Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Poisoned in the Tower

"I remember it but too well, Mistress Margaret," said Ursula, after a moment's reflection, "and I would serve you in any thing in my condition; but to meddle with such high matters--I shall never forget poor Mistress Turner, my honoured patroness, peace be with her!--she had the ill-luck to meddle in the matter of Somerset and Overbury, and so the great earl and his lady slipt their necks out of the collar, and left her and some half-dozen others to suffer in their stead. I shall never forget the sight of her standing on the scaffold with the ruff round her pretty neck, all done up with the yellow starch which I had so often helped her to make, and that was so soon to give place to a rough hempen cord. Such a sight, sweetheart, will make one loath to meddle with matters that are too hot or heavy for their handling."

Sir Thomas Overbury is referenced above in the text from Walter Scott's "The Fortunes of Nigel".  Overbury was poisoned to death while confined in the Tower on September 15, 1613. 
 
Like Scott, Overbury was a poet and author.  Overbury's trip to the Tower was precipitated by his poem "A Wife".  The wife in question was one Frances Howard, who began an affair with Overbury's friend Robert Carr.  Overbury's poem on wifely virtues was believed by many to show Ms. Howard in a bad light.  The Howards and others were close to King James I, and in an effort to quell a growing dispute, James interceded to offer Overbury a post as ambassador to Russia.  When Overbury refused, James threw him into jail.  The notes to "The Fortunes of Nigel" contain more on the topic of Overbury's death.
 
Note VI. p. 98.--MRS. ANNE TURNER



Mrs. Anne Turner was a dame somewhat of the occupation of Mrs. Suddlechop in the text; that is, half milliner half procuress, and secret agent in all manner of proceedings. She was a trafficker in the poisoning of Sir Thomas Overbury, for which so many subordinate agents lost their lives, while, to the great scandal of justice, the Earl of Somerset and his Countess were suffered to escape, upon a threat of Somerset to make public some secret which nearly affected his master, King James. Mrs. Turner introduced into England a French custom of using yellow starch in getting up bands and cuffs, and, by Lord Coke's orders, she appeared in that fashion at the place of execution. She was the widow of a physician, and had been eminently beautiful, as appears from the description of her in the poem called Overbury's Vision. There was produced in court a parcel of dolls or puppets belonging to this lady, some naked, some dressed, and which she used for exhibiting fashions upon. But, greatly to the horror of the spectators, who accounted these figures to be magical devices, there was, on their being shown, "heard a crack from the scaffold, which caused great fear, tumult, and confusion, among the spectators and throughout the hall, every one fearing hurt, as if the devil had been present, and grown angry to have his workmanship showed to such as were not his own scholars." Compare this curious passage in the History of King James for the First Fourteen Years, 1651, with the Aulicus Coquinarius of Dr. Heylin. Both works are published in the Secret History of King James.



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