THE LIFE AND CHARACTERS
SIR THOMAS OVERBURY
CHARLES EDWARD GOUGH
Of the life itself of Sir Thomas Overbury very little indeed is known; the main facts have been related by Anthony Wood in the Athenae Oxonienses; and though historians such as Gardiner have thoroughly worked out the scanty sources at their disposal, few new facts have been brought to light.
I can only hope to recapitulate some of the chief events of Overbury' s brief career, the tragic end of which elicited a veritable host of writings. Since at the trial of Overbury's murderers much evidence seems to have been suppressed, it will perhaps never be possible to ascertain the real truth about the actual facts and the amount of guilt to be allotted to each of the accused. But writings concerning this trial, which was conducted in a manner offensive to our present ideas of justice, belong rather to the history of English Law than to literature. Therefore only the broadest outline of the trial proceedings will be needed; those in fact which throw light on the manner in which Overbury was done to death in the Tower.
The exact date of Overbury' s birth is unknown. Wood states that "In Michaelmas Term an. 1595, he became a Gent. Commoner of Queen's Coll. in the year of his age 14. Therefore Overbury is supposed to have been born in 1581.
His father was Nicholas Overbury of Borton-on-the-Hill, near Morton-in-Marsh in Gloucestershire, a country gentleman, who is mentioned in connection with some land transactions in the State Papers, Oct 1st, 1605, and who was made "one of the Judges in Wales about that time, viz. 1608, and was knighted in 1621.
Nicholas Overbury had married Mary, the Daughter of Giles Palmer of Compton Scorfen (now Compton Scorpion) in the Parish of Ilmington in Warwickshire, and their son was born at the house of his Mother's Father.
According to Wood he was "educated partly in Grammar learning in those parts" (i.e. in Warwickshire or Gloucestershire). In Michaelmas Term an. 1595, he became a Gent. Commoner of Queen's Coll. in the year of his age 14, where by the benefit of a good Tutor and severe discipline, he made great proficiency in Logic and Philosophy. In 1598 he, as a Squire's Son, took the degree of Bach, of Arts, which being compleated by Determination in the Lent following, he left the University, and settled for a time in the Middle-Temple, where he had before been entred in order to study the municipal Laws. Afterwards he travelled for a time, and returned a most accomplished Person, which the happiness of his Pen both in Poetry and Prose does declare.
From 1603 Overbury's history cannot be severed from that of his friend Robert Ker or Carr, afterwards Viscount Rochester and Earl of Somerset, who was a younger son of Sir Thomas Ker of Ferniehurst and his second wife Janet, sister of Sir W. Scott of Buccleugh. As a lad Robert had been page to James VI, afterwards travelled in France, and had according to Sir A. Weldon ("Court of King James") had the good fortune to break his arm in James' presence at a tilting match. He was knighted on Dec. 23rd, 1607, and to provide him with a fortune Sir W. Raleigh and his family were deprived of their estate of Sherbourne. When Lady Raleigh pleaded for her children, James replied "I mun have it for Carr."
In 1601 Overbury was introduced in Edinborough to Carr by an Oxford friend, Sir W. Cornwallis. This friendship was renewed when Carr came to London in 1603. As Wood writes, "About the time of the Coronation of King James I, he [Overbury] became familiar with Sir Rob. Carre Kt. of the Bath, who perceiving him to be a Person of good Parts and Abilities, and withal sober and studious, did take him nearer to him, and made him his Bosom Friend." But Overbury's nature was deeper than his friend's; he soon became Carr's adviser, or, as Queen Anne (of Denmark) termed it, his "governor" (i.e. tutor). The influence that Overbury exerted seemed to grow with the years, so that later "Some one or other told James that it was commonly reported that, whilst Rochester ruled the King, Overbury ruled Rochester."
