Carina Caro (c.1615-1617)
This poem relates to the imprisonment and trial of Robert Carr [Kerr], earl of Somerset (1585/6?-1645), and his wife Frances (née Howard, 1590-1632), in 1615 for the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury (bap. 1581, d. 1613). Carr, the youngest son of Thomas Ker, laird of Ferniehurst (d. 1586), was brought up in the royal household and travelled south in 1603 as a page to George Home, later earl of Dunbar. Appointed as a groom of the bedchamber in the following year, Carr captivated the king when the latter nursed him back to health after he broke his leg at the Accession Day tilt in March 1607. Knighted in December 1607 and created a gentleman of the bedchamber, Carr enjoyed a subsequent meteoric rise to power, garnering a range of lands and offices over the next five years, including elevation to the title of Viscount Rochester in March 1611. This process reached its zenith after the death of Salisbury in May 1612, when it was widely recognised that Carr wielded control of virtually all court patronage. Around this time Carr began a secret relationship with his future wife, then married to Robert Devereux, third earl of Essex. Carr had been aided politically at court during his rise to power by Overbury, who had allied him with a pro-Protestant, anti-Spanish faction at court led by the earls of Southampton and Pembroke. Overbury also wrote love letters to Frances to help Carr woo her into having an affair, but as the relationship intensified Overbury became nervous of the potential political implications of Carr's alliance with the pro-Catholic Howard family. His attempts to block the relationship were thwarted by King James himself (who was also jealous of Overbury's influence over his favourite), and when Overbury refused to take an embassy abroad in April 1613 James confined him to the Tower. On 15 September Overbury was found dead in the Tower, and ten days later Frances successfully secured an annulment to her marriage with Devereux on the grounds of impotence, leaving her free to marry Carr. In 1615 Richard Weston, Overbury's keeper in his final days, confessed that the latter had been murdered by means of a poisoned enema, as part of a plot involving the Somersets, Sir Thomas Monson, and Anne Turner (a close adviser to the Countess). Between September 1615 and May 1616 a number of the Somerset's supposed accomplices (including Turner) were executed, while the Somersets themselves were imprisoned in the Tower on 17 October and stood trial on 24-5 May. The Countess (who had been pregnant at her imprisonment and gave birth to a daughter, Anne, on 9 December) confessed prior to the trial and pleaded guilty during it, while the earl (despite pressure from Ayton, acting on behalf of King James, to confess) steadfastly maintained his innocence. Despite the fact that the couple were found guilty of the murder, the Countess was pardoned two months after the trial and both were freed in 1622, with the earl receiving a full pardon in 1624. For further details, see Alastair Bellany, The Politics of Court Scandal in Early Modern England: News Culture and the Overbury Affair, 1603-1660 (Cambridge, 2002); ibid., 'Carr, Robert, earl of Somerset (1585/6?-1645)', ODNB; ibid., 'Howard, Frances, countess of Somerset (1590-1632)', ODNB; John Considine, 'Overbury, Sir Thomas (bap. 1581, d. 1613)', ODNB; David Lindlay, The Trials of Frances Howard: Fact and Fiction at the Court of King James (Routledge, 1993).
As Alastair Bellany notes, the Overbury trial caused a national scandal, and libels circulating in print and manuscript variously portrayed Countess Frances as 'a sexually promiscuous, murderous syphilitic sorceress who had used love magic to seduce the king's favourite, wax images to cripple Essex's manhood, and cruel poisons to kill the virtuous Overbury'. By contrast, Ayton's poem, delivered as a letter from the countess to her husband, is far more sympathetic. Frances is portrayed as compelled by love and by the advice of a sinister 'Locusta' (Turner) to murder Overbury as an obstacle to her marriage to her beloved Carr, and as being willing to die if it meant that Carr could be pardoned. Ayton's portrayal of the countess may stem from his friendship with Carr, and the patronage he received from him. Ayton was appointed as a groom of the privy chamber in 1608, and the two men would thus have been in close proximity at court throughout the period of Carr's ascendancy. On 30 August 1612 Ayton was knighted, and shortly thereafter made Queen Anne's secretary (following the death of William Fowler, the previous incumbent). Gullans has suggested that both favours were garnered for Ayton from Rochester via their mutual friend Sir James Hay (see d1_AytR_003; Gullans (ed.), Ayton, pp. 34, 39).
