A House in Gross Disorder

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

3.48 (79 ratings by Goodreads)
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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, the riotousness 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 the fascinating 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.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 232 pages
  • 139.7 x 210.82 x 15.24mm | 317.51g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Revised ed.
  • 0195139259
  • 9780195139259
  • 2,092,123

About Cynthia B. Herrup

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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Review quote

"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 adn 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 "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 teh 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 'Irresistible ... a terrific story, well told.' Marcel Berlins, Mail on Sunday, 9.1.2000 Her review of the documents is exhaustive and scrupulous, and her style is as compelling as the drama she reconstructs. * Rictor Norton, Gay Times, May 2000 * "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 Saint Foucalt "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
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Rating details

79 ratings
3.48 out of 5 stars
5 10% (8)
4 44% (35)
3 33% (26)
2 9% (7)
1 4% (3)
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