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accession of James proves that under any circumstances Bacon would not
have left behind him tlie character of an honest man ; but it is possible that
without the example of his royal master he might have escaped the infamous
imputations that now rest upon his name. How closely he followed the
royal example appears from certain passages in Sir Simonds D'Ewes's Auto-
biography, wliich have been suppressed by the editor as 'too gross for pub-
lication.' (MS. Ilarl. GIG, pp. 50, GO.) Such is the result of Cresarism: when

' Componitur orbis

Regis ad exem})lum.'

' Sir Simonds D'Ewes's Autobiograpliy, vol. i. p. 01 : London, ]84o,

E E 2

420 j^ssAYS oy iiistoiucal truth.

Xow tills report seems inconsistent "witli tlie followinfr
words in Somerset's mysterious letter to the king : ' I
■will say no further, neither in that which your majesty
doubted my aptness to fall into.' ^ This appears to
indicate that the idea of ' removing ' the prince came
from the king, and not from Overbury. That Overbury,
however, had a guilty knowledge of this dark business, I
think there can be little doubt.

There is evidence of the unfavourable disposition of
King James towards Overbury in several contemporary
letters from the court. Mr. Packer, in a letter to Sir E.
Winwood, dated April 22nd, 1613, says that the king
sent the Lord Chancellor and Lord Pembroke to offer an
ambassage to Sir T. Overbury, which Sir Thomas
immediately refused, and that ' some said, he added some
other speech which was very ill taken,' and that there-
upon the king sent for the Council, and, after making an
angry speech, gave order to them to send Sir T. Overbury
to prison.^ The Earl of Southampton, writing to Sir E.
Winwood on August 4th, IGlo, that is after Sir T.
Overbury had been more than three months a close
prisoner in the Tower, observes, ' much ado there hath
been to keep Sir T. Overbury from a public censure of
banishment and loss of office, such a rooted liatred lyeth
in the kind's heart towards him.' ^ These last words
imply that the king had some much deeper cause of
enmity towards Overbury than the latter's declining the
offer of an embassy. What that cause was it is vain to
inquire. That it was not a slight cause may be inferred
from the effects.

' Somers's Tracts, vol. ii. p. S50, Sir W. Scott's edition.
2 Mr. Packer to Sir E. Winwood, April 22, 1613. Amos, p. 486.
^ The Earl of Southampton to Sir R. Winwood, August 4, 1613. Amos,
p. 485.

silt THOMAS OVEniiUJiY. 421

But Overlniry had excited against himself tlic hatred
of otliers about tlie court besides the king ; tlie iiatred of
the Earl of Xortlianipton, and of Frances Howard tlie
daughter of Northampton's nephew, the Earl of Suflolk.
Frances Howard had been married at the age of thirteen
to the Earl of Essex, a boy of fourteen. The.-e cliildren
being too young to live togetlier, Essex was sent to C(jn-
tinue his education abroad ; and his young countess, wlio
was celebrated for her beauty, remained with her mother,
the Countess of Suffolk, a woman of bad character, if
contemporary reports may be beheved. It is here to be
observed that it is only from the contemporary letters of
foreign ministers that any tiling approaching to the truth
respecting the powerful, that is, the king and his court
and ministers, can be obtained. JMany a battle was to be
fought, many a terrible charge was to be given, by tlie
parliamentary pikemen and cuirassiers, before liberty of
speech and liberty of the press were to be obtained. At
that time a king and his courtiers might be polluted by
vices and crimes of which brutes might be ashamed ; l)ut
his subjects must not, on the peril of a death of torture
and ignomony, breathe a whisper of censure. There is
an Italian M.S. letter in the British Museum presenting in
a few words a picture of the court of James I. which, if
unsupported by other evidence, might, as Lord Macaulay
observed when the letter was shown to him, be rejected
as drawn by a hostile hand.^ This letter is from Maffeo
Barberini, Archbishop of Nazareth, Papal Nuncio in
France, afterwards Cardinal and Pope Urban VIIL, to
Cardinal Aldobrandini, Papal Secretary of State, is dated
Paris, March 20, 1G0|, and describes in very dark

» AdditioDiil MS. 6784, fo. 32, British Museum.


colours the modes in which the king, the queen, and
several of the principal courtiers pursued their respective
pleasures or vices. Among the persons specified are tlie
mother of this Lady Frances Howard, and ' il Baron
Cecilio ; ' and a letter of La Boderie, the French ambas-
vsador at the Engiisli court, dated December 13, 1608,
shows that the story was not an invention of the writer
of the Italian letter. ^

According to the concurring evidence of many con-
temporary authorities, this Countess of Suffolk was a very
profligate woman ; and if there had been at that time
any question about improving the people of England by
' giving them mothers,' there would not have been much
chance for children to whom were given mothers like her.