Two other versions of this poem survive. One is found in the papers of Samuel Hartlib (see The Hartlib Papers Online); the other in the 1617 edition of Johannes Ravisius' Officina, edited by Johann Jacobus Grasserus (Basel), pp.78-81. The poem can thus be dated to some point between mid-1615 (as the countess makes reference (at line 19) to being imprisoned but still pregnant) and 1617 (the first publication of the poem in Grasserus). Metre: elegiac couplets.
1Haec Caro Carina suo mandata salutem
mittere quam possit, non habet ipsa sibi:
nec scribit mandata, acri custodia cura
excubat, et calamo verba notata vetat. 1
5Quae custos prohibere nequit, suspiria, planctus,
et lachrymae, his curas exonerare juvat.
Quis scit an haec Tamesis querulae qua suspicit aedes
audiet, et pronis dum petit aequor aquis,
deferat 2 ad turrim? Tu quanvis carcere clausus
10aure reor patula murmura nota bibes.
Sed vereor ne non agnoscas; scilicet ad te
a nobis isthaec prima querela venit.
'Hactenus exortes curarum viximus una,
vitaque laetitiae nil nisi scena fuit,
15nunc qualis tragicum solet infamare theatrum,
gaudia praecipiti turbine versa ruunt.
Fortunae tam fluxa fides; tu raptus ab aulae
luce, tenebrosi carceris antra subis,
ipsa ferens utero, 3 custodi tradita, culpae
20conscia, consiliis sola relicta meis
mille modis pereo. Iam jam Lucina minatur,
tormina mox judex asperiora parat.
Functa puerperii fuero si forte periclo,
carnificis vix est effugienda manus.
25Fac etiam effugiam, poterone avertere labem,
quae famae et genti vivet inusta meae?
O possem vel morte; mihi quodcunque minatur
exitio Nemesis non satianda meo;
despicerem penitus, lucrique in parte locarem,
30mors tua morte mea si redimenda foret: 4
nec sola Alcestis fuerit cantata poetis,
quod potuit chari fata subire viri;
sed mala quae miseros nunquam praesagia fallunt,
nescio quae de te dira timere jubent.
35Vidi ego cum multa stipata satellite cymba
ad turrim spoliis iret onusta meis.
Et nimis, heu! Memini cymbam, quae forte tegebat
stragula, sanguineo tincta colore fuit.
Pulla sequebatur comitum per inane volantum
40turba, cadaveribus qualis adesse solet.
Dum crocitat, dum raucisono secat aera planctu,
remigibus visum est triste celeusma 5 dari.
Adde quod in somnis haec omnia firmat imago,
quae capite orbatum te mihi saepe refert.
45Vana precor fuerint, et 6 Thusca scientia fallax,
nec sit in omnibus auguriisve fides: 7
tu nihilo secius nostris divelleris ulnis,
cogeris et letho deteriora pati.
Scilicet est gravius letho, Paeana canente
50invidia, instabiles sortis obire vices. 8
Utque semel dicam, famosis sontibus addi
crimina, quos justo carcere nota tenent,
dedecus est omni letho crudelius; et quod
vix unquam e fastis deleat ulla dies.
55Tene per augustam solitum dominarier aulam,
dividere et famulis atria tota tuis,
nunc crypta squalente premi! Nec sole nec aura
nunc nisi per rimas semimicante frui!
Ah durus quicunque premit te finibus arctis,
60qui neget 9 hospitio libera tecta tuo.
Saeviat immitis 10 rapido 11 moderamine custos
in quos est pietas quam minime esse pium.
Tu neque regalem voluisti exscindere stirpem,
nec dare sulphureo sceptra cremanda rogo.
