Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Murder of Sir Thomas Overbury by Katherine Pym

What better way than something different for Christmas:

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Sir Thomas Overbury

Love all the intrigue in the courts of kings. One particular one rivals the death of Rasputin, also a courtier murder. This is of Sir Thomas Overbury, a poet and essayist. He was verbal in what he believed whether or not it offended anyone.

September 1613, Tower of London

Part of King James VI & I’s court, Sir Thomas was great friends with Robert Carr, Viscount Rochester, later the Earl of Somerset. They met in Scotland as young men and became fast friends.

Rumour has buzzed about the head of King James re: his preference to pretty men even as he married and fathered children. Word has it he enjoyed planting wet kisses on his favourites’ lips, all male. 

King Jas VI & I
His favour fell onto Robert Carr who had literally fallen off his horse and broke a leg in front of the king. Even as Robert became the king’s favourite, Thomas did not mind. As a courtier in the Court of King James, he knew his limitations.

Enter Lady Frances Howard, Countess of Essex, already married. She set her sights on Robert Carr, something Sir Thomas did not appreciate. He was a misogynist, filled with ambition and a sharp edged tongue. He did not like Frances and let everyone know about it. His slander grew wearisome. Lady Frances continued her conquest of Sir John despite Thomas’ spreading vitriol, but her hate simmered. She schemed.

Sir Thomas had been thrown in the Tower of London by King James for declining the ambassadorship to a court in Russia. It was not long before he became very ill by what was called an infectious disease, and died Sept 15, 1613.
Sir Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset

Now, for the rest of the story.

Lady Frances planned a diabolical murder. She almost got away with it when the ruling came down Overbury had died of an illness, but 2 years later, suspicion fell on hers and Somerset’s heads.

Here’s where Overbury paralleled Rasputin. He would not die for the longest while.

Overbury was poisoned with aquafortis (nitric acid), white arsenic, mercury, powder of diamond, lapis cortilus (I cannot find a modern translation of this), great spiders, and cantharides (Spanish fly). The arsenic was mixed in his salt. Once he desired pig for dinner, and Lady Frances’ accomplice added lapis cortilus to it. Another time, he wanted 2 partridges for dinner and cantharides were used instead of pepper. When that failed he was given “poisoned enema containing copper vitriol (sulfuric acid).

Sir Thomas Overbury finally died.

Lady Essex, later Countess of Somerset
Justice served: Everyone involved in the murder was executed except Lady Frances and Sir Robert. Their punishments were commuted to the confiscation of their property and imprisonment for some years in the Tower.

Many thanks to:

Timbs, John, FSA. The Romance of London: Strange Stories, Scenes and Remarkable Persons of the Great Town, Vol. I., Frederick Warne & Co., London.


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