Elizabeth I is a monarch of notoriously dodgy temperament. She was also prone to locking people up who got married without asking her permission first – Sir Walter Raleigh and Bess Throckmorton being a notable example as indeed were Ladies Katherine and Mary Grey when they married without their cousin’s approval. It is perhaps not surprising then that when another scion of the Tudor family tree married on the quiet that there was repercussions. Aside from Liz’s dodgy temper there was the fact that under the 1536 Act of Attainder it was necessary for people in line to the throne to acquire Royal Assent before marrying. The fact that permission wasn’t usually given was, under the law, neither here nor there.
In the Autumn of 1574 Bess of Hardwick, wife of the earl of Shrewsbury, who was at that time entertaining Mary Queen of Scots as a long term “house guest” left Chatsworth where the Scottish queen was imprisoned and travelled to Rufford Abbey in Nottinghamshire. Rufford had been acquired by Bess’s second husband, William Cavendish who had been rather heavily involved with the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536.
Rufford Abbey was a very convenient place. It was getting on for thirty miles away from Chatsworth and it was handily close to the Great North Road. Bess was on her way to meet an important guest.
The guest was Margaret Stuart, Countess of Lennox. Her parents were Margaret Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VII, and Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus. She was Elizabeth’s cousin and in line to the English throne – apart from the fact that Henry VIII had excluded her because of her Catholicism. There was also the small matter of Margaret Tudor’s complicated marital arrangements which had cast doubt upon Margaret Douglas’s legitimacy. In any event Margaret having realised that her own claim to the throne was nothing but a dream had concentrated her ambition into her two sons by her husband Matthew Stewart, Earl of Lennox. The older boy, Henry Stuart (don’t ask me about why Stewart/Stuart is spelled the way it is) had married Mary Queen of Scots and got himself murdered. Given the link between Mary and Margaret as well as their shared Catholicism the English Privy Council had stipulated that Margaret should not come within thirty miles of either Chatsworth or Sheffield if Mary Queen of Scots was in residence. They suspected plots. However, Margaret had been given permission to travel between her home in Hackney to her home in Yorkshire, Temple Newsam. Permission had been granted for her to travel on 3 October 1574.
Mid October 1574 – Margaret began her journey north. She broke her journey with a stay at the home of Katherine Bertie, Baroness Willoughby de Eresby. Readers of the History Jar might recognise Katherine Bertie as Katherine Willoughby, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon’s loyal lady-in-waiting, Maria de Salinas. She became the duchess of Suffolk when she married the widowed Charles Brandon, was a friend of Katherine Parr and has been identified by some historians as a perspective wife number seven for Henry VIII. Margaret and Katherine Bertie had known each other since they were young women. They had a friend in common – Bess of Hardwick had entertained Katherine when Katherine went to Buxton to take the waters in 1575 and she stayed at Chatsworth. There had been some talk of Bess’s daughter Elizabeth Cavendish marrying Katherine’s son Peregrine Bertie.
Bess invited the Countess to stay at Rufford during her journey north. Travelling with Margaret was her other son Charles Stuart. He was nineteen at that time and already earl of Lennox – though not necessarily terribly wealthy. For once this does not seem to have bothered Bess.
Margaret became unwell whilst staying in Rufford. Bess cared for her guest personally. After all Margaret was a Tudor even if both host and guest were countesses.
Elizabeth who had accompanied her mother and young Charles were left to their own devices. The pair fell in love and got themselves firmly engaged. Neither mother raised any objections. In fact it appears that Bess smoothed the way. She leant Margaret a large some of money and the fact that Elizabeth Cavendish had a dowry of £3000 probably helped.
– The Earl of Shrewsbury, who must have been horrified when he discovered what had been going on, wrote to Lord Burghley to inform him of his step-daughter’s secret marriage to Charles Stuart, Earl of Lennox at Rufford Abbey in Nottinghamshire without royal permission.
– Lord Burghley replied that the marriage would be trouble. He was not wrong.
