History’s forgotten princess is remembered at Hardwick Hall
History is a subject I’ve always taken a real interest in, from the Tudors, right the way up to the events of the early 20th century. The best history for me is history that’s not been explored before; when we learn new and exciting discoveries about periods we thought we knew really well.
The team at Hardwick Hall have been busy installing a brand new exhibition at a site that has seen its fair share of historical drama over the years. I was blissfully unaware of the story I was about to discover when I made the pleasant journey to the Nottinghamshire border last week, bathed in glorious spring sunshine. If I said the name Arbella Stuart, I’m sure many people wouldn’t be aware of her story and the significance she has in the history of Hardwick Hall – I won’t lie, I didn’t know of her either.
Greeted by many of the hard working staff at Hardwick, we were whisked away on a tour of this grand hall, which strategically sits on top of a very high hill offering brilliant views over Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and beyond. Hardwick Hall was built by Bess of Hardwick, and carries her initials everywhere you look on its exterior. Arbella Stuart lived in the hall in the late 1500s and early 1600s. She was the granddaughter to Bess and niece to Mary Queen of Scots. Arbella was in fact in line to be the next Queen of England after Elizabeth I. Tragically, Arbella never made it to the throne, and as our tour guide was quick to point out, this is why Arbella’s story has largely been forgotten. History is sadly written by the winners, not the losers.
Arbella’s story is tragic but also gripping. A princess who received the same education and treatment of a royal despite not living in a royal household. She had everything a young lady would have wished for in these times, however her incarceration at Hardwick largely against her will, coupled with the desire to take the throne and frustration at being dictated to as to who she could marry, meant that Arbella became increasingly rebellious as she grew older.
Queen Elizabeth saw her as her successor, however upon her death in 1603, James I took the throne. Against James’ will, Arbella married William Seymour in secret and fled to France dressed as a man to start a life away from England. However, worried by the possibility that Arbella and William might have children who could lay claim to the throne, Arbella was eventually found and brought back to England by James and he incarcerated her in the Tower of London. Sadly she was to spend the rest of her life here and she died in the tower in 1615 at the age of 39.
Portraits of Arbella Queen Elizabeth and Bess in High Great Chamber. Credit Richard Aspinall
The majority of Arbella’s life was lived in the walls of Hardwick Hall, and having spent the day exploring it, you find it hard to believe that anyone would be so desperate to leave. This year marks the 400th anniversary of Arbella’s death, so it’s a fitting year to remember her life and her story in the house where she spent the majority of her young life.
With its beautiful gardens and many acres of surrounding land, not to mention some spectacular views over Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, Hardwick Hall is a real gem of an attraction that I would thoroughly recommend for any budding historian or anyone who simply wishes to spend the day in a peaceful part of the world exploring one of the region’s finest buildings.
For more information on Hardwick Hall, including details on the exhibition on Arbella Stuart, please visit the website.