The Honey and the Sting Paperback – 30 Apr 1999
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Robbie Kerr (later Carr) is a young, rather unworldly, Scotsman, who catches the eye of Thomas Overbury, one of Cecil's spies. They form a liaison which will have dire consequences.
The narrator, Giles Rawlins, a cousin of Overbury, tells the story of how Kerr, under Overbury's tutelage, learns the ways of the Court. But there is more that King James wishes to teach him, and he becomes James' favorite.
Unfortunately, he also catches the eye of the spoiled daughter of the house of Howard, Frances Devereux, Countess of Essex, who through mommets and potions wins him as her lover, then wangles an annulment from her husband, on grounds of his impotence.
But Overbury hates her, and threatens to reveal that she is no longer a virgin, which will put paid to the annulment. So Kerr (now Robert Carr, Viscount Rochester and Earl of Somerset) tricks him into offending the king, and Overbury lands in the Tower.
It is Kerr's intent that this imprisonment last only until he and Frances are safely wed, but Frances has other plans. She wants Overbury gone, permanently.
From what I have read of this period, Hunt is quite realistic in his description of court life, theatre, the period's interest in the occult, and other matters. It's lovely to read a novel that quotes John Donne, Ben Jonson and others in an appropriate context. (Donne did, in fact, write an Eclogue and Epithalamion on the occasion of Carr's marriage to Frances Howard).
I must admit that I find it unlikely that Carr was the naïf that Hunt presents him as, but I suppose it's possible.
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