The true story of Sir Thomas Overbury's death is to be
sought for in the suppressed examinations — in the exami-
nations of which all portions were suppressed that did not
promote the object which the king sought. This object was
the removal of Somerset from his place of royal favourite.
Among all the examples of base and abject flattery
furnished by the reign of James I., there is none more
revolting than the fact that Sir F. Bacon, with the know-
ledge of the case which he possessed, should have seized
every opportunity of extolling James for the 'princely
zeal for justice ' which he represents him to have mani-
fested. Justice, indeed, was the last thing James thought
of, however much he and his parasites might talk about
it. If justice required the hanging of the murderers of
Overbury, King James himself ought to have been hanged
first, then his French physician Mayerne, and next the
French apothecary Lobell. It may be true that Frances

^ Ambassades de M. de la Boderie, toni. iv. p. 100.


Howard, first CuuuLcss ui" Essex, aiiti, ailcr her divorce
from the Earl of Essex, Countess of Somerset, made a
very vigorous but a very bungling atterai)t to poison
Overbury, for which attempt Ilelwysse, Franklin, Weston,
and Mrs. Turner were liauLred, while the Countess of
Somerset, whose instruments they were, was pardoned —
anotlier example of King James's ' princely zeal for
justice.' liut according to Mr. Amos's ingenious hypo-
thesis, Sir Thomas Overbury was really murdered by King
James, through the instrumentahty of his French physician
Mayerne and a French apothecary Lobell. And J^Ir.
Amos asks, ' May not all this have occured contemporane-
ously with, and independently of, a blind and bungling
design of a passionate and revengeful woman to accomplish
Overbury's death ? ' ^

I have shown in the preceding essay, from the suppressed
examinations, that Lobell was appointed to ' minister such
physic as Mayerne should prescribe ' to Sir Thomas
Overbury ; and that Lobell delivered to the hands of the
Chief Justice twenty-eight leaves of paper, which contained
all the prescriptions which Mayerne wrote for Overbury's
case. These prescriptions, like those written for Prince
Henry, are not now known to exist. There were prob-
ably pretty strong reasons for their destruction. But out
of the three hundred examinations taken by Sir Edward
Coke— although, as might be expected, many are not to
be found — yet some have been discovered among the MSS.
deposited in the State Paper Office, which throw consider-
able light upon this dark transaction.

One of the most curious as well as important of these

suppressed examinations which have been brought to light

' Amos, The Grout Oyor of Poisoning, p. 404 : London, 184G.


by the laborious and skilful researches of Mr. Amos, is
the examination of Edward Eider or Eyder, whose mother
appears to have been tlie owner of the house occupied
by Lobell. The heading of this examination is written in
Sir E. Coke's handwriting, and is in these words : ' The
examination of Edward Eider, all of his own handwriting,
taken this 9th of November 1615, upon his oath.'

The statement of tliis witness, thus headed, is as follows :
' About the beginning of the term I had occasion to go
Avith my mother to Doctor Lobell's house, a waRed one,
where, when I had received my mother's rent of Mr. Lobell's
wife, Mr. Lobell began to question with me about the
death of Sir Thomas Overbury, and asked me what I did
hear of it ; unto whom I answered, that I heard no speech
of it. Whereupon he began to discourse about the pro-
ceedings of my Lord Chief Justice concerning the death
of the said Sir Thomas, saying that they went about to
prove him poisoned ; but, said he, he was not poisoned,
but died of a consumption proceeding of melancholy,
by reason of his imprisonment ; speaking very hardly
against those that went about to prove Sir Thomas to be
poisoned, saying that the clyster which they pretend was
the cause of his death (for which his son was called
into question) was prescribed unto him by Mr. Doctor
Mayerne, the king's doctor, and that his son had made it
according to his directions (not once speaking of his man
to have any hand in it) ; and used very reproachful
words, saying that our English doctors were all but fools,
speaking wildly of Dr. Butler and others, as also of
Mr. Chamberlyne, the queen's chirurgeon, who doth not
like the proceedings of Monsieur Mayerne, whom Doctor
Lobell commended to be the bravest doctor, and that