Through the influence of Carr the "Lease" was granted" to Tho. Overbury of twenty-five bullaries of salt water, with cribs, stalls, and other appurtenances in Droitwich, Worcestershire, parcel of the possessions of Robt. Winter, attainted." The King, who was importuned by Carr, knighted Overbury at Greenwich on June 19th, 1608. Carr seems to have obtained further favors for his friend, as an entry in the Calendar of the State Papers for Dec. 3rd, 1609, indicates : "The bill concerning Sir Thos. Overbury is signed, through the importunity of Sir Robert Carr." Possibly this "bill" procured for Overbury the office of "Sewer" to the King.
Sir Thomas was marked out for another appointment, which however he was never to fill. There is an entry in the State Papers (July 13th, 1615,) that "Sir Wm. Uvedale succeeds Sir Thos. Overbury in his reversion of the Treasurership of the Chamber."
The estimates of Overbury' s character are very contradictory. He seems to have possessed the art of making friends, but also, unhappily, of turning them too often into bitter enemies. He was ambitious, and of a haughty disposition; as Anthony Wood tells us "our Author Overbury ... in learning and judgment excelled any of his years (which, as 'twas generally thought, made him while living in the Court to be proud, to overvalue himself, undervalue others, and affected, as 'twere with a kind of insolence)..." This would account for much of the enmity he stirred up against himself, but it must not be forgotten that a large portion of the hatred which existed in Court circles against the King's favourite, his patron, would naturally reflect on Overbury.
That Overbury was a man of culture is seen from the enthusiastic poem written by Ben Jonson on him. It may be quoted here :
— To Sir Thomas Overbury.
So Phoebus make me worthy of his bays,
As but to speak thee, Overbury, is praise :
So where thou liv'st thou mak'st life understood,
Where, what makes others great, doth keep thee good!
I think the Fate of court thy coming craved,
That the wit there and manners might be saved :
For since, what ignorance, what pride is fled!
And letters and humanity in the stead!
Repent thee not of thy fair precedent,
Could make such men, and such a place repent :
Nor may any fear to lose of their degree,
Who in such ambition can but follow thee.
The date of the poem is unknown, but was prior to 1613, when the estrangement between Ben Jonson and Overbury took place. In our author's writings Jonson's influence is in several places rather marked. Overbury was evidently a fervid admirer of Ben, and probably associated with the intellectual men he met rather than with the shallow courtiers he ridiculed in his "Characters". By doing so, it would soon be said of him that he was prone to "overvalue himself, undervalue others". Overbury seems to have been a free-thinker, an unpardonable offence in the court of a king who prided himself on his theological knowledge. Probably Sir Thomas saw little to admire either in Catholicism, James' tenets, or Puritanism; in the Low Countries he had had opportunities of seeing the miseries and persecutions inflicted by both religious bodies on each other. Bacon hurled a fierce denunciation at Overbury, trying thereby indirectly to damage Somerset on his trial; but perhaps the Attorney General's statements about corruption may be discounted. He said "But the truth was, Overbury, who (to speak plainly) had little that was solid for religion or moral virtue, but was wholely possessed with ambition and vainglory, was loth to have any partners in the favour of my Lord of Somerset, and especially not any of the house of the Howards, against whom he had always professed hatred and opposition." And a little further on "Overbury was naught and corrupt". It is to Overbury's credit that he resisted the powerful and unscrupulous Howard party, though he paid for his opposition with his life.
By William Drummond of Hawthornden a few statements Ben Jonson is said to have made about Overbury have been preserved. One of them is as follows : "He [i.e. Jonson] hath a pastorall intitled The May Lord. His own name is Alkin, Ethra the Countesse of Bedfoord's, Mogibell Overberry, the old Countesse of Suffolk ane inchanteress; other names are given to Somersett's Lady, Pembrook, the Countesse of Rutland, Lady Wroth. In his first storie, Alkin commeth in mending his broken pipe. Contrary to all other pastoralls, he bringeth the dowries making mirth and foolish sports". According to this Overbury still seemed to be playing an important part at court; the mention of "Somersett's Lady" is interesting, because during Overbury's life-time Carr, later Earl of Somerset, was unmarried. Whilst the divorce of Lady Frances Howard from her husband, Lord Essex, was proceeding, Overbury was in the Tower effectually silenced. Thus he could bear no part in the pastoral, nor yield material for its story, unless the play, which is lost, were written shortly before April 21st, 1613, the day of Overbury's commitment.
