Customer Review

4.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing story of sex, scandal and murder at the Jacobean court, 29 July 2011
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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