The Rest Is History

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247. Medieval Treason

October 30, 2022



Join Tom and Dominic at the National Archives as they explore the history of treason in Britain, going right back to the 1351 treason act. How has treason changed since its inception? Why are traitors hanged, drawn, and quartered? What impact did the reformation have upon treason? As these questions are answered, the story will interlink with some of the biggest characters in British history: Richard III, Henry VIII, James I, and more!

Treason: People, Power and Plot opens at The National Archives on 5th November and runs until 6th April. It is free to all. For all information and to delve deeper please visit

This episode is sponsored by the National Archives.

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Producer: Callum Hill

Exec Producer: Jack Davenport


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Today's episode of The Rest is History on treason in medieval and Tudor England is sponsored by The National Archives. Enjoy the show.

Hello and welcome to The Rest is History and Dominic. This has been a month absolutely full of news, has it not? I mean, one could say there's been an excess of news.

You can never have too much news, Tom.

Well, so I don't know if you saw a couple of a few weeks back in the Sunday Times, one of the many papers for which you write.

Of course, I must have read every word.

Well, so did you notice this, that there was a report about the treason laws?

And it said ministers are planning to, amid all the other things they're planning, ministers are planning to update Britain's 650-year-old treason laws so they can be used to prosecute jihadis, hackers, and other malign actors who swear allegiance to a hostile foreign power.

You will recall that I was described as a malign actor by the Scotsman at the Edinburgh Festival, Tom, for my performance as Thomas Beckett, a man who himself had his issues with the monarchy.

Well, it would be very exciting if bad acting could be included in the remit of the treason act.

You'll marry him in your own personation.

So I guess that what they're talking about there is particularly, I mean, the notorious case is Shamima Begum, isn't it, the girl who went out from London to become a jihadi bride and the ISIS Beatles, again, the people from Britain who went out pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, burned their passports, all that kind of stuff, and the difficulty of applying the treason law.

But I guess the thing that really stands out maybe for lots of people is that there is a treason law and that it is 650 years old.

That's a good story, isn't it?

Now, people may have noticed, Tom, from the unusual, the extraordinary charge, The Intimacy, I think, the intimacy of our opening banter that we're actually in the same room for months.

Gazing into each other's eyes.

It's incredibly moving. You have to be here, really.

We are at the National Archives, aren't we, Tom?

And does it have anything to do with treason, Dominic?

It does. Let me just say this.

Tom, have you been to the National Archives before as a top historian?

I've never been.

Never been to.

Tom, this is a very exciting and moving moment.

So we're at the National Archives and they have an amazing new exhibition.

It's starting this autumn and it's all about...

On the 5th of November, I think.

All about treason.

So we thought we would come along...

The perfect start. The 5th of November.

There you go.

So we thought we would come along in Guy Fawkes style, have a little look.

And Tom, we are very, very fortunate because we are joined by an absolute top treason expert, one of the men behind the exhibition. It is, of course, Ewan Roger.

Ewan, thank you so much for joining us on The Rest is History.


It's a great pleasure to have you on the show.

So is this something that you've always been into?

Have you always been had a sort of treacherous heart?

It's, I think, treason legislation and the treason act and this treason exhibition that we've been working on, it really brings in so many different things about medieval modern history.

I think it's almost impossible not to be fascinated by some of the subjects that it covers.

Yeah, it's been just exciting to try and dig into some of these stories and tell that long, long history.

So Tom, you did, in characteristic Tom Holland fashion, I know you've done loads of preparation on Roman treason, which sadly, which sadly we won't have time for today.

But maybe we'll come to it in some way.

The idea of treason has obviously been, treason has been a crime that's different from other crimes.

That's been around for a long time, right?

Yeah, so concept of treason have been around for a really, really long time.

In England, it's Alfred the Great that we really start to see what we might think of as high treason, distinguishing the crown from the nobility.

But concept of treason have been around forever, really, that idea of betrayal, that idea of someone letting you down or levying war against you or plotting your death.

It really, it's been around for a very long time.

Could I just very briefly mention the Romans?

And you're going to.

So they had this idea of Maestas, Lace Majesty, the idea that you commit an offense against the majesty of the Roman people.

And that's something that exists under the Republican system of government.

But then when the Caesars come to power, it starts to be applied by individual emperors to take out their enemies.

And so an idea that you can commit treason against the state starts to narrow down and become the idea that you commit treason against an individual ruler.

But in England and then ultimately Britain, it's the other way around, isn't it?

Over the span of the centuries, this 650 years that the treason act has been in existence, to begin with, it's very focused on the figure of the monarch.

And now we would understand treason as being something that is targeted against the whole country, against all the people within the country.

Do you think that would be a kind of fair way of putting it?

Yeah, so one of the things I think we've drawn out by doing such a long history in one exhibition is how these ideas change and develop over time.

Because as you say, ideas from the Roman system, like Lace Majesty, don't really get picked up as much in England as they do in, say, France, where it becomes a much more central part of the system.