In this "pastorall" the Countess of Rutland is also mentioned. Of her we read "The Countess of Rutland was nothing inferior to her Father Sir P. Sidney in poesie. Sir Th : Overburie was in love with her, and caused Ben to read his Wyffe to her, which he, with ane excellent grace, did, and praised the author. That the morne thereafter he discorded with Overburie, who would have him to intend a sute that was unlawful. The lines my Lady keep'd in remembrance, He comes to[o] near who comes to be denied."
It was for her that Overbury had written his poem of the "Wife," probably early in 1613, but it was entered in the Stationer's Registers on Dec. 13th, 1613, some three months after Overbury' s death. If an attack on Frances Howard had been planned in the "Wife," as some suppose, surely Overbury would not have drawn the portrait of his ideal of womanhood, but would have depicted a "meere Wife" or "bad Wife." Among his "Characters" are the "Very very Woman" and "Her next part." Possibly he was collecting the material for a future poem. The Countess of Rutland was very unhappy in her marriage. By means of his poem Overbury tried to get her to interest herself in him. Perhaps he imagined that the Countess could be divorced from her husband, whom he hoped to replace. For this he had a precedent in the proposed line of action that his friend Rochester was about to adopt in reference to Lady Frances Howard.
Another allusion to Overbury is found in Ben Jonson's Conversations with Wm. Drummond of Hawthornden in the last passage of Chapter XI. It is as follows : "Overbury was first his friend, then turn'd his mortall enimie". This can only refer to a date subsequent to the occasion on which Ben Jonson read the "Wife" to the Countess of Rutland at Overbury's request. The cause of the hostility is to be found in the statement already quoted "That the morne thereafter he discorded with Overburie, who would have him to intend a sute that was unlawful".
A passage in Manningham's Diary under date of Feb. 12, 1602, seems to have been misconstrued by Rimbault and Gilford-Cunningham. It runs thus : "Ben Johnson, the poet, nowe lives upon one Townesend and scornes the world. (Tho. Overbury)." No quarrel need be implied between the poets. The dramatist was perhaps under a passing cloud and shunned society (and debts?). At any rate the passage gives no warrant for doubting that a real friendship existed between Overbury and Jonson from 1610 to 1613, as it was written at a date prior to Overbury's appearance at court.
In 1611 Carr had been created Viscount Rochester and had fallen in love with Frances Howard, the wife of the Earl of Essex. Overbury aided him in obtaining the affections of this lady, and there seemed to be no secrets that Carr kept from him. But when Overbury heard that his friend was determined to marry Lady Essex after procuring for her a divorce from her husband, he was much alarmed. As Carr's mistress Overbury had nothing to fear from her or her relations, the Howards. But if she became Lady Rochester, he would not only lose his best friend, but, as Lady Frances would win her husband over to the Howard party, he would incur his hostility. This meant absolute ruin for Overbury, because the other court factions, who all agreed in hating Rochester, would be able to vent their spleen on his discarded friend and adviser. In vain did Overbury warn Carr that a marriage with her "would not only be hurtful to his (i.e. Carr's) preferment, but helpful to subvert and overthrow him". In his passion he told his friend the sort of woman Frances Howard was, and since Carr had confided all her sayings and doings to Overbury, there was much unpalatable truth in the description. Rochester is said to have left his friend in anger, and to have informed Lady Essex of his conversation with Sir Thomas. From this moment Overbury was doomed. Both Rochester and Lady Frances determined that he should be silenced during the divorce proceedings. Lady Essex however knew that her honour, or rather reputation, would not be safe as long as Overbury lived, and resolved to encompass his murder. But she was aware that Rochester would not consent to aid her in this undertaking against his friend.
