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Arbella: England's Lost Queen
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 1 January 2007
A very attractive book at first glance, and one well presented, too.

It's a great story, but in the end there simply isn't enough meat on the bones to justify so many pages of print (and it isn't that big a read).

The author is skilled; the research is comprehensive; but alas, by half-way through, I was thinking, 'OK, I'm done here, thanks.' And this is the fault in the work - 50% of it is about nothing in particular, or about the author trying very hard to make something out of nothing in particular, and it doesn't really work.

Arbella's story is a fascinating one, but of itself it is, unfortunately, fairly lightweight. Would that the author had combined some other threads and this would have been a truly great piece of work.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
I came to this book after reading a couple of biographies of Bess of Hardwick. Bess died in 1608, when her granddaughter Arbella still had seven years of life to live. I was curious, and was glad to buy this book and read it. Like me, Sarah Gristwood's interest in Arbella was also sparked by Bess of Hardwick, but also by the latter's relations with Queen Elizabeth and Mary Stuart. Arbella formed the fourth side of "an irregular diamond" and Gristwood writes that her "own allegiance was always to the Tudor model. I never heard the Stuart song ... But Arbella provoked in me a nagging sense of a story missed ..."

Gristwood, in her preface, admits that, "The title of this book ... is something of a ... provocation. But, like every such statement, it contains a kernel of truth." Indeed, how could it not when Arbella was third cousin to Queen Elizabeth and first cousin to King James. (By the way, it is annoying to see James's wife, Anne of Denmark, referred to as "Anna"?)

I was initially put off by the prologue to the biography, which opens like some cheap romantic novel. It is very well-written if you like your historical biography in a style such as this: "Trouble was in her very bloodlines ..." But once passed the prologue, Gristwood gets into her stride. Her research has been deep and wide, and her knowledge of the epoch cannot be contradicted. (The select bibliography runs to eight pages.)

The chronological structure of the book is in five parts. The first covers the first thirteen years of Arbella's life; the second takes us up to her mid-twenties; the third part is devoted solely to four months in 1603 and Arbella's quest for freedom in parallel with the dieing days of Elizabeth's reign. Part four takes the story up to 1610 - even when her cousin James becomes king, the "confusion about Arbella's status was to fog her path" - whilst the final years of her relatively short life complete the fifth part. It was good to be able to revisit the subject of the prologue in this final segment.

But there is an epilogue still to go, for "Arbella's life seemed to have ended not with a bang but with a whimper - and that is no finish for a story." Here she follows the fates of Arbella's nearest and dearest, especially that of her husband who had another fifty years of life left. (Arbella's supposed links with America are far too tenuous to be worthy of mention.) Then, Arbella's interest to historians is reviewed. And the moral of the book? Well, Gristwood writes, "There is a temptation to feel that any life deemed worthy of a biography must exemplify something; ... She seems to me ... to represent how far the human spirit can fall into frustration and despair without every giving up completely."

