[OVERBURY MURDER]. Calligraphic manuscript entitled, "The Proceedings...Touchinge the Divorce Betweene the Lady Frances Howard & Robert Earle of Essex togeather with the Arraignmets...Touching the Poisoning of Sir Thomas Overbury," [circa 1616]. 191 leaves (103 x 87mm.), each leaf ruled in red, first 4 pp. and several sectional titles in a large English gothic hand (8 lines to the page), body of the text in a small, ornate Elizabethan cursive hand (12 lines to the page). Contemporary limp vellum, covers gilt panelled with floral cornerpieces, central crest of a Tudor rose surmounted by a crown, a fleur-de-lys in the center (possibly the arms of 16-year-old Prince Charles), g.e., green silk ties (some staining to back cover); quarter red morocco box.
Provenance: Arthur A. Houghton, bookplate (sale, Christie's, June 11, 1980, lot 339).
A MURDERESS MOST FOUL. Jacobean London was enthralled by the Overbury murder and the subsequent trials of the conspirators, chief among whom was Overbury's close friend, Robert Carr. The two had come together to London to seek fortune; both succeeded at Court: Overbury gained a knighthood and Carr became Earl of Rochester (later Earl of Somerset). Carr also won the favor of the 17-year old Countess of Essex, who divorced her husband of four years to marry Carr. Overbury despised the Countess and tried unsuccessfully to dissuade Carr from the marriage.
Lady Essex convinced her husband that Overbury was a threat to them. Carr induced his friend to decline an appointment, then incited the King to take offence at the "insulting" rejection and to cast Overbury into the Tower. There Lady Essex carried out her murderous plot: two apothecaries smuggled arsenic into the Tower, where guards mixed it into Overbury's food over several months, slowly but inevitably killing him. "Of all felonies," the Lord Chief Justice said at trial, "murder was the most horrible, of all murders poisoning the most detestable, and of all poisonings the lingering was the worst." With Sir Francis Bacon conducting the prosecution, all the conspirators were found guilty and sentenced to death. In the end only the apothecaries and their agents in the Tower, however, died on the gallows. The King commuted the sentences of Carr and Lady Essex to life imprisonment and nine years later granted them a pardon. This finely written transcript was evidently prepared soon after the celebrated trial.