2nd Earl of Castlehaven (1617-1631)
Born c 1592 Died 1631
Some necessary factual background
The Touchets or Tuchets were a venerable old Anglo-Norman family whose roots stretched back to the time of William the Conqueror, and for good measure could also claim to trace their descent back to Coel Hen, the Old King Cole of nursery rhyme fame.
In the fourteenth century one of their number, Sir John Touchet married a Joane Audley and thereby came into possession of the barony of Audley. It was one of his descendants George Touchet, the 8th Touchet Lord Audley, who became a governor of Utrecht and fought at the battle of Kinsale in 1601 and afterwards participated in the Plantation of Ulster, and was thererafter raised to the peerage in the Irish House of Lords as Baron Audley of Orier and Earl of Castlehaven on the 6th September 1616. George Touchet died not long afterwards in March 1617, and was succeeded by his eldest son Mervyn Touchet.
Now Mervyn came to be the 2nd Earl at the age of twenty-four; he inherited a decent sized fortune from his father and he also had an estate at Fonthill in Wiltshire which he had inherited from his mother.
He was married twice; firstly to Elizabeth Barnham, the daughter and heiress of Benedict Barnham, Alderman of London, by which marriage he had three sons and three daughters; and secondly in 1624 to Anne Stanley, the daughter and coheiress of the 5th Earl of Derby. As it happens Anne Stanley was a widow, and by her previous marriage to Grey Brydges the 5th Lord Chandos of Sudeley she had a daughter named Elizabeth Brydges.
Perhaps it seemed natural to Mervyn that the best way of ensuring that all this wealth remained in the family was to marry his step-daughter Elizabeth aged twelve, to his son James Touchet, who was only thirteen himself. Whilst this might have raised a few eyebrows, it was all quite legal for the time, and if that had been the limit of his pecularities then there would be little to say on the life of Mervyn Touchet, other than he was a reasonably wealthy aristocrat who by means of two good marriages had become even more reasonably wealthy.
And now for something more interesting
Apparently on the very first night of his marriage to Anne, Mervyn called upon each one of his male servants to appear in turn before his wife, when in her own words, Mervyn instructed them "to show their Nudities, and forc'd me to look upon them, and to commend those that had the longest".
As it happens Mervyn appears to have had a strange attachment to his manservants; none of them appeared to have had any previous experience of service and were generally former sailors, vagabonds and sundry ne'r do wells who had taken his fancy. They were also extravagantly overpaid; one named Henry Skipwith was given an estate in Salisbury worth £260 per year; another named 'Amptill' was paid a salary of £500 per year, and given a dowry of £7,000 to marry one of his daughters.
The reason why Mervyn bestowed such bounty on his 'social inferiors' was simply so that they would all the more willing to participate in his little games. Not only was Henry Skipwith soon enjoying the favours of Anne Stanley but he was also soon amusing the Earl himself as Mervyn didn't appear to have any inhibitions in such matters. Mervyn even 'persuaded' his stepdaughter Elizabeth Brydges, to join in the fun and games with Henry Skipwith whilst he looked on. None of which prevented Mervyn from enjoying sexual relations with his other servants such as a Florentius Fitz-Patrick and another simply known as 'Amptill'.
Eventually Mervyn decided that another servant Giles Broadway would be the perfect choice to step into his shoes when he was gone and decided therefore that it would be a good idea for Broadway to get some practice in, so to speak, an held his wife's arms behind her back whilst Broadway took his advice.
In 1630 when James Touchet came of age, he decided that enough was enough. Perhaps he was annoyed at the treatment of his wife, perhaps he was concerned at the way in which his father was dissapating his inheritance on his favourites. But whatever the reason he brought the matter to the attention of the authorities and within six weeks Mervyn had been arrested and was locked up in the Tower of London.
Despite his status the accusations made against him were of a serious nature and it was clear that he would have to stand trial. Mervyn argued that he should be tried by a local jury in Wiltshire but was informed that as a member of the peerage he had no option than to be tried by his fellow peers.
The trial of Mervyn Touchet
It was therefore on Monday, the 29th of April 1631, that Mervyn Touchet appeared before the court with the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, Thomas Coventry appointed as Lord High Steward of England for the occasion, and charged with the twin crimes of sodomy and rape. Specifically that one two occaisions he had been seen committing sodomy with Florentius Fitz-Patrick and that he had participated in the rape of his wife by Giles Broadway.
