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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Anne Somerset captures the essence of the 1600's in detail., 29 July 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Unnatural Murder: Poison In The Court Of James I: The Overbury Murder (Paperback)
Unnatural Murder captures the essence of the 1600's with such fascinating detail that I can't put it down! I'm about 3/4 of the way through at the moment and I'm amazed at the information I'm learning about the history of the period - a topic that I am familiar with anyway.
History books can sometimes be a collection of well researched facts and little else. They can be dry to read and easy to forget. Anne Somerset has included so much everyday detail in with the facts of this murder enquiry that I feel as if I'm there in the court room with them all.
The book has given me so much more insight into our past as a Nation. It's not quite 400 years ago, which seems a long time in one way, but hardly anytime at all when you read the case. The medical knowledge of the time was extremely limited, the treatments barbaric, yet the practicing of law, although very different then from now, has recognisable threads that will come forward into our own times. We always think that our time is the most advanced. We think we work harder than ever before and longer hours with greater inventions. Yet reading about Lord Coke, the Lord Chief Justice, made me realise that striving to be the best in your choosen career and being ruthless along the way is not a recent thing.
For information about the court life of King James 1 of England, for everyday details, the way courtiers sought to better themselves at the expense of the King, this book is a valuable source. For realising that greed, power and unauthorised spending are not a sign of our times the details contained in the pages are facinating. For detective process and law and order, this book is an eye opener which closes the gap of the years between us. For medical treatment detail, it turns your stomach and for the shear wonder of the letters, so many and preserved so long, that give us the perfect picture of life in the court, this book is a delight to read.
If you are interested in history, you will almost certainly enjoy this thoroughly good detective case.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent for historical readers, 29 July 2008
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This review is from: Unnatural Murder: Poison In The Court Of James I: The Overbury Murder (Paperback)
I am fascinated by history and especially historical kings and queens. However, I had never delved very much into James Ist and his court so this book really caught my eye. I was not disappointed by Anne Somerset's work. Initially she lays down a very good foundation with great descriptions and insights into all the characters involved in the affair of Thomas Overbury's death and the subsequent trials that followed. Each character becomes so alive and one really feels that you are living alongside them at court, in London, and in the Tower. I would recommend Anne's book to anyone who, like me, enjoys a good historical read, whether fiction or non-fiction as she forgets no detail whatsoever but provides a feast where her characters are concerned. I hope to read her book on William IV next as this is one of the Kings that I do not know too well. I am sure I will feel very close to him and his court though once I get my teeth into her meaty meal.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Humungous detail on a scandal that should be better known, 15 Jan. 2010
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A. Warmington (Hampton, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Unnatural Murder: Poison In The Court Of James I: The Overbury Murder (Paperback)
I'm an academic historian by training but full marks to Anne Somerset for a cracking read on a now obscure scandal that riveted Jacobean England: the trial of King James I's fallen favourite, Sir Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset, and his wife, Frances Howard, for the murder by poison of Carr's former friend Sir Robert Overbury in the Tower of London.

Somerset has done her research well and, if she tends to wander off on learned digressions that are not really needed or occasionally shows her learning to no great effect, that is compensated for by her acute eye for how things really were. She has looked in depth at the sources and pieces together the story in extraordinary detail.

It isn't really a mystery story. Frances pleaded guilty and was patently guilty, as were most of those who hanged for it. The only open questions are whether Somerset himself took a hand in it and whether it was actually the poisons that got Overbury or the ghastly ordeal he suffered at the hands of 17th century doctors.

Perversely, Somerset may have been innocent but was convicted because the mind of the day said that a woman could not have hatched the plot alone. Frances, who probably never had sex in her entire life with anyone but him (the annulment of her first marriage, which was never consummated, is also described in excellent detail), was traduced more for her immorality than her participation in a murder. And, needless to add, the 'little birds' hanged while the couple behind it were pardoned, though their disgrace was complete and perpetual.