When the Howards learnt that Rochester was desirous of marrying Lady Frances, they were naturally well pleased. Till then he had been their greatest opponent at court. The king, who doted on Carr, naturally favoured the granting of a divorce, although he himself was responsible for Essex' marriage with Frances Howard.
Robert Devereux, the third Earl of Essex, was baptised 22nd Jan., 1591. He was the son of the celebrated second earl, who was beheaded on Feb. 25th, 1601. His mother was Frances Walsingham, who was married first to Sir Philip Sidney, and after his death to Lord Essex, the "brother in arms and affection of her late husband." In 1604 the Essex family, which had been degraded and impoverished by the attainder of the second earl in 1601, was restored to honour and rank by act of parliament. The king hoped to bring about a reconciliation between the families of Devereux and Howard by the means of a marriage. Thus on Jan. 15th, 1606, Robert, then but fifteen years old, was espoused to Frances Howard, a younger daughter of the Earl of Suffolk. The bride's age was fourteen. To celebrate the happy event Ben Jonson had to produce the "Hymenaei; or the Solemnities of Masque and Barriers at a Marriage". After the wedding Essex was sent to complete his education by travelling abroad. On his return at the end of 1609 he found his wife unwilling to live with him. The next three years were filled with her shifts to keep Essex away and with her dealings with Carr.
On May 16th, 1613, the divorce proceedings were begun against Essex on account of his inability to beget children by Lady Frances, though to conciliate him and to obtain his acquiescence, without which the divorce would not be granted, it was admitted that he might be capable of obtaining children by other women.
The judges consisted of Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishops King, Andrewes and Neile, also Sir Thomas Parry, Sir J. Caesar, Sir D. Dun, Sir J. Bennet, Dr. James and Dr. Edwards. The main argument was that Essex was bewitched. Lady Frances had to undergo an examination as to her virginity, and according to Amos (who also quotes Weldon) the daughter of Sir Th. Monson acted as proxy, being thickly veiled to prevent detection. The whole proceedings were a farce; Abbot was the only judge who made any show of resisting James, the leading spirit in obtaining the divorce. But the archbishop made the mistake of doubting the powers of witchcraft instead of attacking the evidence, and was quickly put to right by that authority on magic, the Scottish Solomon.
Thus, on Sep. 25th, 1613, the absurd verdict was procured, not by the weight of the evidence produced, but by the openly declared partisanship of James, who thereby added greatly to his unpopularity among his English subjects. The judges became the objects of public ridicule.
But before the first meeting of this wonderful divorce court had been held, means had been found to imprison and effectually silence Overbury. Amongst the State Papers a letter 4 of Sir Thomas Lake to Carleton dated May 19th (1613) contains the following statements : "Sir Thos. Overbury is sent to the Tower for saying he could not and would not accept a foreign employment. The King has long wanted to get rid of him at Court. Sir Robt. Killigrew committed for holding intercourse with Overbury in prison. Sir Wm. Waad removed from the lieutenancy of the Tower; his daughter imprisoned, and others examined relative to offences committed there". The actual date of Overbury's commitment was April 26th. "About six o'clock in the evening, Sir Thomas Overbury was from the council-chamber conveyed by a clerk of the council and two of the guard to the Tower, and there by warrant consigned to the lieutenant as close prisoner". The destination of the embassy offered by Ellesmere and Pembroke to Overbury is unknown. But this foreign appointment virtually meant banishment. Overbury, privately advised by Rochester to refuse the offer, had several reasons of his own for so doing. He saw in it a plot laid by the king and the Howards to remove him from England, and thus to disable him from interfering in the divorce proceedings. But doubtless Overbury must have suspected ulterior motives for this banishment. From abroad he could write to the judges, and thus provide them (with almost greater ease than in personal interviews) with the information he possessed concerning the profligate lady. Overbury was aware that his life would be forfeit if he left his country. Should he be murdered in a strange land nobody would suspect the Howards; in England, as actually happened, men would soon be able to point out the instigators of the crime. Overbury therefore placed his reliance on Rochester, who had "dissuaded Overbury from going to Russia to serve the King as requested, promising to save him from any mischief for refusal." Carr still pretended, or perhaps even felt friendship for his unhappy quondam adviser.