It has to be said that no one was really bothered with such technicalities such as ensuring a fair trail and Mervyn wasn't permitted any legal representation for example, mainly because he was suspected of a far worse crime than either sodomy or rape ; that of being a Roman Catholic. As the Attorney General of the day was to explain;
when once a man indulges his lust, and prevaricates with his religion, as my Lord Audley has done, by being a Protestant in the morning, and a Papist in the afternoon, no wonder if he commits the most abominable impieties
Despite which, Mervyn still pleaded not guilty and conducted his own defence with as much vigour as he could in the circumstances. Unfortunately for Melvyn, his wife, his stepdaughter as well as Giles Broadway, and Florentius Fitz-Patrick were all called to testify against him. Their first accounts of the various goings-on made his defence a difficult job but nevertheless he soldiered on.
Although he admitted jumping into bed with both Giles Broadway, and Florentius Fitz-Patrick he claimed he had not actually penetrated anyone and therefore was not technically guilty of sodomy. (Although the court would have none of this and decided that it still came within the definition of buggery.)
As to the charge of rape he claimed that his wife Anne was simply after a younger husband (and therefore wanted rid of him) and that his son was after his money and had bribed the servants to lie against him, and that in any case a wife should not be allowed to testify against her husband.
None of which actually made much difference, as after two hours of deliberation his twenty-six fellow peers of the realm return their verdict; he was unanimously found guilty of rape and convicted of the crime of sodomy on a majority verdict of fifteen to eleven.
The sentence was of course, death. The king Charles I, allowed a stay of execution to allow Mervyn sufficient time to repent of his sins, but on Saturday, the 14th May 1631 he was beheaded on Tower Hill, still protesting his innocence.
That was not quite the end of the matter as some six weeks later at the end of June both Florentius Fitz-Patrick and Giles Broadway were similarly brought before the court to answer against charges of rape and sodomy. Florentius Fitz-Patrick seemed most agrieved at this turn of events, and pleaded not guilty, asking who were his accusers. To which of course the Lord Chief Justice Nicholas Hyde replied that he was his own accuser, drawing his attention to his testimony during the trial against his former master. Fitz-Patrick's protestations against self incrimination were brushed aside and both he and Broadway were both sentenced to death.
(One of the reason that Fitz-Patrick was so upset was that one of the judges, Lord Dorset, had promised him immunity from prosecution in return for his testimony against Mervyn.)
Actually Fitz-Patrick's protest on the question of self-accusation hit a legal nerve and Charles I ordered the executions to be halted whilst he considered the matter. He sought the advice of Thomas Fenshaw one fo the judges in the case who persuaded the king that the kingdom was best rid of such people and hang the legal niceties.
The execution therefore proceeded as planned, and as mere commoners, both Broadway and Fitz-Patrick were hanged at Tyburn on Wednesday, the 6th July 1631.
The trial was of course a very public affair and naturally attracted a great deal of interest; there were dozens of contemporary accounts of the trial published together with a great number of pamphlets concentrating on the more lurid details of the case. This has since been retold at frequent intervals thereafter often appropriated by various political causes who want to make a point.
As to James Touchet, his father's conviction of a capital crime rendered his titles forfeit, but as no one blamed James on the 3rd Jun 1633 he was granted the title Lord Audley of Heleigh, and was eventually restored to his father's dignities in 1634, becoming the 3rd Earl of Castlehaven and the 10th Lord Audley. Unfortunately by that time almost all of his father's wealth had been dissipated, and so James became a professional soldier to make ends meet and eventually wrote an acount of his life entitled Memoirs from the year 1642 to the year 1651" also known as Lord Castlehaven's Memoirs".
- Mervyn Touchet (2nd E. Castlehaven)
- Rictor Norton, "The Trial of Mervyn Touchet, Earl of Castlehaven, 1631", The Great Queens of History, 27 September 2001 http://www.infopt.demon.co.uk/touchet.htm>
- Rictor Norton. The Trial of Mervyn Touchet, Earl of Castlehaven 1631