Ads 468x60px

Friday, February 10, 2012

Sex, Lies & Gunpowder: Scandal, Seventeenth-Century Style

An adulteress. A co-conspirator in an assassination attempt. Thirty-six barrels of gunpowder, meant to blow up the House of Lords, along with the King. These are just a few of the people and events mentioned in Mary Johnston’s swashbuckling adventure, To Have and to Hold. Let’s take a look.

Frances Carr, Countess of Somerset, was one of the most reviled and talked about women of her day. She was first married at the tender age of fourteen in a political alliance to thirteen-year-old Robert Devereux. The two teenagers were separated quickly because of their youth, but by the time they were brought together again to consummate their marriage, Frances was in love with Robert Carr, the 1st Earl of Somerset, and her husband was ill with smallpox. She did everything she could to avoid sleeping with her husband, all the while claiming he was unable to perform his marital duties. She even had herself examined to prove her maidenhood was still intact, though some speculated that she duped the examiners by claiming modesty, veiling her face and at the last moment substituting a truly innocent girl in her place. Frances eventually won an annulment and was honorably married to Robert Carr, but it is no wonder that Ralph Percy, the hero of To Have and to Hold, resented his wife being mentioned in the same sentence with the Countess. And the scandal did not end with her marriage. She also poisoned Sir Thomas Overbury because he dared to counsel Robert Carr not to marry her. She was sent to the Tower, along with her husband, for seven years.

The Carrs had some interesting companions while imprisoned in the Tower. One of them was Henry Percy, ninth Earl of Northumberland (and the cousin of Ralph Percy of To Have and to Hold). The Earl spent 17 years in the Tower under suspicion of partaking in the Gunpowder Plot- now better known as Guy Fawkes Day. A group of conspirators entrusted the infamous Hawkes with 36 barrels of gunpowder. Their plan? Blow up the House of Lords and assassinate the King, James I. The Earl and the Carrs were eventually pardoned by the King and released. But the really interesting thing about their incarceration was the conditions they were held under- relative luxury. The Earl of Northumberland was a wealthy man. During his tenure in captivity, he actually had a covered bowling alley installed in Martin Tower! He was on friendly terms with the Carrs, and Frances Carr brokered a marriage between the Earl’s daughter and James Hay, 1st Earl of Carlisle. The Tower of London has always conjured up dreary, negative images in my mind, but apparently with enough wealth and connections, captivity was not so bad. Sounds like the white collar criminals of today.

All of these scandals sound like they could have been ripped from current headlines, proving the old saying to be true:

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. ~Ecclesiastes 1:9

POSTED BY: L.R. Blizzard

To Have and to Hold by Mary Johnston
Professionally edited and formatted for today's readers!
Get the Legacy Vintage Collection Enhanced eBook Edition for $1.99!