Furthermore Overbury knew that the king disliked him. However, if he accepted the embassy he would lose touch with Rochester, and thereby destroy his own prospects of success. Another impulse, which seems to have been overlooked, is to be traced to Overbury's love for the Countess of Rutland. He foresaw Rochester's success in obtaining Lady Frances Howard for his wife. May not Carr have held out to Overbury the hope of the accomplishment of a similar union with the Countess of Rutland as the price of his silence? Of the legality of James' action in committing Overbury to the Tower little need be said. It was in itself not worse than the king's interference in the divorce proceedings and later in Somerset's trial. James imagined that everyone who "did not love him" or fall into line with all his wishes, was a traitor to his country. Justice was to James another name for the gratification of his own desires.
Scarcely was Overbury in the Tower when steps were taken by the Howards to remove Sir Wm. Waad, the lieutenant, from his post. A letter from Killigrew, as we have seen, had been received by Overbury. Therefore it was still possible for the prisoner to correspond with his friends, and in that case Overbury would be almost as dangerous to the intriguers, as if he were free.
The next governor, Sir Gervas(e) Helwys of Lincolnshire, was a creature of the Howards. Already before Overbury's commitment Lady Frances and her confidante Mrs. Turner had sought means to take Overbury's life. They had approached Sir Davy Wood, and offered him £1000 if he would kill Overbury. But Wood insisted on having a pardon given him by Rochester before he committed the murder. As Lady Essex did not dare inform her future husband of her plans concerning Overbury, this affair came to nothing. But now that Overbury was in the Tower, and Helwys was lieutenant, the two women determined to have the object of their hatred poisoned.
By the influence of her grand-uncle, Lord Northampton, Lady Frances caused Helwys to replace Overbury's jailor by a certain Richard Weston, a doubtful character, who had once served a term of imprisonment for coining. This man was paid by the Countess to mix poisons in Overbury's food, and to convey to him tarts she had drugged. According to Amos (The great oyer of poisoning : the trial of the Earl of Somerset for the poisoning of Sir Thomas Overbury, in the Tower of London, and various matters connected therewith, from contemporary mss.) Lady Essex obtained by the means of Mrs. Turner "arsenic, aqua fortis, mercury, powder of diamonds, lapis costitus, great spiders and cantharides" from an apothecary named Franklin. But it is extremely doubtful if any of these poisons ever reached Overbury. Weston on his trial denied giving any to his prisoner, but admitted that he had received money for doing so. If one considers that Overbury was in ill-health on entering the Tower, and that Weston guarded him more than three months, one cannot conceive by what miracle Overbury's constitution could have so long withstood the effects of such virulent poisons if administered even once, much less daily.
After Waad's dismissal from the Lieutenancy, Rochester was able to correspond with Overbury, who bitterly complained of his ill-health in a letter still preserved and partially reprinted by Rimbault.. Desiring to obtain for his friend greater freedom of movement, and perhaps to guard him against any poisons that might be prepared for him by his enemies, Rochester sent powders that would cause Overbury to be sick, so as to obtain a satisfactory reason for having his health watched over by a doctor. The letters in which the emetics were enclosed seem to have been smuggled in by Overbury's domestic, or hidden in pastry that Rochester sent his friend.
When it became known that Overbury had been poisoned, Rochester, then Earl of Somerset, was afraid that his conveyance of powders to the prisoner would be interpreted as an attempt to poison him. He tried to hide the traces of this act, and also to falsify the dates of his correspondence, which was exceedingly foolish, as it only served further to incriminate him.
Overbury's letter had the result that Dr. Nessmith and Dr. Crag examined his state of health, and at the end of August he was visited by Paul de Lobell, who diagnosed his case as consumption. A letter (in French) from Dr. Theo. De May erne, the King's Physician, to Rochester dated Aug. 31st, 1613, is preserved among the State Papers, 2 in which the doctor states that he "understands the prisoner (Sir Thos. Overbury) is ill, and vomits; can do but little for him at a distance."
