Treason Act 1842

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The Treason Act 1842[1]
Long titleAn Act for providing for the further Security and Protection of Her Majesty's Person.
Citation5 & 6 Vict. c.51
Territorial extentUnited Kingdom
Royal assent16 July 1842
Status: Amended
Text of statute as originally enacted
Text of the Treason Act 1842 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from

The Treason Act 1842 (5 & 6 Vict. c.51) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. It was passed early in the reign of Queen Victoria. It was last used in 1981 to prosecute Marcus Sarjeant.


On 29 May 1842, Victoria was riding in a carriage along The Mall, London, when John Francis, described by Victoria's husband Prince Albert as a "little, swarthy, ill-looking rascal ... of the age of twenty-six to thirty, with a shabby hat and of dirty appearance",[2] aimed a pistol at her but did not fire. The following day, Victoria drove the same route, though faster and with a greater escort, in a deliberate attempt to provoke Francis to take a second aim and catch him in the act. As expected, Francis shot at her, but he was seized by plain clothes policemen, tried, and convicted of high treason. Francis's death sentence was commuted to transportation for life on 1 July. Two days later, in a similar attack, John William Bean fired a pistol at the Queen, but it was loaded only with paper and tobacco.[3]

Edward Oxford, who had shot at Victoria in 1840, felt that the attempts were encouraged by his acquittal on the grounds of insanity two years before.[4] Bean's assault, though physically harmless, was still punishable by death. Feeling that such a penalty was too harsh, Albert encouraged Parliament to pass a law recognising lesser crimes against the monarch, such as intent to alarm.[5] Bean was sentenced to 18 months in jail.[6]

Section 1[edit]

In 19th century Britain, treason had its own special rules of evidence and procedure, which made it difficult to prosecute traitors successfully, such as the requirement that the prosecution produce two witnesses to the same overt act, or that three judges preside at the trial. (See Treason Act 1695 for details.) The Treason Act 1800 relaxed these rules in relation to attempts on the King's life, bringing the rules in such cases in line with the less restrictive rules which then existed in ordinary murder cases. Section 1 of the 1842 Act went further, removing the special rules in all cases of treason involving any attempt to wound or maim the Queen.

This section was repealed on 15 June 1945 by the Treason Act 1945.[7] This repeal was consequential on the extension of the ordinary rules of evidence and procedure to all forms of treason by section 1 of that Act.

Section 2[edit]

This section is still in force. It created a new offence (less serious than treason) of assaulting the Queen, or of having a firearm or offensive weapon in her presence with intent to injure or alarm her or to cause a breach of the peace. In 1981, Marcus Sarjeant was sentenced to five years on pleading guilty to firing blank shots at the Queen when she was on parade.


A person convicted of an offence under this section is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years.[8] An attempt to assault or alarm the monarch was made punishable by flogging and up to seven years' imprisonment.[9] No-one who violated the act was ever flogged.[10]

Relevant cases

R v. Francis (1842) 4 State Tr N.S. 1376
R v. Bean (1842) 4 State Tr N.S. 1382
R v. Hamilton (1849) 7 State Tr N.S. 1130
Pate's Case (1850) 8 State Tr N.S. 1

Section 3[edit]

This section is also still in force, and provides that section 2 does not affect the penalty for treason. However, although under the Treason Act 1795 many kinds of assault on the Queen were treason, that Act was repealed in 1998. Under the present law, in Great Britain it is now only treason to "compass or imagine" the Queen's death. Consequently, assaulting the Queen is only treason if it proves that state of mind.

In Northern Ireland intending or causing "any bodily harm" to the Queen remains treason under the Treason Act (Ireland) 1537.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ This short title was conferred by the Short Titles Act 1896, section 1 and the first schedule.
  2. ^ Hibbert, p. 422
  3. ^ Hibbert, pp. 422–423; St Aubyn, pp. 162–163
  4. ^ Hibbert, p. 423; St Aubyn, p. 163
  5. ^ St Aubyn, p. 163
  6. ^ Hibbert, p. 423
  7. ^ Section 2(1) and the Schedule.
  8. ^ The Treason Act 1842, section 2; the Penal Servitude Act 1857, section 2; the Criminal Justice Act 1948, section 1(1); the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1953, section 1(1); the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1975, section 221(1)
  9. ^ Treason Act 1842 (c.51), The National Archives, 16 July 1842, retrieved 18 September 2008
  10. ^ Poole, pp. 199–203

External links[edit]