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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

When we read that Overbury was first brought to the Tower


[Sidenote:

A.D. 1613.]

It was then through no mere weakness on King James's part that he conceded power to a favourite. In a letter to Robert Carr he describes what he thought he had found in him, viz. a man who did not allow himself to be diverted a hair's-breadth from his service,[390] who never betrayed a secret, and who had nothing before his eyes but the advantage and good name of his sovereign. The greater share that he secured for such a man in the management of affairs the greater the power which he believed that he himself exercised in them. The favourite who depended entirely on the will of the king and knew his secrets, he supposed would be both feared and powerful as a first minister, and would pave the way by his influence upon the state for the carrying out of the views of the sovereign. He thought that he could combine the government of the state and the advance of monarchical ideas, with the comfort of a domestic friendship with an inferior.

James himself brought about the alliance, which we noticed, between Robert Carr, whom he raised to the earldom of Somerset, and the house of Howard. By the union of the hereditary importance of an old family that had almost always held the highest and most influential offices, with the favour of the King which carried with it the fullest authority, a power was in fact consolidated which for a while governed England. Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton, the Lord Treasurer

Thomas Howard, Earl of Suffolk, and Robert Carr were considered the triumvirs of England.[391] In the midst of this combination appears Lady Frances Howard, the daughter of the Earl of Suffolk, whose divorce from Essex and marriage with Somerset had sealed the political alliance between the two families. She was young and beautiful, with an expression of modesty and gentleness, but at the same time stately and brilliant, a fit creature to move in a society that revelled in the enjoyment of life, in the culture of the century, and in the possession of high rank. But what an abyss of dark impulses and unbridled passion sometimes lies hid under such a shining exterior! The Lady Frances had once sought to draw Prince Henry into her net. Many said that she had employed magic for this purpose; indeed they assumed that the early death of the Prince had been brought on partly by this means.[392] Her marriage with the king's favourite was, if this be true, only a secondary satisfaction of her ambition, but yet a satisfaction which she could not forego. Somerset had an intimate friend, whose advice and services at a former period had been very useful to him, but who opposed this marriage and fell out with him on account of it--his name was Overbury.[393] Lady Frances swore to effect his death. We are revolted at the licence which personal hate enjoyed of misusing the power of the state, when we read that Overbury was first brought to the Tower, and then had creatures who could be relied on set about him there, with whose help the victim was removed out of the way by means of poison. Lady Frances was not the only female poisoner among the higher classes of society. This mode of assassination had spread in England as it had done in Italy and at times in France. In these transactions the most abandoned profligacy allied itself with the brilliancy and the advantages of a high position, but they foreboded a speedy ruin. The authority of Somerset awakened discontent and secret counterplots. He was naturally turbulent, obstinate, and insolent, and had the presumption to behave in his usual manner even to the King whom he set right with an air of intellectual superiority which revived in the King's breast bitter recollection of the years of his childhood. James put up with this conduct for a while; he then, against the will of the favourite, set his hand to raise to a level with him another young man, for whom he entertained a personal liking: at last the misunderstanding came to an open rupture. And at the same time an accident brought to light the circumstances of Overbury's death.[394] All Somerset's old enemies raised their heads again, and proceedings were instituted against him and his wife which terminated in their condemnation.[395] The King pardoned them, to the extent of allowing them to lead a life secluded from the world; they resided afterwards in the same house, but, as far as is known, in complete separation without even seeing one another.


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