Sir Thomas Overbury

(1581-1613 / England)

Biography of Sir Thomas Overbury

Sir Thomas Overbury (baptised 1581 – 15 September 1613) was an English poet and essayist, and the victim of one of the most sensational crimes in English history. His poem A Wife, which depicted the virtues that a young man should demand of a woman, played a large role in the events that precipitated his murder.

Overbury's poem, The Wife, was published in 1614 (see 1614 in poetry), and ran through six editions within a year, the scandal connected with the murder of the author greatly aiding its success. It was abundantly reprinted within the next sixty years, and it continued to be one of the most widely popular books of the 17th century. Combined with later editions of The Wife, and gradually adding to its bulk, were Characters (first printed in the second of the 1614 editions). The Remedy of Love (1620; see 1620 in poetry), and Observations in Foreign Travels (1626). Later, much that must be spurious was added to the gathering snowball of Overbury's Works.

For an alternative account of the trial, see Anne Somerset's Unnatural Murder (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1997).

Marjorie Bowen wrote a fictionalised account of the case and trial in The King's Favourite.

Rafael Sabatini's novel about the rise and fall of Robert Carr, The King's Minion (1930), argues Overbury's poisioning was ordered by James I and carried out by his personal physician after the failed attempts by Lady Essex and her conspirators.

The dramatist John Ford wrote a lost work titled Sir Thomas Overbury's Ghost, containing the history of his life and untimely death (1615). Its nature is uncertain, but Ford scholars have suggested it may have been an elegy, prose piece, or pamphlet.[9]

Nathaniel Hawthorne mentions this murder in his book The Scarlet Letter.

Charles Mackay devoted much of the chapter on "The Slow Poisoners" in Volume 2 of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds to Overbury's death and the various fates of his murderers.

Miriam Allen deFord wrote The Overbury Affair, which involves events during the reign of James I of Britain surrounding the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury. For the latter work she received a 1961 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Fact Crime book.

PoemHunter.com Updates

A Wife

Each woman is a briefe of womankind,
And doth in little even as much containe,
As, in one day and night, all life we finde,
Of either, more is but the same againe:
God fram’d her so, that to her husband she,
As Eve, should all the world of woman be.

So fram’d he both, that neither power he gave
Use of themselves, but by exchange to make:

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