.s7/i' THOMAS ovEhuciiy^'. 425

tliC'i'u way never a good doctor in England l)ut Mayerne ;
to whom I answered, that I had heard otherwise in Paris,
that he was indeed a braver courtier tlian a doctor ; but
lie continued still in his comnK'iidations, dispraising all
others ; and so after other to t lie same eflect we departed.' '

This is a very important piece of evidence : first, as
showing that it was the original intention to deny
altogether that Overbury was poisoned, and to assert that
he died of consumption ; secondly, as showing tliat an
o])inion prevailed to some extent at that time in Paris as
well as in London that Mayerne ' icati a braver courtier
than a doctor ; ' and that the witness had heard unfavour-
able reports of him in Paris. But the remaining part of
the deposition of this witness, Edward Eider, is exceedingly
important, as showing the admission of Lobell the elder
that it was not consumption of which Overbury died, but
that the clyster prescribed by Mayerne, ' the king's
doctor,' was the proximate cause of his death. The
deposition of Edward Eider thus proceeds : —

' About a week after I went abroad with my wife
about some business, and by accident we met with Dr.
Lobell and his wife, near unto Merchant Tailors' Hall ;
where, after salutations on both parts, I asked him
what he now did hear about the death of Sir Thomas
Overbury, telling him that now it is too manifest that he
was poisoned. I also told him that I heard it was done by
an apothecary's boy in Lime Street, near to Mr. Garret's,
speaking as if I knew not that it was his son's boy,
although I knew that it was his son's boy that did the
deed ; and Mrs. Lobell standing by, hearing me say that

> MS. State Paper Office, 1G15, Nov. 9. No. 276. Amos, The Great
Oyer of Poisoning, pp. 108-170.


he dwelt by Mr. Garret, and that he was run away, she,
looking upon her husband, said in French, ' Oh ! mon
uiari,' &c., that is, ' Oh ! husband, that was William
you sent into France ' (or to that effect), who she said
was his son's man ; whereupon the old man, as it seemed
to me, looking upon his wife, his teeth did chatter as if
he trembled, which stroke me also into a quondary to
hear her say so ; whereupon I asked him if he did send
him away, and he answered me, that he sent him with
a letter unto a friend of his in Paris, saying that he knew
not the cause of his departing from his master, except it
were for that his master used him hardly ; which was
strange to me, that he should give him a letter of com-
mendations unto a friend of his in Paris, and not to know
of his son the cause of his parting, and it made me con-
jecture that he indeed did know the cause of his departure.
Again I asked him whether the boy w\as an Englishman
or a stranger.^ He answered me he was an English-
man, and his parents dwelt in Friday Street, and that
they did speak to him to write to some friend by him,
wdiere he might be to learn the language ; but of the boy
running away he never spoke, neither can I hear that he
ran away before this act done ; and so we parted.

'M. Edwaed Eyder.'I

Among the MSS. in the State Paper Office there are
examinations of Eichard Weston, wlio had formerly been
servant to Dr. Turner, the husband of Mrs. Turner, and
had been, through the interest of the Countess of Somerset,
appointed the goaler of Overbury, and a letter from Sir
Gervase Helwys, the Lieutenant of the Tower, to the

1 MS. State Taper Office ; Domestic I'upers, 1G15, Nov. 9. No. 276.
Amos, pp. ion, 1 70.


King, wliicli contain evidence corroborative of tlie above
deposition of Edward Eyder. Scraps from Weston's
examinations, and a short extract from the Lieutenant's
letter, were read at the trials. If the entire examinations
of Weston and the whole letter of Ilelwys had been read
at the trials, they would have tended to negative the two
acts of poisoning, by means of rosalgar and the tarts,^
which, with the clyster and the arsenic, were the only
poisons of the administering of which any kind of proof was
given, or which are mentioned in any of the indictments.

Weston, in liis examination, taken October 2, 1G15,
said ' that the apothecary's partner or servant that always
ministered to Sir Thomas dwelleth in Lime Street, and
married tlie sister of the king's apothecary, and is a
Frenchman, but his name he remembered not.' ^

On his subsequent examination, however, taken on
October G, 1G15, Weston remembered the name of the
French apothecary. He then ' confessed that Sir Thomas
Overbury, after this examinant became his keeper (but
the certain times he remembers not), had divers baths
given to him, and said, that a little before his death, and,
as he taketli it, two or three days, Overbury received a
clyster, given him by Pawle de Lobel.'^

The letter of Helwys, the Lieutenant of the Tower
above referred to, is dated September 10, 1GL5, and
contains some curious matter, tending to show why the
Countess of Somerset's violent attempts to poison Over-
bury did not take effect, and also to show tliat Helwys,
who was executed for the death of Overbury, had at least

^ Amos, p. 185.

