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Sir Thomas Overbury, poet and essayist

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Sir Thomas Overbury (baptised 1581 – 15 September 1613), was an English poet and essayist, and the victim of one of the most sensational crimes in English history. His poem A Wife, which depicted the virtues that a young man should demand of a woman, played a large role in the events that precipitated his murder.

Thomas Overbury was the son of Mary Palmer and Nicholas Overbury, of Bourton-on-the-Hill, Gloucester. He was born at Compton Scorpion, near Ilmington, in Warwickshire. In the autumn of 1595 he became a gentleman commoner of Queen’s College, Oxford, took his degree of BA in 1598 and came to London to study law in the Middle Temple. He soon found favour with Sir Robert Cecil, travelled on the Continent and began to enjoy a reputation for an accomplished mind and free manners.

About the year 1601, whilst on holiday in Edinburgh, he met Robert Carr, then an obscure page to the Earl of Dunbar. A great friendship was struck up between the two youths that they came up to London together. The early history of Carr remains obscure, and it is probable that Overbury secured an introduction to court before his young associate contrived to do so. At all events, when Carr attracted the attention of James I, in 1606, by breaking his leg in the tilt-yard, Overbury had for some time been servitor-in-ordinary to the king.

In June 1608, Overbury was knighted and in 1609 he travelled in France and the Low Countries. He seems to have followed the fortunes of Carr very closely, and "such was the warmth of the friendship, that they were inseparable,… nor could Overbury enjoy any felicity but in the company of him he loved [Carr] ." When the latter was made Viscount Rochester in 1610, the intimacy seems to have been sustained. With Overbury’s aid the young Carr caught the eye of the King, and soon became the his favorite. Overbury had the wisdom and Carr had the King’s ear into which to pour it. The combination was powerful. It took Carr swiftly up the ladder of power. Soon he was the most powerful man in England next to Robert Cecil.

After the death of Cecil in 1612, the Howard party, consisting of Henry Howard, Thomas Howard, his son-in-law Lord Knollys, and Charles Howard, along with Sir Thomas Lake, moved to take control of much of the government and its patronage. The powerful Carr, unfitted for the responsibilities thrust upon him and often dependent on his intimate friend, Overbury, for assistance with government papers,[1] fell into the Howard camp, after beginning an affair with the married Frances Howard, Countess of Essex, daughter of the Earl of Suffolk.

Overbury was from the first violently opposed to the affair, pointing out to Rochester that an indulgence in it would be hurtful to his preferment, and that Frances Howard, even at this early stage in her career, was already "noted for her injury and immodesty." But Rochester was now infatuated, and he repeated to the Countess what Overbury had said. It was at this time, too, that Overbury wrote, and circulated widely in manuscript, a poem called A Wife, [2] which was a picture of the virtues which a young man should demand in a woman before he has the rashness to marry her. It was represented to Lady Essex that Overbury’s object in writing this poem was to open the eyes of Rochester to her defects. The situation now turned into a deadly duel for the influence of Rochester between the mistress and the friend.

The Countess contrived to lead Overbury into such a trap as to make him seem disrespectful to the Queen. James I was instigated to offer Overbury an assignement as ambassador to the court of Michael of Russia. Overbury declined, as he sensed the urgency to remain in England and at his friend’s side. James I was so irate at Overbury’s arrogance in declining the offer that he had him thrown into the Tower on 22 April 1613. The Howards won James’s support for an annulment of Frances’s marriage to Robert Devereux, earl of Essex, on grounds of impotence, to free her to marry Carr. With James’s assistance, the marriage was duly annulled on 25 September 1613, despite Essex’s opposition to the charge of impotence.[3] The marriage two months later of Frances Howard and Robert Carr, now the Earl of Somerset, was the court event of the season, celebrated in verse by John Donne. The Howards’ rise to power seemed complete.

Overbury’s was found dead in the Tower on 15 September 1613. Two months later, Rochester, now Earl of Somerset, married the chief murderess, Lady Essex. Rumours of foul play involving Somerset and his wife with Overbury had, however, been circulating since his death. Indeed, almost two years later, in September 1615, and as James was in the process of replacing Rochester with a new favourite, George Villiers, the Governor of the Tower sent a letter to the king informing him that one of the warders in the days before Overbury had been found dead had been bringing the prisoner "poisoned food and medicine." [4]

More than a year passed before suspicion was roused, and when it was the King showed a disinclination to bring the offenders to justice.

In the celebrated trials of the six accused in late 1616 and early 1617 that followed, however, evidence of a plot came to light. The details of the murder were uncovered by Edward Coke and Sir Francis Bacon who presided over the trial.

by; after Sylvester Harding; Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger,drawing,


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The Senegalese White House, resident of the president. Apparently there are usually three flags, but only if the president is in Senegal. Since he is currently traveling in France, the other two flags aren’t flying.

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