65Objicitur fidei violatae crimen amico,
et caede insontis fax hymeneja calens. 12
Nescio quam verax fuerit qui detulit index,
nescio qua peraget te ratione reum.
Hoc scio quod peperi 13 scelus obstricante 14 Locusta, 15
70illa dedit faciles ad mea vota vias.
Iussit ut argento condirem crustula vivo,
arsenicum docuit dissimulare sale.
Omnia perfeci miserae dictata magistrae,
ivit et invisum Ditis ad antra caput.
75Quid facerem, nostro remoras nectebat amori
ausus et immeritam laedere mille modis.
Si dedit ultrices atrox injuria poenas,
non mea sed justi culpa doloris erit.
Toxica si data sunt, excuset 16 faemina factum,
80toxica pro telis sexus inermis habet.
Denique quicquid erat, magni fuit error amoris,
et facile absolvit 17 crimine quisquis amat.
Dant veniam caeco populorum jura furori,
heu nimis est species nota furoris amor.
85Sed nihil excuso, crimen non deprecor, immo
nec poenam, fas sit morte piare scelus.
Fas mihi sit quaecunque parat tibi vulnera livor,
(qui sequitur claros corpus ut umbra viros) 18
invidia removere mea, te sospite possem
90nec cultum ut decuit propitiare Iovem.
Sic mihi sive dabit finem Lucina malorum,
seu mage quod timeo, judicis urna, 19 fero. 20
Laeta tamen furvas descendam victima ad umbras,
94et Caro emoriar fida Carina viro.'
From a beloved Carr to her dear Carr
1Your dear girl, as much as she is able to send you salutations, sends these words to her dear man; but she cannot keep them to herself, nor does she write them down: her jailer watches over her with relentless attention, and forbids words to be noted down by pen. What the guard is not able to prevent, though, are her sighs, her sobbing, her tears: through these she takes comfort in unburdening her worries. Who knows whether the Thames, onto which your cell looks, will hear these laments of your woman, and, as it hastens to the ocean with its onrushing water, carry them down to your tower? Although you have been locked in prison, you will, I think, drink in her rippling whispers and grasp them with an out-stretched ear.
11Yet I fear that you do not know this; clearly this lament of hers first comes to you from me: 'Thus far we have lived together free from troubles, and our life was nothing except a spectacle of joy. Now it is the kind of spectacle accustomed to shame the tragic stage, our joys now tumble down, overturned by a violent storm. So transient is the constancy of Fortune! You, torn from the light of court, endure the cavern of a gloomy prison. I myself, while bearing a child in my womb, a have been handed over to the jailer, aware of my crime; left alone with my thoughts, I die in a thousand ways. Lucina, goddess of child birth, even now threatens, the judge presently contrives more painful contractions. Perhaps if I am freed from the danger of chilbirth, scarely will I escape the hand of the executioner. Suppose I even manage to escape, or suppose I am able to avoid his blow, which will live brandished on my family and my reputation? O I would rather be more useful in death! However much insatiable Nemesis threatens me with death, [p64]I would completely despise her, and would be rewarded, if your death is to be redeemed by my own death. And not only Alcestis will have been sung of in poems, because she was able to suffer the fate due to her dear man. b But its wicked pronouncements, which never fail to hit its wretched targets, I know not what they gloomily prescribe to anticipate concerning you. I myself have seen when a barge crammed full with many an attendant, and burdened with my booty, went to the tower. Alas all too well I recall the barge, which was covered perhaps with a funereal drape, and tinged with a blood-red hue. A black throng of attendant birds - of the type which usually accompany corpses - were following in flight across the empty sky. As they caw, as they split the air with their raucous lament, the gloomy boatswain's command seemed to be given to the rowers. Moreover, an apparition shows me all these things in my dreams; an apparition which brings back to me a vision of you without your head. I pray that the dreams are without substance, that Etruscan wisdom c is false, and that there is no faith in all of their predictions. No differently have you been torn from my arms, and been compelled to endure things worse than death. It is clearly