Overbury seems to have suspected that poison was the cause of his sufferings. Dr. Fras. Anthony admitted that he and his wife had twice sold aurum potabile to a servant of Overbury, while he was in the Tower, as an antidote for poison. But perhaps the medicines prescribed or acquired wrought greater havoc with his constitution than any poisons procured for him by Mrs. Turner.
Although sinking rapidly, Overbury was not dying quickly enough to please Lady Essex. Therefore on Sep. 14th a clyster of sublimate was applied to Overbury by "William", an apprentice of de Lobell, and at five o'clock next morning the tortured man died.
This William disappeared from London almost immediately, and fled to the Continent. He had probably been bribed to inject poison. Anyhow it is by no means impossible Mayerne had been won over by the all-powerful Howard faction to prescribe a violent remedy, that would rid England of that "scab", as Lady Frances called Overbury. Mayerne (1573-1655) had been "médecin ordinaire du roi Henri IV", and left Paris to become Court Physician to James. At Paris the medical faculty disapproved of his methods: "il ouvrit des cours publics pour les jeunes chirurgiens et apothicaires. La faculté vit avec beaucoup de peine cet impieètement sur ses droits; mais ce qui acheva de perdre Mayerne dans l'esprit des ses confrères, c'est qu'il faisait un grand usage, dans sa pratique, des remèdes et des preparations chimiques, que la faculté réprouvait comme de dangereuses innovations."
An inquest was held immediately after Overbury's death. His body "was worn to skin and bone; an ulcer and blisters (were) found on it". The coroner's jury, consisting of prisoners and warders, gave a verdict of death from natural causes. But Helwys, the Lieutenant of the Tower, confessed that "after Overbury's death Lord Northampton wrote to him to send for Sir John Lidcott (Overbury's brother-in-law) to see his body, in order to "satisfy that damned crew who would be ready to speak the worst", and then to bury him shortly. Overbury's corpse, owing to the condition it was in, "is said to have been thrown in a loose sheet into a coffin, and buried privately on Tower Hill."
Anthony Wood makes a mistake in the actual date of Overbury's death. He states: "He [Overbury] yielded up his last breath, occasioned by Poison, as I have before told you, on the 13 Sept. in sixteen hundred and thirteen, and was buried, as some Authors say, presently and very unreverently in a pit digged in an obscure and mean place. But the Register of the Tower-Chappel, dedicated to S. Peter ad vincula, saith he was buried in the said Chappel 15 Sept. an. 1613. as I have been informed by the Letters of that learned Gent. Sir Edw. Sherburne Knight, late Clerk of his Maj. Ordnance and Armories within the Kingdom of England"
It is doubtful whether Overbury was buried in the Tower Chapel; the register only states : "1613. Sir Thomas Overbury, prisoned, poysoned, buried the XVth. Sept." This entry could not have been made before 1615, as the word "poysoned" shows. Though the Guide, and a (modern) tablet in the Chapel both declare that Overbury was buried in the Tower, there are sufficient grounds for questioning their statement. Firstly the Chapel is very small, and could not contain the graves of all those who died in the Tower from 1550-1613; secondly there were two graveyards; and thirdly, Helwys would scarcely have accorded Overbury the honour of a burial in so privileged a spot, especially if the haste of the interment and a natural desire to make exhumation difficult is taken into consideration. Overbury's parents were refused the sight of their son's corpse; those concerned in the murder would scarcely feel inclined to point out the place where they had buried him. Before justice overtook the poisoners two years had elapsed, during which time the exact spot of Overbury's grave was forgotten.