2 M.S. State PapLM- Otllco, 1015, Oct. 2. No. 1G2. Amos, p. 181.

3 Ibid.,Oct. 6. No. 179. Amos, pp. 181, 182.

428 i:ssAYS ox iiistohical truth.

made some cfTort to prevent him from being poisoned ;
and further, that he had no suspicion of the joint pro-
ceedings of Mayerne and Lobell. After stating the
appointment of Weston as a keeper over Overbury, at the
request of Sir Thomas Monson, and the defeat of the
first attempt to poison Overbury by putting arsenic in his
soup, the letter thus proceeds : —

' This first attempt taking no success, there was advan-
tage talvcn of my Lord of Somerset's tenderness towards
Sir Thomas Overbury, wlio sent him tarts and pots of
jelly. Tliese were counterfeited, and others sent to be
presented in their stead, but they were ever prevented ;
sometimes making his keeper say, " My children had de-
sired them ; " sometimes I made my own cook prepare the
like ; and, in the end, to prevent the pain of continual
shifts, his keeper willed the messenger to save labour,
seeing he had in the house which pleased him well.' ^

The passage of this letter, which immediately follow^s
the above, is very important, as showing the impression
of the Lieutenant of the Tower that Mayerne was treating
Overbury for some real or pretended malady — a malady
called by Lobell consumption — and showing also, notwith-
standing this, the Lieutenant's conviction that the clyster
administered tw^o or three days before Overbury's death
was the cause of his death. The words of Helwys's letter
are these : —

' Then bygone your Majesty's progress, by which all
such colourable working was taken away, so as there w^as
no advantage but upon the indisposition of Overbury's
body. Here (as God in heaven can witness) I was secure.

» MS. State Paper Office, IGlo, Sept. 10. No. 132. Amos, p. 187.

<S7/^ THOMAS OVERliUJiY. 420

His pliysician, Monsieur ■Mayenie (wlio left Ix'liind' Iiim
]jis dirc'clioiLs), his u[)i)L]iL'caiy (uL the physician's appoint-
ment), an approved honest man as I thought it, and still
do. But (as Weston hath since confessed unto me) here
was his overthrow, and that whidi wrought it was (as he
said) a clyster. This aj)othecary had a servant, who was
corrupted. Twenty pounds, Weston said, was given.
Who gave it ? who corrupted the servant ? who told
Weston of these things? or what is become of the ser-
vant ? I can give your Majesty no account. Neither can
I directly say that he ever named any as an actor in this
business, but only Mrs. Turner. If any other were con-
senting, they two must put the Inisiness to a point.' ^

The importance of the evidence cited above of Edward
Eyder, which is confirmed in the main point by the
contemporary writers — Wilson and Weldon— will now be
seen. The evidence of Eyder proves that Ilelwys was
either ignorant of the facts, or that he was wilfully mis-
stating them, when he says that the apothecary Lobell
was acting honestly, and that his servant who adminis-
tered the clyster to Overbury was corrupted without his
knowledge. It proves that both Lobell and liis father
were well aware of the true nature of the whole proceed-
ing ; and that they had sent out of the way the person
who administered the poisoned clyster. The case is
indeed one encompassed with difficuhies, with difficulties
and intricacies so great that, as has been truly said of it,
it ' has puzzled the nation down to the present day.'^

Now, in reference to the question, was this poisoned

' This has reference to Mayerne's leaving London to accompany the kin"
on his progress.

2 MS. State Paper Office, 1GL5, Sept. 10. No. l.'{2. Amos, p. 187.
^ Amos, p. 494.


clyster part of tlie artillery provided by the Countess of
Somerset to accomplish the death of Overbury ? it must
be observed that Franklin the apothecary and Weston
the gaoler, and not Lobell, were the countess's agents for
working her engines of destruction ; that this fatal clyster
was prepared by Lobell, according to the evidence of
Eyder above recited, from the prescription of Mayerne,
the king's physician ; and that, with regard to the sup-
position that she corrupted Lobell's servant without
Lobell's knowledge, that supposition is met by the posi-
tive assertion of Eyder respecting the strong indications
of a guilty knowledge in Lobell's father. Sir A. Weldon
mentions that Franklin confessed that Sir Thomas Over-
bury was smothered by him and Weston, and was not
poisoned. Mr. Amos remarks that ' the suspicious cir-
cumstance that none of Franklin's examinations taken
before his trial are forthcoming gives some countenance
to this report.' ^ And the same report, in a somewhat
modified form, is found in the ' Memoirs of the Life of
Sir Thomas Overbury,' prefixed to the tenth edition of
his works published in 1753. This account states first
incorrectly that the poisoned clyster ' was administered
by one Franklin, an apothecary's 'prentice,' and then adds
the following sentence : ' Some say that Weston and
Franklin, seeing the extraordinary effects of the clyster,
and fearing, if they suffered the poison to operate any
longer, it would leave marks on the body, which would
rise in judgment against them, smothered him with the
bed-clothes.' ^

