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Unnatural Murder: Poison In The Court Of James I: The Overbury Murder Paperback – 2 Aug 2004

4.8 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix; New Ed edition (2 Aug. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753801981
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753801987
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 3.5 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 318,755 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


Wonderfully dramatic ... Probably the juiciest court scandal of the past 500 years. Anne Somerset writes so freshly that her characters strut before us as if they lived today. A gripping detective story that tells us more about the corruption, debauchery and naked power-plays of 17th century life than anything I have read (Christopher Hudson DAILY MAIL)

This is by far the most comprehensive account I have read of the Overbury scandal, combining a firm mastery of complex sources with a narrative drive that impels the reader to turn the page. It is also quite one the best historical whodunits (Roy Strong SUNDAY TIMES)

Anne Somerset gives us scandal in high places, as well as insights into a seamy underworld of quacks and witches, hustlers and go-betweens; her subsidiary characters stand comparison with Ben Jonson's most outrageous rascals ... Both history and whodunit, this is a hugely enjoyable book (Lucy Hughes-Hallet DAILY TELEGRAPH)

A sordid yet fascinating story which Anne Somerset delineates with great skill (Antonia Fraser THE TIMES)

Deals in a scholarly but ever readable way with a fascinating historical nugget. This is a book about murder, witchcraft, adultery, lechery, intrigue and chicanery among the country's most powerful nobility (Steve Grant TIME OUT)

Anne Somerset shows skill and stamina in telling her lurid tale....This book consolidates her position in the front rank of historical biographers for the general reader (John Jolliffe COUNTRY LIFE)

A fine and absorbing book, based on fresh scholarship and fresh thinking and deserving both a lay and professional readership (THE SPECTATOR Blair Worden)

This marvellous account of a real-life episode in 1615 bristles with ingredients Webster would have recognised and loved (Max Davidson DAILY TELGRAPH)

Scrupulously researched, her account of the Overbury scandal illuminates the machinations and intrigues which passed for government in Jacobean England (SUNDAY TIMES) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

A royal scandal, set against the background of the Jacobean court, involving love, bribery, poison, treachery and black magic.

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Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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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Format: 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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Format: 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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