About the Author photo by Sue Greenhill
In the autumn of 1615 the Earl and Countess of Somerset were detained on suspicion of having murdered Sir Thomas Overbury The arrest of these leading court figures created a sensation. The Countess of Somerset was both young and beautiful and had already achieved notoriety when she had divorced her first husband in controversial circumstances. The Earl of Somerset was one of the richest and most powerful men in the kingdom, having risen to prominence as the male `favourite' of England's homosexual monarch, James I.
In the coming weeks it was claimed that, after sending Sir Thomas Overbury poisoned tarts and jellies, the Somersets had finally killed him by arranging for an enema of mercury sublimate to be administered. Four of the couple's supposed accomplices were hanged in connection with the murder. At her trial, the Countess of Somerset pleaded guilty, but her husband denied all responsibility for the death of Overbury Despite this, he too was convicted. Like his wife, he was sentenced to hang, but the King caused public outrage by freeing them after short terms of imprisonment.
In a vivid narrative, Anne Somerset unravels these extraordinary events, which were widely regarded as an extreme manifestation of the corruption and vice which disfigured the court during this period. It is, at once, a story rich in passion and intrigue and a murder mystery, for, despite the guilty verdicts, there is much about Overbury's death that remains enigmatic. Infinitely more than a gripping personal tragedy, the Overbury murder case profoundly damaged the monarchy, and constituted the greatest court scandal in English history.
Front jacket painting: William Larkin/National Portrait Gallery, London.
Praise for Elizabeth I
"The most balanced and impartial of all Elizabeth's biographers. An excellent book." Sunday Times
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anne Somerset was born in 1955 and read History at King's College, London. In 1980 her first book, The Life and Times of William IV, was published in Weidenfeld & Nicolson's Kings and Queens of England series. This was followed in 1984 by the bestselling Ladies- in-Waiting: From the Tudors to the Present Day. Her most recent work, an acclaimed biography of Elizabeth I, was published in 1991. Anne Somerset is the daughter of the Duke of Beaufort and married to artist Matthew Carr. She lives in London with her husband and daughter.