1 Amos, p. 350.

2 Memoirs of the Life of Sir Thomas Overbury, Knt., p. xvii.. prefixed to
his Miscellaneous Works in Verse and Prose: London, 1753.


The tortuous artifice with wliich tlie plot of getting rid
of Overbury was constructed wculd appear to give some
support to the remark of the writer of the memorandum
on the envelope of the letters in King James's hand-
writing to Sir George More, who succeeded Helwys,
Ilelwysse, or Elwes, as Lieutenant of the Tower, that
Kinf^ James ' was the wisest to work his own ends that
ever was before him.' ^ These words are quite in ac-
cordance with the observations made before I had seen
them respecting King James's dexterity in compassing his

There were two distinct agencies at work for the
destruction of Overbury from the time he entered the
Tower ; and what causes the complication and extreme
intricacy of this case is, that although the agencies were
in the general sense distinct, there were certain indi-
viduals who were mixed up in both. The head of one
agency was the king. The head of the other was the
Countess of Somerset. But five individuals at least — the
Earl of Northampton and the Earl of Somerset, Sir
Thomas Monson, Mayerne the king's French physician,
and Lobell the French apothecary — were more or less
cognizant of the operations of both the agencies. The
curious operation of the double agency is strikingly
shown in the following passage of the contemporary
tract already quoted — a passage wdiich appears to have
escaped the notice of all the writers on this dark business :
' One Paul de Lobell, an apothecary, by tlie advice of
Dr. Mayerne, brought a bath to cool his body, icith

' These letters were first published in 183o, in the 18th volume of the
Archreologia, and the original letters are stated to have been then in the
possession of James More Molynoux, Esq., of Loeely, Surrey.


advice to he spare of Ms diet, for that he suspected his
meat teas not icholesome.' ^ The profound artifice of this
advice, which was intended to divert suspicion from him-
self and Mayerne, was in accordance with the character
he sought to give himself with poor Helwys, the Lieu-
tenant of the Tower, who was to a certain extent the
dupe and the victim of him and of others more power-
ful than he, and who, as has been seen, in his letter to
the king, described this murderous French apothecary as
' an approved honest man as I thought it, and still do.'
This Helwys and the Countess of Somerset — who appears
from all her proceedings to have been a person of strong
passions and weak brain — together with some others, may
be designated as the exoteric, while the king, the Earls
of Northampton and Somerset, Sir Thomas Monson,
Mayerne, Lobell, and probably some others, may be re-
garded as the esoteric members of that part of the great
poisoning plot which concerned Sir Thomas Overbury.
The original plan, according to Lobell's assertion, as to
consumption, was to make it appear that Overbury died
a natural death, died namely of a rapid consumption,
which, as has been seen in Prince Henry's case, was the
mode in which Mayerne operated. And when the king
had become weary of Somerset, Buckingham having
supplied his place, and Somerset having showed strong
symptoms of resisting his deposition, the king then made
an adroit use of the Countess of Somerset's attempts to
poison Overbury — attempts which the Earl of North-
ampton and Sir T. Monson certainly, and the Earl of
Somerset probably, aided more or less, to get rid of

^ Truth brought to T.ight, chap. 2G.


Somerset. But for this change in tlic king's inclinations,
this strange episode in Enghsh liistory would have
remained buried in total darkness.

1 have not met with any evidence corroborative of the
assertion of a contemporary writer already quoted, that
Lord Ilarington and his son died ' with suspicion of
poison.'^ Lord Ilarington the father died in 1GL3, either
about the time of or soon after Ovcrbury's death. The
writer above cited says, ' Ilis son succeeded both to his
honour and patent, but enjoyed them not long, for he died
within a short time after.' ^ He died in 1G14. I think
it is not improbable that these two individuals who thus
died within so short a time of the deaths of Prince Henry
and Overbury were victims of the plot of the ' triumvirate
of Northampton, Suffolk, and Somerset.' But the plot

Online LibraryAndrew BissetEssays on historical truth → online text (page 33 of 40)