Last Friday was the 400th anniversary of the death in The Tower of London of Lady Arbella Stuart, “The Queen who Never Was”.
Many in Sheffield do not know that Arbella was the granddaughter of Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury and inherited her legitimate claim to be the heir of Queen Elizabeth 1, from her grandmother, The Countess of Lennox.
Bess of course, was the great entrepreneur who built Chatsworth, Hardwick Hall and Bolsover Castle – no feminism here!
To mark the occasion, Sheffield Cathedral and the Friends of Sheffield Manor Lodge provided an outstanding evening of history, drama and music in period costume, including an absorbing and highly illumunating lecture on Arbella’s life from the well-known historian David Templeman.
This was followed by a series of playlets to illustrate key events in her fascinating but ultimately tragic story, culminating in a most moving speech by the ghost of Arbella played by Louisa Harris, explaining why she failed to fulfil her promise to inherit the throne.
This great performance concluded with a solemn procession of all the players in period costume and included Lady Arbella Stuart, Mary Queen of Scots, Bess of Hardwick, George 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, a narrator and Ladies in Waiting.
All was accompanied by the haunting music of the Tudor musicians of The Doncaster Waites.
They proceeded to the magnificent Shrewsbury Chapel, towards a period painting of our heroine as a child, placed on display, where a wreath was laid to her memory.
It was a truly moving ceremony to a monumental evening which told so much about our city’s history and its national significance in Tudor times.
Sheffield Cathedral, then the Sheffield Parish Church would have been so familiar with Lady Arbella Stuart, who visited regularly as a child and later as an adult.
Her parents died when she was young and therefore her grandmother Bess of Hardwick brought her up – and education and decorum fit for a Queen – literally!
She died of anorexia in The Tower,having tried to escape to France to meet with her husband, (whom she had been forbidden to marry), the only control she had left in her life.
This performance was so wonderful, it deserves to be a TV series, and soon!
Alan York – Commander RN Ret’d