Robert Carr earl of Somerset

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Carr, Robert, 1st Viscount Rochester, 1st earl of Somerset (c.1587–1645). Carr, a royal favourite, began his career as page to James VI of Scotland, whom he accompanied to London in 1603 when James ascended the English throne. By 1607 he was established as the king's favourite, but he only acquired political significance after the death of James's chief minister Robert Cecil in 1612, acting as the king's secretary and building up a considerable clientage. His main alliance was with Henry Howard, the pro-Spanish and pro-catholic earl of Northampton, and this was reinforced when he fell in love with Northampton's relative Frances Howard. She was the wife of the earl of Essex—son of Elizabeth I's favourite—but James, ever indulgent, set up a tribunal which annulled the marriage, and in 1613 Frances married Carr, now earl of Somerset. Meanwhile Carr's former friend and adviser Sir Thomas Overbury, who had opposed the match on political and personal grounds, was removed from the scene when James sent him to the Tower of London, where he died, apparently of natural causes. Only in 1615 did James become aware that in fact Overbury had been poisoned by Frances. Carr and his wife were tried for murder, and although Carr protested his innocence, they were both found guilty. They were saved from execution by James, who issued a pardon, and after a few years' comfortable imprisonment they retired into private life, taking with them the very fine collection of works of art which Carr had acquired. His place as favourite was filled by Buckingham.

Roger Lockyer

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