Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tudor Tart: Frances Carr, Countess of Somerset

Frances Carr was daughter of Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk and Catherine Knyvett. In 1604, she was married to Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex and son of Elizabeth I's ill-fated favorite. She was 15, her husband 14. The two were separated immediately after their marriage so it could not be consummated. This was a common practice when the couple were deemed too young (I find it interesting that they were too young to consummate, but not too young to marry). The marriage was, thus, doomed from the start. When the two were allowed to consummate, Devereux found he could not. By this time, his little wife had already found another she liked better. Robert Carr, 1st earl of Somerset was the favorite of the new King. He and Frances had fallen madly in love and wanted to marry. Because Devereux was unable to perform, Frances claimed impotency and demanded a divorce.

Why couldn't he perform? Rumors abounded that Frances was slipping him herbs that prevented it. Others stated that he was "bewitched." During the divorce proceedings, it was seriously debated whether he should be sent to Poland to be "unwitched!" Regardless, Carr had the ear of the King. James intervened and the divorce went through.

In the mean time, Carr's closest friend, Thomas Overbury, was loudly protesting the match. He claimed that his friend could do better. He saw Frances as immodest and loose of morals. However, Frances had a few tricks up her sleeve. During the divorce proceedings, the King had Overbury imprisoned in the Tower. The charge? He refused to take a post as ambassador to Russia. He felt his friend needed his support in England. The truth? Carr wanted to marry Frances, and really just wanted his friend to be silent. With her powerful connections, Frances had the Lord Lieutenant of the Tower replaced with one of her supporters.

Curiously, Overbury died in the Tower. The divorce was finalized soon after.

Rumors abounded that Frances had had Overbury poisoned. Despite this, Carr and Frances married in Dec. of 1613. The two were soon arrested on suspicion of murder. Carr proclaimed his innocence. Frances, however, admitted a small part in the crime. She was convicted of murder, but spared execution. Why was the King so lenient? Some think he had a part in the murder, too. He apparently resented Overbury, with one witness saying that James "hath long had a desire to remove him from about [Carr], as thinking it a dishonour to him that the world should have an opinion that [Carr] ruled him and Overbury ruled [Carr]." Both Carr and She were pardoned and finally released from the Tower in 1622. They lived happily together.  

With the evidence in, what think ye? Was Frances an innocent woman, whose only crime was to be stuck in a loveless marriage, easily becoming a scapegoat for a jealous King's will? Or was she a loose woman, who would stop at nothing, including murder, to get what she wanted?

Fraser, Antoina. The Weaker Vessel.
Lindley, David. The Trials of Frances Howard
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  1. I find this story very interesting, but I find that dress she is wearing much more so.Could you write something about that fashion?Is the first time I see a lady of that time wearing something like that. I´ve heard one time that Elizabeth used to wear this type of clothes

    1. I'm so glad you asked! I'm actually writing a post on Jacobean fashion later this week! It will be posted Friday so be sure to check back!