A web-based edition of early seventeenth-century political poetry from manuscript sources. It brings into the public domain over 350 poems, many of which have never before been published.
On 25 April 1631, Mervin Touchet, 2nd Earl of Castlehaven, was tried before a jury of his peers assembled at a specially convened Court of the Lord High Steward. He was charged with horrific crimes. The prosecution claimed that Castlehaven had arranged for his second wife—Anne Stanley, daughter of William Stanley, Earl of Derby, and widow of Grey Brydges, Baron Chandos—to be raped by a servant, Giles Broadway. The prosecution also contended that Castlehaven had committed sodomy with another of his manservants, Florence (or Lawrence) Fitzpatrick. Despite serious problems with the evidence against the Earl, some of which he exploited in his vigorous self-defence, the jury of twenty-seven peers of the realm found Castlehaven guilty on both charges. He was executed for his crimes on 14 May 1631, beheaded on Tower Hill.
The Castlehaven case was by far the most sensational aristocratic scandal of the 1630s, determinedly prosecuted by a king intent on enforcing much stricter codes of sexual morality. Cynthia Herrup has brilliantly reinterpreted the case in a recent study and has persuasively reconstructed the prosecution’s interpretation of Castlehaven’s crimes as threats to the patriarchal order. “The Castlehaven trial”, she writes, “despite the unimportance of its defendant (or perhaps because of it), became a canvas upon which an entire palette of social anxieties could be exhibited” (86-87). Six verse libels written in the wake of the scandal survive. The most popular—an epitaph written in Castlehaven’s voice—replicates the Earl’s defence in court, charging his wife with adultery and conspiracy against him. A second verse supports some of the epitaph’s allegations, while two others—written in the voice of the aggrieved Countess—directly counter them. Two other poems dwell on the performance of justice in the Castlehaven case, one mocking the proceedings and noting the legal weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, the other praising the proceedings and vilifying Castlehaven’s monstrous transgressions. Herrup (120-23) offers a concise and convincing reading of the libels and (160-64) prints modernized copies of the surviving poems.
We have relied on Herrup for a number of references to additional copies of the libels, in manuscripts which we have not been able to check. These manuscripts are: NCRO MS IL 3337; WCRO MS 413; TCD MS 731; Beinecke MS Osborn b.125; Beinecke MS Osborn b.126; Beinecke MS Osborn b.196. Unfortunately, some of Herrup’s references do not include folio or page numbers.