The Lady Frances Howard scandals

The Lady Frances Howard scandals
Isaac Oliver: watercolor of Lady Frances Howard (circa 1595), Victoria and Albert Museum

The most interesting sex scandals of the Jacobean era featured Lady Frances Howard. Not once but twice. After being married off at the age of 13 for political reasons in 1606, she never slept with her husband because they appear to have hated each other. He was whisked away to prevent her becoming pregnant and so the years passed...

William Larkin: Frances Howard, Countess of Somerset (around 1615), National Portrait Gallery, London

The first public scandal erupted seven years later, in 1613, when it became known that Mary wanted a divorce and that she was still a virgin after all this time. Physical examinations confirmed this - the rumors were that a stand-in was used. Her husband meanwhile protested he was not impotent; just with her. At any rate, the marriage was annulled and Mary promptly married her lover, Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset. But this is just the First Act.

John Hoskins: Robert Carr (around 1625-30), National Portrait Gallery, London.

Some years later, in 1615, there was a more serious scandal when Frances and her new husband were accused of murdering his friend, Sir Thomas Overbury (shown below) two years earlier. The accounts of the intrigue and murder are a rich stew of homosexual love affairs and petty jealousies - possibly involving King James I. Overbury clearly loathed Frances and was in love with Robert. In court it came out that Frances had arranged to have Overbury poisoned in the Tower of London. Frances confessed but Carr always maintained his innocence. The couple were convicted but spared execution. They remained in the Tower of London till 1622, their careers effectively over. Four accomplices were hanged.

Sylvester Harding: portrait copy of Sir Thomas Overbury from the 18th century (the original was circa 1603).