What emerges clearest is the staggering venality and corruption of the court, where men who sought office raised thousands to bribe noblemen to have a word. James I himself comes across as a ridiculous but essentially good-hearted man, who was genuinely appalled that his former favourite (and possibly homosexual lover) might have stooped to kill a man he personally disliked. It's not an easy read but it's a rewarding one.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic read, 23 July 2007
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Mr. Peter K. Butler "LlewScribe" (Manchester UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Unnatural Murder: Poison In The Court Of James I: The Overbury Murder (Paperback)
This is a totally gripping book, bringing to life an intriguing period in English history and combining that detail with a thriller-like narrative. I'd never heard of the Overbury murder before, nor had I heard of the historian Anne Somerset... I'm glad to have remedied both situations. I certainly hope to read more of Ms Somerset's work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Forget murder mysteries try this..., 22 Nov. 2008
By 
K Haycock (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Unnatural Murder: Poison In The Court Of James I: The Overbury Murder (Paperback)
A beautifully written book that compels you to feel sympathy to the two favourites of James the first bound up in the centre of this scandel. Somerset brings to life the climate of the time, so much so, that this is better than any novel, in fact, I found a review about her book on poisoning in Louis XIV court on an american site that called it historical fiction. Neither are fiction and both are fabulous reads.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Life of King James court, 23 Feb. 2013
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This review is from: Unnatural Murder: Poison In The Court Of James I: The Overbury Murder (Paperback)
I've found "Unnatural murder" very interesting and mesmerlizing.

It is probably true that there isn't any documents which proves that any courtiers or appointed doctors had poisoned Sir Thomas Overbury, as I imagine that the medical care/treatment was extremely primitive in the 17th century and scores of crucial and relevant documents were instantly destroyed.

Anne Somerset had carried out thorough researched of the everyday events of King James Court and notorious event of Sir Thomas Overbury's death. She gives a reader insight into the life of King James Court, with details of the arrest of leading court figures. She gives several possible solutions in connections with relevant incidents.

It is a gripping detective story, with a series of compelling and intriguing episodes of the corruption and powerplays of the 17th century life. It was an unputdownable book!!!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing story of sex, scandal and murder at the Jacobean court, 29 July 2011
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Unnatural Murder: Poison In The Court Of James I: The Overbury Murder (Paperback)
Anne Somerset does a good job of re-telling the wonderfully scandalous tale of beautiful Frances Howard and her eventful life. Marriage, impotency, adultery, passion and poisoning ensue, complete with two trials, and a spell in the Tower.

The narrative is detailed and gripping though there are points at which Somerset can't help but get distracted by her own research and goes off on tangents. This would have been helped by the insertion of footnotes, though I know popular historians tend to avoid them. There are also some niggles around referencing where quotations aren't always sourced, and are too frequently attributed to `one person'.

The book would have benefitted from a family tree: two of the key families involved are the Howards and the Devereux-Sidney-Herbert family group. The Howard relationships are spelt out in the text though it would be handy to relate our key characters to their Tudor relations.

The Devereux (Essex), Sidney (Lisle), and Herbert (Pembroke, Montgomery) relationships are never discussed, which is rather odd given that Somerset does touch on the factionalism activated during the later part of the story. The fact that these lords are all inter-related through marriage is therefore, I think, quite important: Pembroke is step-cousin to Essex; Lisle, described as a hostile juror at the Somerset trial, is Pembroke's uncle and Essex's step-uncle; Lisle's (Robert Sidney) daughter, Mary Wroth, was Pembroke's cousin, mistress and mother to his two illegitimate children - she also wrote a version of the Somerset-Essex story in her romance Urania, and corresponded with George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.

But small niggles aside, this is a fascinating story, well-told, as vivid and compelling as any thriller.
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Unnatural Murder: Poison In The Court Of James I: The Overbury Murder
Unnatural Murder: Poison In The Court Of James I: The Overbury Murder by Lady Anne Somerset (Paperback - 2 Aug. 2004)
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