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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
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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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 17 Jan 2010 11:53:17 GMT
C. Wilson says:
Good! I bought this book ages ago and despite being a real history 'buff' have never read it. I never get past the first few chapters but in a recent clear out I couldn't bring myself to give it away and decided I would DEFINITELY read it. I have now checked the reviews and saw yours first - OK I will READ IT. Thanks. Amazing that your review is so recent - just a day or so after I decide to look on Amazon.
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