Running Head A House in Gross Disorder

Last Updated: 24 Mar 2020
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In the book ‘A House in Gross Disorder’ C.B. Herrup presents a unique vision on the problems of social order and morality, class values and social laws during the 17th century. The book is based on real life events which took place in England in 1630.

The second Earl of Castlehaven was accused in immoral conduct, sexual harassment and sodomy, and executed. Herrup vividly portrays that the trial and verdict were aimed to warn nobility and the society against immoral behavior and sodomy. The book consists of 6 chapters devoted to different aspects and problems of social order and sexual relations during the 17th century.

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In spite of the fact that the book is concentrated on the trial of the Second Earl of Castlehaven, Herrup proposes readers a vivid description of the civil society, its value and traditions.

Through the case of Castlehaven, Herrup shows that the Stuart England ‘suffered’ from sodomy and seductive sexual relations between husbands and wives. In the Stuart period, however, relationships with slaves received far more attention and became the normative image of pederasty. Herrup underlines that some sources criticize expenditure on attractive slaves as extravagant and unbefitting simplicity; this political critique is replaced by a moral critique of the slave's treatment.

Herrup writes: “Rape and sodomy were crimes of both great and little importance in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England. Scriptural and classical history offered examples of their dire public consequences; sermons and literature rehearsed the dangers for contemporaries “(p. 26). Masters’ involvement with their own slave boys was frequently objectionable to their wives, which may be evidence of considerable personal intimacy and affection in such relationships.

Another important theme of the book is that women were the most unprotected category which experienced violence within the institution of marriage. Among this group of women sexual abuse and physical violence were the main forms of humiliation and oppression. Herrup cites example of domestic violence and abuse, rape and beating. Under the trial of the Second Earl of Castlehaven, it was found that Castlehaven allowed one of his servants to rape his wife.

This fact vividly portrays deep-structured inequalities — between men and women. “The prosecutions of Castlehaven and Broadway for raping the Countess of Castlehaven are a powerful example of how difficult it was for early modern women, however privileged, to have an effective legal voice” (Herrup, 1999, p. 147).   Culturally, women were used to be oppressed. Their culture was called culture of silence because they had no rights to protect their dignity and freedom used to cultural norms followed by generations.

The aim of the trial was to unveil social misconduct and sexual abuse committed by nobility. On the other hand, it was aimed to warn high classes against cross-class sex and social misconduct. To be sure, this fact featured a variety of discrete practices in this regard, each of which enjoyed differing levels of acceptance depending on the time and place.

The cross-class sex common among men was not the same as relationships between men and adolescent slaves or male prostitutes. “Platonic love” was not the same as a physically consummated relationship.

Age-differential pairings were not the same as age-equal relations, whether between adults or adolescents. “Castlehaven's trial changed the lives of all the principals, accusers as well as accused, dramatically and irrevocably. Closure was elusive and unpredictable in a scandal that breached as many conventions as did this one” (Herrup, 1999, p. 99).

Same-gender love among males was not the same as that among females. Not only was there a widespread perception that individuals were characterized by their sexual preference, but there is considerable evidence that like-minded individuals congregated in social venues conducive to pursuing their mutual interests.

Another important theme of the book is relationships between Catholics and Irish.  A powerful church generated an equally powerful consciously anticlerical opposition. The religious diversity meant that those who opposed the close ties between the established churches and the ruling class could pro­duce sects and denominations better suited to their own interests and to their vision of the world.

Radicals and reformers might oppose the particular privileges of the state churches without becoming alienated from religion itself. Hence secularization has taken the form, not of strong and principled opposition to the churches or to religion in general, but of indifference. Herrup (1999) underlines that: ’this is a case about gender, law, and politics as well as about sex, religion, and culpability.

The broader perspective makes sense out of what are otherwise discordant elements “(p. 146). A religious society was replaced not by a self-consciously secular one but by a society which paid occasional lip-service to Christian­ity and by a culture in which people claimed attachment to religious ideas and beliefs. As Herrup suggests, the commonsense view was that morality was based on religion and was primarily about regulation.  Also, Herrup unveils a weak power of King Charles I and the Court.

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Running Head A House in Gross Disorder. (2016, Jun 29). Retrieved from

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