4 November – Shrewsbury replied to Burghley explaining how the young couple had fallen in love. He stressed that the marriage was not a secret and that he was hiding nothing. The reality was, of course, that royal permission had not been sought – Charles Stuart was a direct descendent of Henry VII and the son of an English subject so a possible claimant of the Crown.
Someone broke the news to Elizabeth I. The queen was predictably and probably alarmingly annoyed.
2 December – Shrewsbury sent another letter to Burghley saying that he had heard that the news of the wedding hadn’t gone down particularly well and begged Burghley to intercede on his behalf. He also wrote to the queen – making it clear that none of it had been his idea and that he and Bess were the queen’s very loyal servants (You can almost hear the gulp).
17 November- Margaret Lennox was ordered to return to London. Charles Stuart was to return to London with his bride (Elizabeth Cavendish). The journey took the rest of the month and into the beginning of December. Perhaps it was bad roads and lame beasts or perhaps Margaret wanted time for her cousin to calm down.
3 December – Countess of Lennox in Huntington. She wrote to the earl of Leicester and Lord Burghley asking for help. She sent a second letter to Burghley on the 10th December.
12 December Margaret Lennox arrived in King’s Place, Hackney.
13 December Margaret Lennox appeared before the Privy Council. Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon in charge of investigation. No plot to involve Mary Queen of Scots was uncovered and there was no evidence that the marriage was anything other than a young couple falling in inconvenient love.
27 December. Margaret was placed under arrest and carted off to The Tower. The version of events that the earl of Shrewsbury had recorded in his letters did not quite tally with the story that Margaret had told on her return to London. Charles and Elizabeth were placed under house arrest. It was the third time that Margaret had been incarcerated (the first was when she fell in love with Sir Thomas Howard in the reign of Henry VIII; the second when her eldest son married Mary Queen of Scots and now because Charles had married without permission to the daughter of the woman who was effectively Mary Queen of Scots’ gaoler.)
On the same day the Earl of Shrewsbury wrote yet another letter saying that no ill will had been intended. Bess of Hardwick was now ordered to London as well.
January – some historians say that Bess of Hardwick was given the opportunity to contemplate the error of her ways in the Tower at this time but others disagree.
Bess was allowed to return home where the presence of Mary Queen of Scots continued to cause difficulties and where the marriage of Gilbert Talbot and Mary Cavendish now resulted in the birth of an heir – George and increased family friction. The worry of his high status prisoner and the fact that he wasn’t being paid for maintaining her were having unfortunate effects on the earl of Shrewsbury’s personality.
Ultimately Margaret was released back to Hackney as there was no evidence of a master plot to free Mary or to kidnap James from London.
10 Nov (ish) – Birth of Arbella Stuart probably at King’s Place, Hackney. There is a letter from Mary Queen of Scots to her new niece and a reply from both Margaret and Elizabeth.
Christmas – Bess of Hardwick gave the queen a cloak of blue satin trimmed with velvet as a New Year’s gift.
April – Charles Stuart died. Arbella was barely six months old. Lovell suggests that Charles had always been delicate and perhaps this was another reason that Margaret had encouraged the match with Elizabeth Cavendish. Arbella should now have become the Countess of Lennox in Scotland it was argued that it was King James VI of Scotland who should have title and rights to the estates because he was Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley’s son. Mary Queen of Scots wrote in her will asking hr son James to grant her niece, his cousin, Arbella the earldom. James never did.
Elizabeth Cavendish would die six years later in January 1582. She was just twenty-six years old. Arbella would be given into the wardship of Lord Cecil and her day to day care into the hands of her grandmother Bess of Hardwick.
Armitage, Jill. (2017) Arbella Stuart: The Uncrowned Queen. Stroud: Amberley
Gristwood, Sarah. (2003) Arbella: England’s Lost Queen London: Bantam Press.
Lovell, Mary S. ( 2012) Bess of Hardwick: First Lady of Chatsworth. London: Little Brown