Anne Turner (murderer)

Mrs. Anne Turner (5 January 1576 – 15 November 1615), aka Mistress Anne Turner or Mrs. Anne Turner, was the widow of a respectable London doctor who was hanged at Tyburn for her role in the famous 1613 poisoning of Sir Thomas Overbury referenced in the plays A New Trick to Cheat the Devil, The Widow, The World Tossed at Tennis and The City Nightcap.

Anne Turner
Anne turner.jpg
Turner on the way to the gallows
Anne Norton

5 January 1576
Hinxton, Cambridgeshire, England
Died15 November 1615 (aged 39)
Cause of deathHanging
Resting placeTyburn, Middlesex
EmployerFrances Carr, Countess of Somerset
Known forComplicity in murder of Sir Thomas Overbury
Opponent(s)Sir Edward Coke
Sir Francis Bacon
Spouse(s)Dr. George Turner
Parent(s)Thomas Norton
Margaret Norton


She was born Anne Norton on 5 January 1576, one of six children to Thomas and Margaret Norton of Hinxton, Cambridgeshire.[1] Later, as her reputation came in question, rumours spread that she was an illegitimate child of the disreputable London apothecary and astrologer named Simon Forman. Also considered to be a "beautiful" woman, she married a physician, Dr. George Turner, who died in 1610, and became the mistress of Sir Arthur Mainwaring.[2] At some point she had become a "waiting woman" or "companion" of Frances Howard.[3]

It seems that at this time that Howard had fallen in love with the king's favourite, Robert Carr and they soon began an exchange of romantic correspondence. Unfortunately for Howard she was married at the time to the Earl of Essex and at his instance was obliged to travel back with him after his return from France to his house at Chartley in Staffordshire. There she persisted in a stubborn refusal to sleep with her husband, thereby hoping no doubt to have the marriage annulled on the grounds on non-consummation.

Whilst Carr may have been satisfied with this state of affairs, Frances wished to marry him. There was one person who stood in her way, Carr's mentor, Sir Thomas Overbury who disapproved of the match. Fortunately for Howard help was at hand both in her uncle, Sir Henry Howard, 1st Earl of Northampton and in friend and ally Mrs Turner.

The Overbury murderEdit

After Northampton had persuaded the king to have Overbury thrown in the Tower of London on trumped up charges, it was now Frances Howard's wish that he be murdered.

Although a widow and outwardly respectable, Mrs Turner was in fact an independent businesswoman who ran her own "houses of ill-repute" at Paternoster Row and Hammersmith, where couples could indulge themselves together in secrecy. She was also running a lucrative monopoly in the supply of a saffron based starch which provided the yellow colouring to collars and ruffs which was then in vogue. Mrs Turner was therefore well connected with both the court and the less savoury sections of London society.[4]

She was thus able to put Howard in touch with Forman to provide love potions for Carr and a range of poisons, including arsenic, cantharides[5] and sublimate of mercury for Overbury from another apothecary named Franklin. These poisons were then included in a selection of "tarts" and "jellies" which were delivered to gaoler Richard Weston. They were then left with the Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir Gervase Helwys, before they were eaten by Overbury, who died as a result in September 1613.

A few weeks later Howard's marriage was annulled and she was able to marry Carr.

Trial and executionEdit

Two years later, after Overbury's murder came to light, Turner, Helwys and all the other accomplices in the crime were put on trial, the hearings being overseen by Sir Edward Coke, Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench, and the king's Attorney General, Sir Francis Bacon.

With overwhelming evidence mounted against her, Turner confessed to her role in the crime. In passing sentence Chief Justice Coke referred to her as "a whore, a bawd, a sorcerer, a witch, a papist, a felon and a murderer".[6] He also ordered her to be hanged in the fashionable starched ruffles she had invented "so that the same might end in shame and detestation."

Turner was hanged at Tyburn on 15 November 1615. Her hangman, not by coincidence, also wore "bands and cuffs of the same colour." Yellow starch then went out of fashion.[7][8]

Turner reportedly left behind three illegitimate children she had with Mainwaring.

In fictionEdit

Anne Turner is a character in Thomas Costain's 1942 historical novel For My Great Folly.

Jean Plaidy's novel, The Murder In The Tower, published in 1964, mentions Anne Turner as one of the characters involved in the Overbury Murder.

Anne Turner is mentioned in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter as an "especial friend" of Mistress Hibbins, a suspected witch. The novel mentions the yellow ruffs, which Turner had supposedly taught Hibbins how to make.

Anne Turner is a character in the novel The King's Minion (also known as The Minion) by Rafael Sabatini, which is about the Overbury murder.


  1. ^ "ANNE TURNER, EXECUTED FOR COMPLICITY IN THE MURDER OF SIR THOMAS OVERBURY, 1615 -- MUNDY 199 (3): 113 -- Notes and Queries". Retrieved 5 April 2015.
  2. ^ Bellany, A. (2007). The Politics of Court Scandal in Early Modern England: News Culture and the Overbury Affair, 1603-1660. Cambridge University Press. p. 149. ISBN 9780521035439. Retrieved 5 April 2015.
  3. ^ Russell, C.C.E.L. (1901). Swallowfield and Its Owners. Longmans, Green, and Company. p. 95. Retrieved 5 April 2015.
  4. ^ "The Thomas Overbury affair -". Retrieved 5 April 2015.
  5. ^ Spanish fly
  6. ^ Jones, A.R.; Stallybrass, P. (2000). Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory. Cambridge University Press. p. 63. ISBN 9780521786638. Retrieved 5 April 2015.
  7. ^ Sir Simon d'Ewes, vol. 1, p. 79
  8. ^ "Notices of the historic persons buried in the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula" by Doyne Courtenay Bell