Treason Act 1397
The Treason Act 1397 (21 Ric.2 c. 12) was an Act of the Parliament of England. It was supplemented by six other Acts (21 Ric.2 cc. 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 20). The seven Acts together dealt with high treason.
This legislation was passed during the final years of King Richard II's turbulent reign. The main Act (c.12) was a lengthy document setting out several new crimes which were to be treason. Another Act (c.3) confirmed that to "compasseth or purpose the death of the king, or to depose him," as well as the making of war against him in his realm, were treasonous acts. This act went further than the Treason Act 1351, which required that the offence be proved "of open deed." A third Act (c.4) also made it treason "to attempt to repeal any Judgments made by Parliament against certain traitors" (i.e. acts of attainder). A fourth Act (c.6) disqualified the sons of traitors from sitting in Parliament or the King's Council. A fifth Act (c.7) voided all "Annuities, Fees, Corodies, and all other Charges made or granted" by traitors after the date of the treason they were convicted of. A sixth Act (c.2) made it treason to set up any commission which was prejudicial to the king (this was in response to a commission of Lords Appellant which had been set up by Parliament in 1386, against Richard's will). The last Act (c.20) made it treason to "pursue to repeal any of these statutes."
The new treasons created by Richard were abolished by another Act passed in the first year of his successor, Henry IV (1399), which returned the law of treason to what it had been under the Treason Act 1351. This Act explained the reason for the repeal:
|“||...Whereas in the said Parliament holden the said one and twentieth Year of the said late King Richard, divers Pains of Treason were ordained by Statute, in as much that there was no Man which did know how he ought to behave himself, to do, speak, or say, for Doubt of such Pains, It is accorded and assented by the King, the Lords and Commons aforesaid, that in no Time to come any Treason be judged otherwise, than it was ordained by the Statute of his noble Grandfather King Edward the Third, whom God assoil.||”|
The jurist Sir William Blackstone wrote in his Commentaries on the Laws of England:
|“||The most arbitrary and absurd [treason] of all which was by the statute 21 Ric. II. c. 3. which made the bare purpose and intent of killing or deposing the king, without any overt act to demonstrate it, high treason. And yet so little effect have over-violent laws to prevent any crime, that within two years afterwards this very prince was both deposed and murdered.||”|
Detail of provisions
21 Ric.2 c. 3 created four kinds of treason:
- to "compasseth or purposeth the Death of the King,"
- "or to depose him,"
- "or to render up his Homage or Liege,"
- "or [to] ... raiseth People and rideth against the King to make War within his Realm ..."
The Act declared that the procedure for prosecuting someone for any of these was by attainder in Parliament.
21 Ric.2 c. 12 repealed everything done by the parliament of 1387 (11 Ric.2) and declared that the people who had been responsible for it were traitors. Moreover, it was declared to be treason for Parliament to impeach any of the king's officers without his consent, or for Parliament to continue to deliberate after the king dissolved it.
- The Statutes of the Realm, vol. 2 (1816)
- Complete original Norman French text as enacted, with translation
- William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765–1769) Book IV, chapter 6: "Of High Treason." "But, as this compassing or imagination is an act of the mind, it cannot possibly fall under any judicial cognizance, unless it be demonstrated by some open, or overt, act."
- Samuel Rezneck, "Constructive Treason by Words in the Fifteenth Century", American Historical Review 33 (1927), pp. 544-552. "Before 1352 as after, the essence of treason is to be found in the intent to compass the death of the king; everything else, words included, was to be regarded as the outward manifestation and as the proof of that intent." Rezneck added that the fifteenth-century indictment for treason "was a narrative tending toward exhaustive comprehensiveness," and that when spoken words were changed they were part of a "manifold narrative" designed to establish the compassing and imagining of the king's death. See also J G Bellamy, The Law of Treason in England in the Later Middle Ages, CUP, Appendix I (2004 ed.) , especially pp. 120-123
- 10 Ric 2 c. 1 (1386)
- 1 Hen.4 c. 10
- Book IV chapter 6