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A House in Gross Disorder

Mervyn Touchet (aka Mervyn Audley), 2nd Earl of Castlehaven and 12th Lord Audley, married an heiress, Elizabeth, daughter of Benedict Barnham, a merchant in London. When she died he married again, in 1624, Anne Stanley, daughter and coheiress of the 5th Earl of Derby by Alice, the daughter of Sir John Spencer of Althorpe (ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales). Lady Anne was a widow with a daughter from her previous husband, Grey Brydges, Baron Chandos of Sudeley, and it was found advantageous that this daughter, Elizabeth, although but 12 years old, should marry James, Lord Audley, the Earl's son from his first marriage. Elizabeth was thus both the Earl's step-daughter and his daughter-in-law, and she was very young.

That is the cast but, no, not really, for the servants should not be forgotten ~ Henry Skipwith (who survived), Laurence Fitz Patrick (who did not), Giles Browning (who went to Tyburn also) and ....... well, with orgies, it is sometimes difficult to count.

The facts began to emerge in an odd way. Lord Audley in the autumn of 1630 laid a formal complaint before the Privy Council alleging that his father planned to disinherit him. He stated that the Earl had given property worth £12,000 (a lot of money then) to Henry Skipwith, a servant, and that the Earl encouraged Skipworth, and other servants, to service the Countess.

Countess of Castlehaven
Countess of Castlehaven

More was to be revealed. At the trial the Earl was accused of sodomy with two other servants, one of whom he had helped rape his Countess. The Earl and the two servants were executed, but Henry Skipwith was not charged, even though his name featured many times in the evidence, not only as the Countess's regular lover, but also as the lover, at the Earl's connivance, of Lady Audley, then 15 years old, and also as one who slept regularly with the Earl.

In her book A House in Great Disorder: Sex, Law, and the 2nd Earl of Castlehaven the author, Professor Cynthia B. Herrup, argues that the Earl's death sentence was owed more to his dismantling of the social barriers than to his sexual preferences. In a society in which so much still depended on the inheritance of land, privilege and obligations, such a flagrant flouting of its principles, especially in respect of the Earl's evident willingness to accept any offspring of the Countess as being his own, could not be countenanced. A measure of the horror it generated may be seen in the way in which Sir Bernard Burke sanitized the situation ~

MERVYN TOUCHET, 2nd Earl of Castlehaven and 12th Lord Audley. This nobleman being accused of certain high crimes, and ....... thereupon arraigned, had sentence of death passed upon him, and was executed accordingly on Tower Hill, 14 May 1631.

Professor Herrup has not included those very graphic details of exactly who was doing what to whom, when and how, that are available in State Trials, but she has nevertheless written a very good account of a fascinating trial and the impact of the evidence presented both on contemporary society and on the perceptions of subsequent generations.
The Earl's pronominal arms
A House in Great Disorder: Sex, Law, and the 2nd Earl of Castlehaven by
Cynthia B. Herrup (ISBN 0195125185) may be ordered from Amazon by clicking here
The Spencer Family
(continued on the next page)
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