to be a fine writer, one whose words were read aloud in the king's Privy Council and commended’. She may have written poetry: Aemilia Lanyer seems to have thought so, and Steen notes that ‘Bathsua Makin in 1673 commended Stuart's “great faculty in Poetry” and several later writers echoed this point’, though no verse by her has ever been identified.