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Sir Thomas Overbury

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Sir Thomas Overbury

by Simon de Passe, after Cornelius Johnson (Cornelius Janssen van Ceulen)
engraving, circa 1613
7 1/4 in. x 4 7/8 in. (183 mm x 125 mm) paper size
Given by the daughter of compiler William Fleming MD, Mary Elizabeth Stopford (née Fleming), 1931
Reference Collection
NPG D1313

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The courtier and poet Thomas Overbury had opposed the relationship between Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset and Frances Howard, who was married to the Earl of Essex. Overbury was subsequently poisoned in the Tower of London and the resulting murder investigation saw the indictment of the pair of lovers, who had since married. The inscription at the bottom is a lamentation on his ill luck and false friendships.

Related worksback to top

  • NPG D8406: Sir Thomas Overbury (from same plate)

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 72 Read entry

    Robert Carr was a young Scottish page in James VI's retinue who travelled to England with his friend Thomas Overbury. Carr came to the king's attention after a fall from his horse at the Accession Day tilt in 1607, following which James helped nurse him back to health. As he rose in the king's favour he was knighted and granted the sequestered estates of Sir Walter Ralegh. As factions developed at court, Carr began an affair with Frances Devereux, Lady Essex, daughter of Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk. Overbury, who had become Carr's secretary, opposed the relationship, and as a result the Howards sought to remove him from favour by manipulating him into refusing the offer of an ambassadorship; this resulted in his imprisonment in 1613, and he died in the Tower after five months. Frances's marriage to Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex, was annulled, and she married Carr, by then Earl of Somerset, in December of that year. However, after two years it emerged that Overbury had been poisoned in the Tower; the Somersets were indicted, and Frances confessed her involvement, although, after being found guilty, both were pardoned and released.

  • Charles Nicholl, Shakespeare and his Contemporaries, 2015, p. 97
  • Nicholl, Charles, Insights: Shakespeare and His Contemporaries, 2005, p. 79

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Events of 1613back to top

Current affairs

Earl of Suffolk's daughter, Francis Howard marries the king's favourite, Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset. Only months before, courtier Sir Thomas Overbury who opposed the marriage, dies in the Tower; by 1615 the couple are convicted of his murder.
James I's daughter, Princess Elizabeth, marries Frederick V, elector palatine.

Art and science

One of the most important dramatists of the age, John Fletcher, collaborates with William Shakespeare on two plays, Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen.
The Globe Theatre burns down during a performance of William Shakespeare's Henry VIII.

International

Philip III of Spain sends ambassador, Diego Sarmiento de Acuña to England. His post is dominated with the issue concerning a possible marriage alliance between James I's eldest son, Charles, and Philip's second eldest daughter, Maria Anna. The match is much favoured by the James I's Catholic consort, Queen Anne.

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