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spiracy, which derives additional interest from the mystery in which it is still involved.
It is proposed to make the narrative of this crime, and the trials of the reputed agents, the subject of this article; but previous to entering on the details, we must make a few preliminary observations, suggested by a comparison of the proceedings in criminal cases at the beginning of the seventeenth and the middle of the nineteenth century.
Those who have watched with eager interest the progress of Palmer's trial, just concluded, who have considered the ability of his judges, the impartial and public character of the trial, the extensive, yet conflicting, medical evidence, the rigid crossexamination of the witnesses in the presence of the accused, and the able defence of the prisoner's counsel, will read with some surprise the record in the State trials of the criminal proceedings authorised by the English law in the time of James I.
We find, it is true, no lack of judges and prosecutors; but there appears to be a sad want of everything which constitutes an impartial trial. The following is an outline of the criminal proceedings in those times. Prisoners and witnesses were examined separately and privately, with the fear of the torture before their eyes, and their depositions taken by the same judges who afterwards tried the cause. On the day of the trial, after the opening of the case, the depositions, or garbled passages only which told against the prisoner, were read in court, and if additional witnesses were examined, their examinations, when in favour of the accused, were perpetually interrupted by a running commentary of the Attorney-General, and thus the chain of the evidence being broken, the jury had more difficulty in distinguishing and retaining the real facts of the case. The documents appertaining to the trials for the murder of Overbury, discovered by Mr. Amos in the State Paper Office, make some curious disclosures relative to the manner in which the evidence was cooked,' in order to meet the views of the prosecutors. Many of the documents are in the writing of Sir Edward Coke, the Chief Justice; every paragraph is marked in the margin with the letters of the alphabet; at the head of the document are some of the same letters, as, for instance, B. C. F.; these denote that the paragraphs marked B. C. F., are to be read on the trial, and these only. Many passages are also interlined over erasures, and others marked to be omitted. The case for the prosecution being closed, the prisoner was asked whether he wished to make any observations, and when he had concluded his defence, or declined to make any, the verdict of the jury was required; and according to this the prisoner was acquitted, or the judge pronounced sen
Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset.
tence against him. If the judge was dissatisfied with the verdict, the jurymen were fined. The prisoner was not allowed counsel to defend him, neither were any witnesses permitted to be examined in his favour. In opposition to the principle of the English law, which presumes a man to be innocent until he is found guilty, the guilt was too frequently assumed by the judge, who browbeat and vituperated the prisoner before he was convicted.
But it is not enough to contrast the trials; we should also contrast the reports of those trials. While almost every newspaper has now its own reporter, and the fidelity of their report is secured by the check which is indirectly exercised upon each individual reporter by his fellow-labourers; in the time of James I., and long subsequently, there was but one formal public report of important trials, namely, that contained in the State Trials. These reports are known to have been entirely under the control of Government, who did not scruple to garble, suppress, or interpolate such portions of the evidence and dying confessions in the manner, and to the extent, which they, with sometimes shortsighted policy, deemed best calculated to promote the interests of those in power.
The pillory, branding on the cheeks with a hot iron, loss of ears, and heavy fines, were the terrors held out by the Star Chamber for the punishment of him who dared to publish unauthorized versions of State trials.
Mr. Amos and Mr. Jardine adduce many instances of discordance between the original examinations in the State Paper Office and the official account in the State Trials. It is but fair to remark that many of these may be attributed to the imperfect system of reporting, which then depended greatly upon the recollection of the parties.
Before entering upon the following narrative, we must acknowledge and do so with pleasure-the assistance we have derived from Mr. Amos's learned and valuable work relating to the Overbury murder. This publication comprises not only the printed accounts of this mysterious crime, but many hitherto unedited documents discovered by the researches of Mr. Amos in the State Paper Office and British Museum. The comments and arguments, which display all the author's professional acuteness and ingenuity, are not the least interesting part of the work, and are highly deserving of an attentive perusal.
Robert Carr, afterwards created Lord Rochester, and subsequently Earl of Somerset, who preceded George Villiers in the affections of James I., was introduced accidentally to the notice of the King about the year 1608 or 1609. He was then in his
eighteenth or nineteenth year. The circumstances attending his introduction were sufficiently romantic to make an impression upon the susceptible heart of the King. While officiating at a tournament as the esquire of a Scotch nobleman, Carr was thrown from his horse, and broke his leg, almost at the feet of James. The compassion which the good-natured monarch felt for his accident warmed into a more genial sentiment as he gazed on the handsome countenance and well-developed form of the young Scotchman. He ordered Carr to be taken to the palace, and visited him frequently. Every day the King became more attached to him. At last, Carr's presence became indispensable to the King's happiness; and the penniless Scotch youth, in spite of his defective education, which the King was not slow to discover, rose rapidly to rank, honours, and wealth. Although James himself condescended to give to his favourite lessons in the Latin grammar, Carr proved but a dull scholar; and whenever his pursuits or employments required literary exertion, he was glad to avail himself of the competent assistance of his friend Sir Thomas Overbury. The friendship between Carr and Overbury subsisted for many years, and their mutual confidence was such that Overbury was admitted by Carr to the most important secrets of the King; he became possessed of the key to the ciphers in which the most confidential communications were written; he opened, read, and took copies of all private despatches belonging to the King; and was employed by Carr to write his love-letters for him. Overbury's assistance was probably of the greatest service to Carr, who, besides his want of education, had the additional defect of speaking broad Scotch.
