A House in Gross Disorder: Sex, Law, and the 2nd Earl of Castlehaven / Edition 1

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Sex, privilege, corruption, and revenge—these are elements that we expect to find splashed across today's tabloid headlines. But 17th century England saw a sex scandal that brought disgrace to the ruling class and ended with the beheading of an earl.

In A House in Gross Disorder, Cynthia Herrup presents a strikingly new interpretation of the case of the 2nd Earl of Castlehaven and of the sexual and social anxieties it cast into such bold relief. Castlehaven was convicted of assisting in the rape of his own wife and of committing sodomy with his servants. But more than that, he stood accused of inverting the natural order of his household by reveling in rather than restraining the intemperate passions of those he was expected to rule and protect. Herrup argues that because an orderly house was considered both an example and endorsement of aristocratic governance, the riotousness presided over by Castlehaven was the most damning evidence against him. Avoiding simple conclusions about guilt or innocence, Herrup focuses instead on the fascinating legal, social and political dynamics of the case and its subsequent retellings. In riveting prose, she reconsiders a scandal that still speaks to contemporary anxieties about sex, good governance, and the role of law in regulating both.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Thoughtful, scrupulously researched.... A clearheaded and instructive book."—Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post

"Cynthia Herrup's A House in Gross Disorder makes us rethink most everything we thought we knew about the notorious 1631 'sodomy' trial of Mervin Touchet, the 2nd Earl of Castlehaven. Beautifully written and meticulously crafted, Herrup's study unfolds like a good detective story."—Jean Howard, Department of English, Columbia University, and Director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender

"Cynthia Herrup's scrupulous reconstruction of the Castlehaven scandal and its legacy is an utterly fascinating read. But it is also rich in theoretical implications for the history of sexuality. Herrup shows how obscure conflicts within Castlehaven's household embodied virtually all the social and political tensions of the period, and thus how a routine dispute over property and inheritance could quickly escalate into a sensational trial for rape and sodomy. The nature of Castlehaven's transgression, which subsequent retelling of the story have radically simplified, recovers here its tantalizing ambiguity and complexity."—David M. Halperin, author of One Hundred Years of Homosexuality and Saint Foucalt

"This is an extraordinary tale extraordinarily well told, but told with an ear cocked to the ways in which contemporaries themselves told and retold it. Like the trial itself, Herrup never quite gets to the bottom of 'what really happened,' but en route to that acceptance of indeterminacy the book sets the Castlehaven affair precisely on a number of pressure points and fault lines in the culture and society of early modern England. The result is a book with considerable resonance for anyone interested in the political, legal, social, cultural, or gender history of seventeenth-century England."—Peter Lake, Department of History, Princeton University

"To this sorry tale of a grossly disordered household, of a weak patriarch, loveless marriages, corrupt and venal servants, is added the betrayal of a son, fearful of losing his inheritance, the irregularities, if not worse, of prejudiced court and irregular trial procedure, of predatory aristocratic relatives, and of Castlehaven's dubious connection with Catholicism and Ireland.... It is a cautionary tale on many levels that haunted succeeding generations; its eloquent retelling ought now to haunt ours."—Paul Seaver, Department of History, Stanford University

Jonathan Yardley
Thoughtful, scrupulously researched.... A clearheaded and instructive book.
—(Washington Post)
Library Journal
Charged with rape and sodomy, the 2nd Earl of Castlehaven was convicted and beheaded in London in 1630. But as Herrup argues in this very scholarly study, the court was concerned with sodomy more as the source of "disorder" than as an immoral act. The sexual behaviors in the earl's mansion were not unusual for the times. What made Castlehaven different, Herrup carefully documents, was that the earl was threatening social order, disrupting societal expectations of nobility. The earl's encouragement of a servant attempting to rape his wife outraged the nobles not out of concern for the woman but because cross-class sex threatened to "pollute" the noble lineage. Likewise, his son complained about the earl's sex with servants not because of sexual propriety but because his father was giving them land and wealth the son expected to inherit. Herrup (history and law, Duke Univ.; The Common Peace) presents this interesting argument clearly and thoroughly. A good choice for legal and academic collections, a little dry for public collections.--Robert C. Moore, Raytheon Electronic Systems, Sudbury, MA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A mildly interesting analysis of the 1631 trial of the infamous earl of Castlehaven, who was beheaded for sodomy and rape. Herrup, professor of law and history at Duke, takes us back to Stuart England to explore the legal, social, and political implications of the Castlehaven trial. Castlehaven's household was a paragon of family dysfunction. The earl favored his male servants over his own son, encouraged one servant to rape his wife, and engaged in sodomy with the house staff. Herrup theorizes that the case against Castlehaven went far beyond these shocking allegations, tapping into deep-seated cultural anxieties about power and hierarchy. Castlehaven's inability to control his own sexual urges, combined with his failure to regulate his household, was viewed as undermining the established social order. Thus, King Charles I prosecuted the "disorderly" Castlehaven as a lesson for those in power. At trial, the specific facts of the case were largely ignored in favor of arguments about how Castlehaven's misconduct tended to endanger social harmony. The crown's prosecutors also harped on Castlehaven's alleged Catholicism to cast him as a dangerous outsider. Herrup's contention that a high-profile trial can transcend its factual circumstances is hardly groundbreaking. What a particular trial is "about," what it means in a larger cultural context, depends largely on the interpreter: sensational trials fascinate us because they have many subtexts. While Herrup skillfully examines the different meanings given to the Castlehaven trial over time, what she doesn't do particularly well is flesh out the individuals involved or place them in a convincing historical context. Scholars of StuartEngland will find much here that's intellectually provocative, especially in the realm where law and social history meet, but the general reader will want a bit more human drama mixed in with the intellectual abstractions. (15 photos, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195139259
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 232
  • Sales rank: 1,239,910
  • Product dimensions: 7.70 (w) x 5.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Cynthia Herrup is Professor of History and Law, Duke University. She is the former editor of the Journal of British Studies and the author of The Common Peace: Participation and the Criminal Law in 17th Century England. She lives in Durham, North Carolina.

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Table of Contents

Abbreviations and Conventions
Genealogies of the Touchet and Stanley Families
Introduction: Castlehaven Redux
1. A Household Kept unto Itself
2. A Debauched Son of a Noble Family
3. A Verdict, but No Resolution
4. A Household Broke Beyond Repair
5. Retellings
6. Conclusions
Appendix A: The Jurors
Appendix B: Verses
Appendix C: Genealogy of Manuscripts and Pamphlets
Bibliography of Sources Cited

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