more disagreeable than death to accept fate's capricious alternations, while ill-will crows triumphantly. In summary: it is a shame more cruel than every death that my crimes are added to those famous criminals whom judgement has justly detained in jail - especially given that scarcely ever does any recorded day erase it from the fasti. Ah, ignorant is anyone who confines you in a narrow cell, and would deny an open house to you as a guest - you who were accustomed to hold sway across the august court, and to part the entire hall with your retinue, and who are now enclosed in a filthy dungeon, receiving neither sun nor air unless a little squeezes through the narrow bars. Let the rough jailer rage on while fiercely executing his tasks: it is their duty to be as unkind as possible. Yet you neither wished to wipe out the royal line, nor wished to betray the royal sceptre for it to be burned in a sulphurous pyre. The crime of having broken a friend's trust, and a marriage torch burning with the death of an innocent, is laid before you. [p65]I do not know how truthful the witness was who testified, and I do not know with what account of the circumstances he will prosecute you. I know this: I gave birth to the crime with a Locusta as midwife, d and she provided an easy route to realise my wishes. She bid that I hide quick-silver e in a bun, she taught me how to hide arsenic in salt. I did everthing that my wretched mistress said, and my captain went unseen towards Dis' caverns. What should I have done? He was setting up an obstacle to our love, and dared to harm me unjustly in a thousand ways. If my dreadful act has delivered just punitive retribution, even so my crime will be that of an unlawful passion. If poison has been administered, a woman may justify the deed, for the unarmed sex has poisons in place of spears. Finally, whatever it was, it was the folly of a great love, and whoever is a lover also acquits themselves of their crime with little trouble. The people's justice sympathises with blind madness, and, alas, love is an all too well known type of madness. Yet I do not excuse the crime nor deny it, nor indeed the punishment for it. It would be right to atone for the wicked deed with my death. However many wounds ill-will makes ready for you (ill-will which follows noble men like shadows follow the body) I should by right have them. Stand apart from my own ill-will! With your life spared, may I be able to appease Jove, as has been right before when he has been neglected. Thus whether Lucina will give an end to my sufferings, or whether what I fear most, the urn of a fierce judge will end them, nevertheless I shall descend to the dark shades happily, and I shall die a Carr faithful to her dear man Carr.'
1: The first five lines of the poem are not included in the 1617 edition; 'mandata' of line 3 is 'quae mandat' in Hartlib.
2: 'Deferet' in Hartlib.
3: This dates the 'letter' of Frances Howard to sometime in mid 1615: in December 1615, Anne Carr, daughter to Robert and Frances, was born in the Tower of London.
4: Virgil, Aeneid IV.374
5: Cf. Martial, Epigrams III.67.4.
6: 'sit' in Hartlib and Grasserus.
7: 'Deus' in Hartlib and Grasserus.
8: Both Hartlib and Grasserus include two lines that are missing from the DPS version: 'Scilicet gravius letho sic vivere ut hostis / Cum possit vitae, rumpere fila, neget / Scilicet gravius letho, paeana canente / Invidia, instabilis sortis obire vices.' Given the repetition 'scilicet...scilicet' it seems likely that the DPS copyist is at fault.
9: 'negat' in Hartlib and Grasserus.
10: 'minuitis' in Hartlib.
11: 'rigido' in Hartlib and Grasserus.
12: This marks the end of the Hartlib version of the poem.
13: 'Nec scio quod peperit' in Grasserus.
14: 'obstericante' in Grasserus.
15: Anne Turner, who was executed for her role in the affair.
16: 'excusat' in Grasserus.
17: 'absolvet' in Grasserus.
18: No parenthesis in Grasserus.
19: Cf. Statius, Thebaid VIII.102; and XI.571.
20: 'feri' in Grasserus.
a: See note to Latin text, and introduction.
b: Heroine of the play of the same title by Sophocles; wife of Admetus, king of Pherae in Thessaly, whose life she saved by offering to die on his behalf. She was brought back from the underworld by Hercules.
c: ie, that dreams are portents.
d: See note to Latin text, and introduction.