Taking as its background one of the most famous periods of British history, Sarah Gristwood's historical biography focuses on a hitherto forgotten figure: Arbella Stuart, the niece of Mary Queen of Scots and first cousin to James VI of Scotland. Orphaned as a baby, brought up by her powerful and ambitious grandmother, the four-times married Bess of Hardwick, introduced at court as a young girl where she was acknowledged as her heir by Elizabeth I, Arbella's right to the English throne was equalled only by James. Kept under close supervision by her grandmother, first at Chatsworth and later at Hardwick Hall, but still surrounded by plots most of them Roman Catholic in origin she became an important pawn in the struggle for succession, particularly during the long, tense period when Elizabeth I lay dying. But the best was yet to come. At 35 and upon James's succession, Arbella was invited back to court, and fell in love with her cousin, William Seymour, a man 12 years her junior.
Notwithstanding the fact that their union was forbidden, and that relationships that did not carry with them the Royal seal of approval were considered treasonous, they married secretly - and were immediately imprisoned. Undeterred, Arbella set about organizing their escape. Dressed up in men's clothing, she set out for Dover, arranging to meet her husband en route. He did not make their rendez-vous, and she was later intercepted off the coast of Calais, and escorted back to the Tower, where she died some years later, alone and, most probably, from starvation. With descriptions of what it was like to live in the late Tudor period the clothes, the intrigues at court and in the country, the houses with their huge, drafty rooms Arbella's is a story just waiting to be told.
Sarah Gristwood is a journalist and broadcaster, specialising in the arts and women's issues. A regular contributor to the Guardian, The Times, the Independent and the Evening Standard, she is the author of one previous book, a study of women's diaries through the ages, Recording Angels. She and her husband, the film critic Derek Malcolm, divide their time between London and Kent.