There was great diversity of temper and disposition in the two friends. Carr, although dull and somewhat obtuse in intellect, was naturally gentle and noble in his disposition; so that if he had not been led astray by others he might, in the opinion of his contemporaries, have been a good man. Overbury, on the contrary, was a man of talent and energy; he had cultivated literature successfully, as some of his prose compositions, still extant, testify. His worst enemies do not charge him with any vice, or even with leading an irregular life. Sir Francis Bacon, with the duplicity which forms so odious a part in his conduct as regards the case of Overbury, has given two characters of him. In his speech before the Star Chamber on the trials of Lumsden, Wentworth, and Hollis, where he wished to throw the odium of the murder upon Carr (then Earl of Somerset), he says: The greatest fault that I ever heard of him was that he made his friend his idol. When, on the contrary, he wished to
* State Tria's, 334.
Frances Howard, Countess of Essex.
furnish the King with an excuse for saving Somerset, he thus writes to James: Overbury was a man that always carried him'self insolently both towards the Queen and towards the late 'Prince; he was a man that carried Somerset on in courses separate and opposite to the Privy Council; he was a man of a 'nature fit to be an incendiary of a state; full of bitterness and 'wildness of speech and project; he was thought also lately to govern Somerset, insomuch that in his own letters he vaunted .' that from him proceeded Somerset's fortune, credit, and understanding.'*
The reigning beauty of the Court at this time was Frances Howard, daughter of the intriguing Countess of Suffolk, who, when only thirteen years of age, had been betrothed to the young Earl of Essex,+ her senior by two years only. The young bridegroom was sent abroad after the ceremony for four years. On his return he had the mortification to find that his beautiful bride received him with marked coldness. Frances Howard, although so young, was a woman of strong and unbridled passions; and her residence under the same roof as her mother was not calculated to give her any accurate notions of moral duties and obligations. While still a girl in years, she had become notorious for her irregular and vicious conduct, and prompted, perhaps, by ambition, as well as by inclination, she conceived a criminal passion for the handsome favourite of the King. Carr was at first insensible to her charms. In order to secure his affection, the Countess employed one Mrs. Turner, her confidante, a woman of great beauty but dissolute manners, to procure lovephiltres and charms from a Dr. Forman. Her wishes were at last crowned with success; Carr was taken in her toils. Overbury was the writer of the letters sent by Carr to the Countess of Essex. The guilty pair resolved upon marriage; but for this it was necessary that the Countess should obtain a divorce from her husband. Overbury was strongly opposed to this scheme. He expressed his disapprobation of it with warmth, and even violence. A coolness between Carr and Overbury was the consequence. The coolness increased to positive animosity, and on the part of the Countess to hatred, against Overbury. A plan was contrived to effect his ruin. The Countess sent for Sir David Wood, who had been heard to threaten to bastinado Sir Thomas Overbury for some offensive words he had addressed to him.
Memorial touching the course to be had in my Lord of Somerset's Arraignment, addressed to the King by Sir Francis Bacon.-See Bacon's Works.
He was the son of Robert Devereux, first Earl of Essex, who was beheaded in the reign of Elizabeth. The second earl afterwards became the leader of the Parliamentary army.
She urged him to revenge his wrongs, adding that she also had been grievously injured by Overbury. She concluded by offering him 1000%., and protection from his enemies, if he would murder Overbury as he returned from Sir Charles Wilmot's late at night. But Sir David declined, telling her, bluntly, 'He would be loath to go to Tyburn upon a woman's word.' In the meantime, Carr and his friends had formed a plot, which was more successful, for removing Overbury. By the representation of Carr, the King was persuaded to nominate Overbury as ambassador to Russia. Sir Thomas was at first willing to accept the office, but, on the artful recommendation of Carr, he was induced to decline it. The King, who is described as 'bearing a rooted hatred to Overbury,' irritated at his refusal, and, perhaps, at some stinging sarcasms which he is said to have vented on the Court, committed him, as Carr had foreseen, a close prisoner to the Tower for contempt. This occurred on the 23rd of April, 1613.
Shortly after Overbury became an inmate of the Tower, Sir William Wade, the Lieutenant, was removed, and Sir Gervas Helwysse was appointed in his stead, through the instrumentality of the Earl of Northampton, Carr, and Sir Thomas Monson. Sir Gervas, according to the venal spirit of the times, paid 14001. for his place. He was reputed to be one of the unco' godly, the rigidly righteous,' who assumed the appearance of wisdom and honesty, if he did not really deserve the appellation which he attained of the wise Sir Gervas Helwysse.'
As the Earl of Northampton will be frequently mentioned in this article, it may be as well to give a slight sketch of this nobleman.
The Earl of Northampton, the second son of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, was the uncle of the Countess. He was a man of talent and learning. It was said of him, that he was the wisest among the noble, and the noblest among the wise.' Honours and riches were showered upon him under King James. As to his character, opinions are divided: there is, however, reason to believe that he connived at the intimacy of Carr (then Lord Rochester) with the Countess, and that he was deeply implicated in the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury. Northampton's death in 1614, previous to the discovery of the crime, prevented his being brought to trial.
To resume the narrative. In order to carry out the nefarious designs against Overbury, it was not enough to appoint a new
* In the State Trials this name is written Sir Jervas Elves. We have adopte the form used by the Lieutenant himself.