Robert Carr, the king’s favourite…murderer.

carr-miniatureRobert Carr was a Scotsman born in Somerset. He was the son of Sir Thomas Kerr of Ferniehurst Castle in Scotland. The Kerrs – a border family – were known for their left-handedness; they even built their castle staircases to favour their choice of weapon hand. In parts of Scotland, to this day if you’re ‘kerr-handed’ then you’re a left hander. Carr’s mother, Sir Thomas’s second wife, was a sister of the Bold Buccleugh, otherwise known as Walter Scott.

 

Carr began his rise to prominence in James I’s favour in 1606 when his broke his leg, in some accounts it is his arm and there’s also the possibility that it was a deliberate act to attract the king’s attention, during a tilting match at which the king was present. Apparently the king witnessed the accident, recognised Carr and helped nurse the young man back to health whilst at the same time distracting him from the tedium of a broken leg by teaching him Latin. It turned out he needed the help. Carr a handsome and athletic young man was not naturally academically gifted.  He had to rely on the advice of his friend Sir Thomas Overbury for ‘brainwork.’

James conferred the Manor of Sherbourne upon the handsome young man. Lady Raleigh nee Throckmorton was given some compensation for the loss of her home but it was something else toehold against the king’s Scottish favourites- and Carr was undoubtedly the king’s favourite. The young man, who needed help with his Latin because he wasn’t the sharpest cookie in the jar, began advising the king. In 1610 Parliament was dissolved on Carr’s advice and after Robert Cecil’s death in 1612 it appeared that there was no stopping the man. He became a privy councillor, the Earl of Somerset and the Lord Chancellor. Carr garnered wealth from his position, presents from the king and from the bribes that he collected.  He was at the heart of the court.

 

Carr’s first mistake was to marry Francis Howard, who was still married to her first husband the Earl of Essex at the time when their courtship began. His second was to be implicated in a plot to poison his one time friend and advisor Sir Thomas Overbury. Overbury, Carr’s principle advisor, henchman and ‘go-getter’ distrusted the Howard faction and had initially advised against the marriage.  Francis’s family saw to it that Overbury ended up in the Tower where he died of natural causes…or so it seemed.

Thanks to Carr, James’s relationship with his Parliament deteriorated and after the fiasco of Frances Howard’s first marriage being annulled James’s reputation as a law-maker was sullied.

His third and biggest error was to fall out with King James in 1615. He was quickly replaced by George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. Shortly afterwards Carr found himself in trouble, along with his conniving wife, for the murder of Overbury. Francis was guilty but Carr always maintained that he was innocent. Neither he nor his wife were executed. They remained in the Tower until 1622. Carr died in 1645.

 

 

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2 Comments

Filed under Border Reivers, Kings of England, Sixteenth Century

2 responses to “Robert Carr, the king’s favourite…murderer.

  1. I really like this article. Well researched and easy on the eye and mind. I know a little about the Kerrs (Carrs) and a little more about the ‘Bold Buccleuch’- Sir Walter Scott of Brankholme and Buccleuch. The history of the English Scottish Border and the Border Reivers is my avid interest. In the 1590’s Scott and a Kerr were known as ‘flagellum dei’, the Scourge of God’.

    • JuliaH

      Hi Tom,

      I’m envious. I love the borders. My husband’s family come from Carlisle and there are many reiving surnames in his family tree which was what got me interested in the first place. The ‘Scourge of God’ tag for the Scotts and the Kerrs certainly sounds lively…didn’t they have a feud at some point. I must go back to my MacDonald-Fraser. Incidentally, are you being rather modest about your knowledge of the Bold Beccleuch? I’m thinking that I may have a book by you about the gentleman and his friend William Armstrong. If so, I should add that I found it extremely informative and very enjoyable.

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