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Legal history: England & common law tradition: Treason

Trials & cases

For State Trials series see separate page in this guide.

Law reports with KB or AC in citation can be read online in either/both the databases below.
All ER reports are only available via LexisLibrary - in the case of Joyce below, you don't have to read both versions: the AC report is considered the more authoritative

R v Lynch [1903] 1 KB 444
R v DeJager [1907] AC
R v Ahlers [1915] 1 KB 616
R v Casement [1917] 1 KB 98

Joyce v DPP [1946] AC 347, [1946] 1 All ER 186

High Treason

In English common law there was also petty treason - for example when a wife killed her husband (but not vice versa), or a servant his/her master/mistress. 

High Treason against the reigning sovereign.

Until 1814 the particular heinousness of the crime could mean the convicted traitor suffered hanging, drawing, and quartering.
Remained a capital offence until the bringing into force of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 c 37 s 36, when replaced by life imprisonment.

Attainder meant that the punishment could extend to the next generation: heirs of traitors could be prevented from inheriting property or titles.

Treason Act 1351 (25 Edw 3 stat 5 c 2)
(a) conspiracy to kill the sovereign, his queen, or the heir apparent;
(b) violating the royal blood line
(c) fighting  against the sovereign within the sovereign's kingdoms, helping his enemies
(d) the killing of certain officers of state ( Lord Chancellor, Lord High Treasurer, judges)  when they are carrying out their official functions

Henry VIII
The Treason Legislation of Henry VIII (1531-1534): Alexander Prize Essay, 1916
I. D. Thornley Transactions of the Royal Historical Society Vol. 11 (1917), pp. 87-123

Some of the subsequent legislation on treasonable offences

Treason Act 1702 (1 Anne stat 2 c 21)
Treason Act 1790 (30 Geo 3 c 48)
Treason Act 1795 (36 Geo 3 c 7)
Treason Act 1814 (54 Geo 3 c 146)
Treason Act 1842 (5 & 6 Vict c 51)
Treason Felony Act 1848 (11 & 12 Vict c 12)


Texts on topic

Subject searches to use in SOLO
Treason -- Great Britain -- History
Trials (Treason) -- Great Britain