"the period of Sir Thomas Overbury’s murder"
Engraving of Sir Thomas Overbury (c.1615/6)
Public DomainEngraving of Sir Thomas Overbury (c.1615/6) - Credit: Renold Elstracke
Frances Howard (c.1615)
Public DomainFrances Howard (c.1615) - Credit: William Larkin

Thomas Overbury (1581-1613) was an English poet and essayist. His literary reputation, however, has been dramatically overshadowed by the scandalous murder that ended his life. The precipitating factor was Overbury’s objections to the romantic liaison between his friend Robert Carr, the Viscount of Rochester, and Frances Howard, the Countess of Essex and wife of Robert Devereux. Rather than heeding Overbury’s admonitions against their union, the smitten Carr reported them back to Howard who, enraged, began plotting her revenge against him. While the annulment of her first marriage was going through, she arranged for Overbury to be imprisoned in the Tower of London. There, she enlisted her waiting maid Anne Turner — a thoroughly unsavoury character with a side business as the madam of a brothel — to deliver poisoned tarts and jellies to the captive Overbury via the gaoler. The real cause of his death was not discovered until two years later, after the marriage between Howard and Carr had taken place. Howard was found guilty but spared execution, and was later pardoned by King James I. Anne Turner, lacking Howard’s position and connections, was not so fortunate. She was hanged at Tyburn on 15 November 1615.