Though vague rumours were current that Overbury had been murdered, the divorce of Lady Frances from her husband was obtained, and on Dec. 26th, 1613, in almost regal pomp she was married to Carr, who on Nov. 3rd had been created Earl of Somerset. The death of Northampton on June 30th, 1614, gave to the king's favourite the exercise of the greatest power he ever enjoyed. But a new star had arisen at court in the person of George Villiers, who afterwards became the all-powerful Duke of Buckingham. Somerset did not like another sharing the king's favour with him and became querulous. In vain did James remonstrate with him. But Somerset's fall was at hand. One of his many enemies had brought information of the poisoning of Overbury to Sir R. Winwood, the Secretary of State, and soon after Helwys confessed his share in the crime. In the Autobiography of Sir Simon D'Ewes, the discovery of the poisoning is vividly pictured. "It came first to light by a strange accident — of Sir Ralph Winwood Knt., one of the Secretaries of State his dining with Sir Jervis Elvis, Lieutenant of the said Tower, at a great man's (the Earl of Shrewsbury's) table, not far from Whitehall. For that great man, commending the same Sir Jervis to Sir Ralph Winwood as a person in respect of his many good qualities very worthy of his acquaintance, Sir Ralph answered him, that he should willingly embrace his acquaintance, but that he could first wish he had cleared himself of a foul suspicion the world generally conceived of him, touching the death of Sir Thomas Overbury. As soon as Sir Jervis heard that, being very ambitious of the Secretary's friendship, he took occasion to enter into private conference with him, and therein to excuse himself to have been enforced to connive at the said murder, with much abhorring of it. He confessed the whole circumstance of the execution of it in general, and the instruments to have been set on work by Robert Earl of Somerset and his wife."
I do not propose to go into the details of the trials of Overbury's poisoners, as these are outside the scope of this sketch. Weston's expectation that the judges would "make a net to catch the little fishes, and let the great go" was realised. He was hanged; so was Mrs. Turner. The latter at her execution wore the yellow ruff she had brought into fashion, which is frequently referred to in plays written about 1616. She confessed her guilt, exclaimed against the court, and wished the King better servants, there being nothing among them "but mallice, pride, whoredom, swearing, and reioising in the fall of others." Franklin, the apothecary who supplied her with the poisons, was also executed, having admitted his guilt.
But the only man of note who suffered death was Sir Gervase Helwys, who had connived at the murder for fear of angering the Howards. He knew attempts were being made to poison Overbury, but did not displace Weston. He showed his consciousness of guilt, when he refused to hand Overbury's corpse over to his relations for burial. Helwys was executed on Tower Hill on Nov. 19th, 1615.
The Countess of Somerset, the author of all this evil, was tried by a court of peers presided over by Lord Chancellor Ellesmere. She pleaded guilty. Her behaviour at her trial was modest. The verdict was unanimous, and she was sentenced to death. But she begged for life, and the judges assured her, that the Lords would intercede on her behalf.
Northampton, who seems to have had a knowledge of the poisoning, and perhaps had aided his grand-niece, died before the facts of the murder became manifest.
Somerset at first refused to appear before a Court of Justice, but at the last moment determined to plead "not guilty", and to defend himself without the aid of counsel. His defence was on the whole very able, but, however plausible or eloquent he may have been, an adverse decision of his judges was inevitable. Coke, who in 300 examinations of the accused persons had prepared the evidence, had proclaimed them guilty from his judgment seat before their trial! The Lords met in the same spirit, for all bore grudges against the fallen favourite. After hearing Bacon's prosecution (conducted in a manner that seems the height of injustice to a modern mind) and listening to Somerset's plea, they unanimously condemned him to death.
James, who had feared that Somerset would blurt out unpleasant truths, showed the greatest nervousness during Carr's trial. It is not quite impossible that he knew that Overbury's death had resulted from poison long before Sir Ralph Winwood and Coke began to hunt the murderers down. Mayerne was his physician; he had prescribed for Overbury without having seen him, and his prescription appears to have been the direct cause of Sir Thomas' death. Needless to say that Somerset and his wife were both pardoned, after a considerable term of imprisonment. But neither was received by James at court again. Carr died in July, 1645, having lost his wife on Aug. 23rd, 1632. Their only child, Ann, born whilst Lady Frances was awaiting her trial, married Lord William Russell.