Cover image for A house in gross disorder : sex, law, and the 2nd Earl of Castlehaven
A house in gross disorder : sex, law, and the 2nd Earl of Castlehaven
Herrup, Cynthia B.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xvi, 216 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Reading Level:
1390 Lexile.
Format :


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KD372.C37 H47 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Sex, privilege, corruption, and revenge--these are elements that we expect to find splashed across today's tabloid headlines. But in 17th century England, a sex scandal in which the 2nd Earl of Castlehaven was executed for crimes so horrible that "a Christian man ought scarce to name them"threatened the very foundations of aristocratic hierarchy. In A House in Gross Disorder, Cynthia Herrup presents a strikingly new interpretation both of the case itself and of the sexual and social anxieties it cast into such bold relief. Castlehaven was convicted of abetting the rape of his wife and of committing sodomy with his servants. 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, theriotousness presided over by Castlehaven was the most damning evidence against him. Castlehaven himself argued that he was the victim of an impatient son, an unhappy wife, and courtiers greedy for his lands. Eschewing simple conclusions about guilt or innocence, Herrup focuses instead on thefascinating legal, social and political dynamics of the case and its subsequent retellings. In prose as riveting as the moral and legal dramas it depicts, A House in Gross Disorder reconsiders a scandal that still speaks to contemporary anxieties about sex, good governance, and the role of law in regulating both.

Author Notes

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.

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

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.√ĄRobert C. Moore, Raytheon Electronic Systems, Sudbury, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. vii
Abbreviations and Conventionsp. ix
Prefacep. xiii
Introduction Castlehaven Reduxp. 1
Chapter 1 a Household Kept Unto Itselfp. 9
Chapter 2 a Debauched Son of a Noble Familyp. 25
Chapter 3p. 63
Chapter 4 a Household Broke Beyond Repairp. 99
Chapter 5 Retellingsp. 115
Chapter 6 Conclusionsp. 144
Appendix A the Jurorsp. 155
Appendix B Versesp. 160
Appendix C Genealogy of Manuscripts and Pamphletsp. 165
Notesp. 170
Indexp. 212