Gloucestershire. His father (1549?–1643) was a bencher of the Middle Temple; was appointed, about 1609, a judge in Wales; became recorder of Gloucester; sat in parliament for that city in 1603; was knighted at Warwick on 22 Aug. 1621, and was buried at Bourton-on-the-Hill on 31 May 1643. His will, dated 1 Sept. 1640, was proved on 20 May 1647. His wife Mary, daughter of Giles Palmer of Compton-Scorpion, Warwickshire, was buried at Bourton on 14 June 1617. Two sons besides Thomas reached manhood, viz. Giles (1590–1653), who was knighted in 1623, and was father of Sir Thomas Overbury the younger (see below); and Walter (1593–1637), who was M.P. for Cardigan in 1621 and 1625, and was buried at Barton-on-the-Heath on 6 April 1637. Sir Nicholas's daughters were: Frances (1580–1601), wife of John Palmer of Compton-Scorpion; Mary, wife of Sir John Littcott; Margaret (b. 1591), wife of Edmund Lechmere of Hanley-Castle, Worcestershire; and Meriall or Muriel (b. 1585), wife of Robert Oldisworth, and mother of Giles Oldisworth [q. v.] and of Nicholas Oldisworth. The latter recorded, from the dictation of his grandfather, Sir Nicholas Overbury, some autobiographical notes, which are preserved in British Museum Addit. MS. 15476 (Herald and Genealogist, viii. 446; Genealogist, i. 267 seq.)
The son Thomas was born at Compton-Scorpion in the parish of Ilmington, Warwickshire, at the house of his maternal grandfather, Giles Palmer, and was baptised at Barton-on-the-Heath on 18 June 1581. According to Wood, he was ‘educated partly in grammar learning in those parts.’ At Michaelmas 1595 he became a gentleman-commoner of Queen's College, Oxford, and matriculated in the university on 27 Feb. 1595–6, aged 14. He is said to have made rapid progress in philosophy and logic before graduating B.A. at the end of 1598. In 1601 Charles Fitzgeffrey [q. v.], a fellow-student of senior standing, published a highly complimentary epigram in his ‘Affaniæ,’ on Overbury's talents and disposition. On leaving the university he entered the Middle Temple, where his name had been placed on the register in 1597.
About 1601 Overbury ‘and John Guylby, his father's chief clerk, were sent upon a voyage of pleasure to Edinburgh, with 60l. between them.’ At Edinburgh they met Sir William Cornwallis, whom Overbury had known at Oxford. Sir William introduced Overbury to many friends in the north, and, among the rest, to Robert Carr, at the time page to the Earl of Dunbar. The two youths thereupon laid the foundations of a friendship which led to the tragedy of Overbury's life (Addit. MS. 15476). The intimacy was confirmed when Carr arrived in London in attendance on James I in 1603. The favour bestowed on Carr by the king opened to him a political career of commanding influence; and, conscious of his defective training and education, he found in his friend Overbury an invaluable adviser. Queen Anne (of Denmark) probably described their relations with truth when she nicknamed Overbury Carr's ‘governor’ or tutor.
Overbury soon shared some of his friend's prosperity. On 29 Sept. 1607 a lease was granted him of ‘twenty-five bullaries of salt water, with cribs, stalls, and other appurtenances, in Droitwich, Worcestershire, parcel of the possessions of Robt. Winter, attainted’ (Cal. 1603–10, p. 372). He was made sewer to the king, and on 19 June 1608 was knighted at Greenwich.
But his rise seemed less rapid than he desired. He was ‘hindered in his expectation, and, to shift off discontent, forced to travel.’ He paid a visit to the Low Countries in 1609, and he is said to have written some valuable ‘Observations upon the State of the Seventeen Provinces.’ In 1610, on his return home, his claims to a good diplomatic appointment were generally discussed, and his close relations with Carr, who was created Viscount Rochester in 1610, appeared to place the highest political preferment within his grasp. Rochester ‘could enter into no scheme nor pursue any measure without the advice and concurrence of his friend, nor could Overbury enjoy any felicity but in the company of him he loved.’ Placemen sought his countenance in order to recommend themselves to Rochester, and Bacon is said to have habitually ‘stooped and crouched to him.’
Meanwhile Rochester involved himself in a liaison with Frances Howard, countess of Essex. Overbury encouraged the intrigue, although he knew that the countess was a woman of abandoned character, and he composed many of the poems and letters with which Rochester sought the lady's favour. If Overbury's friend Ben Jonson is to be trusted, Overbury's complacence was due to his own entrance on a similar suit. He had fallen in love with the Countess of Rutland, Sir Philip Sidney's daughter, and had written, Jonson asserted, his well-known poem called ‘A Wife’ with a view to securing the countess's good graces. At Overbury's request, Jonson, who was ignorant of Overbury's sentiments or design, read the verses to Lady Rutland; but on learning the character of the advances, at which he felt he had been innocently induced to connive,