Treason, Slander and Sedition
.in medieval England the social order mirrored the hierarchy of the church and the state. Age, economic
status, gender all play a role in determining one’s place in the natural order. Threat of disorder: upsets
the natural order and threatens to undo the fabric of society. Treason attacks the heart of the social
.treason act of 1351: Edward iii
.sets up the basic mechanisms and legal procedure for prosecution of high treason for the next several
centuries inclues: compassing or imagining the death of the king or the king’s wife or heir, violating the
king’s wife, eldest daughter or wife of heir, levying war against the realm supporting the king’s enemies,
killing the chancellor or other high officials.
Prosecution and punishment
.gendered punishment: men were hung, drawn or quartered. Women were burnt at the stake.
Considered punishment of the highest degree
.the attack of a subordinate against their supporters. Like high treason, petty treason undermines the
social fabric of early modern Britain. Petty treason is a highly gendered crime. Women were 10 times
more likely to be prosecuted for petty treason than men. Although petty treason involved killing, it was
not considered to be a crime of murder until after the 1630s. no justification for the crime of treason,
petty or high. Women convicted of petty treason are burnt at the stake.
Sins of the tongue
.speech as a performative act. Situation altering effects of words. The tongue as a double-edged sword.
Crimes of speech because there was no freedom of speech for attacks against the hierarchy, speech can
be bad if it shows an intent. Te idea of speech as a freedom changes over time, in 16-17 century being
free with ones seech was considered a dangerous state and with the potential to disrupt the natural
Sedition, slander, scolding: crimes of speech
.scolding: disruptive speech in the public sphere. Was a gendered offense reserved for women mostly
.defatation and slander: attacks the reputation of others in the community through insults. Reputation
played an important role in the social order, attacking a man’s honesty could influence a man’s
reputation negatively. For women sexual respectability was more important and calling them a whore
would hurt them socially. Crimes against a second party, not against the state.
Scandalum magnatum: slander directed at a social superior Sedition or treason: directed at monarch or authority of the crown. Seditious speech vs seditious libel
(oral vs printed slander). Was believed to attack god’s will on earth
Prosecution and punishment of speech
.1275 statute of westminister: criminalizes rumour and ‘devisors of tales’. 1378 statute of Gloucester:
criminalizes the speaking of slander. 1351 treason act: unclear on whether seditious speech is
specifically encompassed in this act’s definition of treason. Interpretation of this law and the inclusion of
speech as treason changes from monarch to monarch throughout the period. Prosecution: seditious
speech generally considered a high misdemeanor but at times prosecuted as high treason. Punishment:
The divine right of kings
.james I and vi the true law of free monarchies and basilikon doron. Treason as an offense against divine
order as well as social order. Private words made public: public spectacle of punishment sometimes
counter-effective, suppression of seditious speech in trials. Efforts were made in the 17 century and
below to suppress the testimony of the trial in seditious cases.
Charles I and the british civil war
.prosecution of treasonous words and acts increase under Charles I. role of printing press in spreading
seeds of sedition. Sedition in speech and print again seen as treasonous acts
The role of revolution
.shift in understanding of treason. Resistance theory: Edward coke who believed that the king shouldn’t
be protected by the divine right of kings but be tried by the same laws as everyone else. Re-imagining of
the social order. Treason is no longer an attack on the monarch but the usurping of authority of the
realm. Petty treason is also redefined. Now seen as justifiable like high treason, in resistance to a