There are some interesting appendices on whether it was Christopher Marlowe who was her tutor for a brief moment and whether Arbella suffered from porphyria. Gristwood is alert to the biographical challenge if Arbella did suffer from the same ailment that later would torment George III: "If Arbella's agonies and rebellions were the result not of social or psychological pressures but of a biochemical imbalance, what then becomes of a feminist or a psychological reading of her story?" A third excellent appendix addresses `people and places'.
The book comes with some excellent colour plates, although William Seymour is missing. There is, alas, no map, which is unfortunate since the opening of the book describes Rufford hall and all the nearby places that matter. The book ends with family trees, source notes, a select bibliography, picture acknowledgements, and an index. I feel I should point out problems with the list of black & white text illustrations at the close of the picture acknowledgements section, as both the number of these and the page references are in error. (This is probably due to my reading the paperback edition.)
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Arbella Stuart is the Queen that never was. After the death of Elizabeth I, her claim to the throne was arguably greater than James VI of Scotland. However, James had much more support from the all-powerful nobles, and so Arbella was pushed to one side. She was a typical Stuart, with a knack for making enemies, and for making life difficult for herself. In this book, Sarah Gristwood claims that Arbella may have been sufferring from Porphyria, the same disease that George III sufferred from, which would explain some of her rather hysterical behaviour and conversation. Apparently this disease was present in other members of the Stuart family, which I think explains quite a lot when you look at their lives. I reached the conclusion on finishing the book that Arbella was prone to hysteria,drama, and I thought it really thought-provoking and sad that she also
had anorexia nervosa, which we tend to think of as a 'modern' illness. She was another Stuart who led a tragic life, just like her Aunt, Mary Queen of Scots. She had a lot to contend with, in the form of the redoubtable Bess of Hardwick, and also Mary Talbot, both very strong ladies, who did not suffer fools gladly.
Poor Arbella was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and paid the price. She was imprisoned in the Tower simply because of who she was, by a very insecure James I, whose throne must have felt rocky beneath him. She was a threat, and had to be disposed of.
Ultimately, she disposed of herself, and disappeared into the mists of time. I really enjoyed this book, it was very well written, and gave me an insight into the life of someone who tends to be forgotten.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Arbella Stuart has a tendency to be very much forgotten, or at least marginalised in today's history. The inevitability of hindsight may lead a modern reader to dismiss her as a likely candidate for the throne on the death of Elizabeth, but Gristwood argues that this was a stronger possibility than we might credit, and certainly her incarceration shows that James I considered her to be a threat.
Gristwood here presents a highly readable account of Arbella, which is much more than just a biography. Her position was politically very difficult, being too close to the throne for comfort. Her eventual clandestine marriage, to a Seymour and descendant of Mary Tudor, Henry VIII's sister, was too much for James I, who could see a potential rival dynasty emerging. The extracts from Arbella's letters are touchingly human. We are also given an analysis of potential likenesses of Arbella, and a consideration of the likelihood that she suffered from Porphyria.
An interesting and hightly readable book - recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 20 July 2012
Reading this book was like walking through Alice in wonderland's looking glass and being able to be a part of that beautiful garden, or like opening Pandora's Box and encountering the sparking jewel inside. This historical biography of one of England's forgotten Queen's is the most breathtaking and captivating thing that I have read this year, and which certainly raises the standard for this particular genre. Sarah Gristwood brings this period within history to life in stunning vivid color, where you are able to picture the clothes, the elegance and decadence and the atmosphere of the different environments. Beautifully detailed that delved into meticulous depth I was transported back in time, where I was able to connect to those who lived in the past in such a personal and intimate way. I found Lady Arbella Stuart's story one that was heartfelt, truly fascinating and quite extraordinarily remarkable, being something that needs to be read about and not hidden away unknown. Comparables between the Tudor's and the Stuart's were looked at as well as their differences, the writer weaving a web of timelines that entwined a labyrinth of individuals together. Being one of the most turbulent and memorable periods within our history, here the author captures its essence realistically whilst saving the lost Queen from her hideaway. A woman with a most eccentric and obscure life this account is one that touches your heart and soul, with its mixture of melodrama, sympathy and tragedy. The research that the author has gone into is extensive, but it is how she ultimately puts it down on paper that really captures your attention and brings this individual from the past to life before your very eyes. Complete with the most stunning paintings and photographs this is a book to treasure for all time, as something that is distinctive and that little bit different. She may not be as eminent as Henry VIII or her Cousin Elizabeth I, but once you read this you certainly will then feel that she in many ways is now more impressive and esteemed.

As a fervent reader of historical fiction, non-fiction and biographies alongside being a aficionado of the Tudor era in particular, I was hence keen to delve deeper into the past and find out more about those figures who were less known but just as interesting as those persons whom we all recognize and love. This was a highly readable narrative that was thoroughly engaging and which had me absorbed within its pages for hours on end. This is certainly a volume which you will be unable to put down, therefore I finished reading it in record time as well as being left with the sensation of wanting to find out even more about Arbella as she had altogether mesmerized me. A book that I would recommend to those who love the Tudor's, anything connected with the history of England and those who enjoy historical literature at its very best. Beautiful: simply stunning.
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on 22 August 2008
This book was an introduction to Arbella Stuart and was given to me as a gift by someone who knew of my interest in Tudor and Stuart history, spanning as it does both the end of the Tudor and the beginning of the Stuart period.

Just like Mary Queen of Scots before her, Arbella had her eye on the English crown and a fairly good claim to it. However, like Arbella's aunt experienced, Elizabeth I was a master of control and Arbella's frustration under the dominance and control of both her ageing Queen and her grandmother, Bess of Hardwick are almost palpable in this well-written and well-researched book. She seemed to be almost the prisoner that the Scottish queen was and at times faced real danger. This is all conveyed extremely well and Sarah Gristwood's attempt to paint a true-to-life portrait of this tragic woman pays off exeptionally well.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 22 November 2012
An interesting read about a character that I did not know about. Unfortunately the book I was sent was not. In good condition.
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on 17 April 2015
This book is interesting enough - quite well written. I bought it because I happen to be very interested in Tudor history and came across this lady as I had read about Bess of Hardwick and Hardwick Hall. She was an amazing lady and she also owned Chatsworth in her later life. I don't imagine it would appeal so much to readers who are not particularly interested in this period of history. However, generally a good read.
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on 31 August 2013
Arbella: Englands Lost Queen? Had never heard of her before! A must read for anyone interested in British history. If only the Tower of London could speak, the stories would be very illuminating!
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on 6 December 2012
This is fascinating reading about the life of Arbella Stuart, possible heir to Elizabeth I. I found it not an easy read, but well worth the effort.
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