Article Title:History: Sex, Scandal and the Seventeenth Century
Author or Credit:Craig Young
Published on:1st October 2006 - 12:00 pm
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Story ID:1434
Text:King James VI/I (1567/1603-1625) presided over a tarnished court, and standards of sexual ethics weren't particularly high, no matter what sexual orientation one was, by modern standards. Melvyn Touchet (1592-1631) was the Second Earl of Castlehaven and a 'sodomite,' who raped and abused his wife, and led two male servants, Henry Skipwith and Giles Broadway, in separate instances of gang rape, as well as carrying on with servants of both sexes. Castlehaven wasn't a gay or bisexual man as we'd recognise the term. According to Alan Bray, 'molly houses' started to emerge during the Restoration, but that was thirty years, and a civil war, away. Instead, Castlehaven's polymorphous and predatory sexuality was enough to have him branded a 'sodomite.' His case seems exemplary proof that as Mark Jordan has frequently noted, 'sodomy' is nothing more than a premodern, prescientific hodgepodge of all and sundry distinct sexual identities and practices that has no real meaning in contemporary debates about sexual identity. Castlehaven was apprehended for his crimes, tried and executed. Mind you, heterosexual nobility didn't behave themselves particularly well during the period either. However, if one was a royal favourite, one could get away with anything. James VI/I had considerable affection for his male favourites, one of the first who was Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset (d.1645). Carr was bisexual, and also interested in one Frances Howard (1593-1632), who was also married to Lord Thomas Overbury (1581-1613) at the time. Carr and Frances resorted to poison to rid themselves of her first husband, hence the truncated deathdate in his case. After a series of trials, Frances was accquited, but could never quite shake the taint attached to her name, particularly after Carr and King James interfered with the course of justice on her behalf. Eventually, the events took their tool, and she died at thirty-nine. All in all, these sorry scandals tell us something about sexuality, gender, class and sexual violence in Jacobean England. Is there a moral to these stories? Apparently, if you belonged to the right class of heterosexuals back then, you could get away with murder. Recommended Reading: Alan Bray: Homosexuality in Renaissance England: London: Gay Men's Press: 1982. Cynthia Herrup: A House in Gross Disorder: Sex, Law and the Second Earl of Castlehaven: New York: Oxford University Press: 1999. Mark Jordan: The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology: Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 1997. Anne Somerset: Unnatural Murder: Poison at the Court of James I: London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson: 1997. Craig Young - 1st October 2006    
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