But in England, particularly in the period up to the 14th century, it's really undefined.

And then we start to see this development first against the crown and then moving into treason against the state.

So could we look at how the act that comes in in 1351, the backstory to that, and basically it's all about kings called Edward, isn't it?

So Edward I, very popular with the Welsh, very popular with the Scots, but it's in Wales that the kind of the form of punishment that I guess most people would associate with treason, hanging, drawing and quartering is kind of made emblematic.

And Edward I is fighting against the Welsh and there is a Welsh prince who basically, as Edward sees it, betrays him.

And could you just tell us about him and the terrible fate that is visited on him?

So Edward I is very much, he uses treason in a very personal way, I would say.

He's very, he's offended by the Welsh princes fighting back against him.

He's offended by the Scots on the northern border.

And with Daffodd Apgryffid, he very much makes this a symbolic act.

So they specifically link specific crimes to actions.

So drawing out of entrails is very much linked to specific acts, hanging someone, drawing them.

Drawing is actually the most emblematic punishment associated with treason.

Being drawn.

So what's it symbolising?

It's in a way, I guess it's a form of taking someone down, or embarrassment is the wrong word, but making someone suffer a very visible punishment.

They're drawn at a horse's tail through the town or through the city to the place of execution.

And some people were practically half dead by the time they got to the actual point of execution.

And the hanging, is that you're kind of lifting them up from the, they're no longer allowed to keep their feet on the earth, on the soil of the country.

It's spectacular.

A hanging is spectacular.

A huge crowd can see it, right, in a way that they might not be able to.

But if there's a symbolism to it as well.

Yeah, of course.

And presumably the castration element as well, you're extirpating the entire line.

So the castration, is that drawing or is that part of the drawing phase or the quartering phase?

So the drawing is actually the physical being drawn by a horse's tail.

It's not that disemboweling process.


That is often part of it.

That's often part of the punishment that is brought out.

But that's not the drawing as such.

They've almost been conflated over the years.

The hanging element is visible.

We know in some instances, for Edward II's reign, for example, that Hugh, dispensed of the younger, gets seemingly hanged on a huge, huge set of scaffolds.

So that people can see this is visible, this is public.

But they're not allowed to die at that point.

They're then brought down, often disemboweled, sometimes castrated, but not always.

And then finally, they're...


So that the four parts, they're cut into four, right?


So they'd have their heads chopped off first and then the four parts.

But again, is there a kind of symbolism that you as a traitor have aspired to remove the head of the kingdom?

So your head is removed and you have aspired to divide the kingdom.

So you yourself are divided.

Is that kind of the idea that lies behind it?

So it's difficult to tell of all of this because none of the legislation has actually defines this in the medieval period.

This is...

It's custom.

It's custom.

It's brought out in law codes, but it's never really defined, particularly while treason is undefined, prior to the 14th century.

But in terms of the quartering, that is, again, very much this visible spectacle, because these quarters are sent to...


...various places.

...New York, Norwich, Bristol, wherever.

And they're often linked to places where an individual had committed deeds or places that might be fermenting.

And we actually have one example of payments being made to make sure that these quarters were preserved and got to their intended locations without rotting in the process.

So we know that they are being sent to these places and they are being exhibited and they don't want them to...

So they're like in a barrel of wine or something like that, are they?

It's a lot of salt, I think.

Salt and lots of wrapping is the key element.

I'd volunteer for that job if you're going to do a medieval job.

Law and order.

Yeah, I'm very much about social stability.


So talking of social stability, let's move on towards some of the documents.

I know, Tom, you love the quartering, but we have to talk about some of the historical stuff, because you have the most amazing selection of documents.

You start with the treason act.

So the road to the treason act, how do we get there?

Like, why do people feel they need it?

So under Edward I, we very much get treason being used as a charge against the king's enemies, whether in Wales or...

And are they going to trial?

Are they being tried?

So this is a very interesting question, because Edward I's prosecution of these people is often relies on what's called the king's record.

So in medieval thought, you're not supposed to be accuser and sentencer in the same moment.

So Edward I comes up with this elaborate concept where essentially he presents evidence to, say, parliament, for example, and they are required to say whether these instances are classist reason.

Are they treasonous?

When they say that they are, the king takes that as this evidence being presented to him by his nobles and his justices can then proceed to sentencing.

And that is different from bills of attainder, which you mentioned the dispensers.

You know, not things you get soft drinks from.

They are powerful noblemen in the reign of Edward II, father and son.

And they get attainted, don't they?

And that's kind of slightly different, that namely the king can basically say, I'm bringing in a specific bill of attainder against you, Hugh dispenser, the elder, Hugh dispenser, the younger, and they get killed.

Except in this case, it's complicated because it's actually the king's enemies who are doing it.

Yeah, so I would say it's a dual concept.

Edward II's reign is a bit of a nightmare for treason because you get, on one hand, the king's record, on the other hand, this attainting process, and we should probably just briefly say what attainting means.

It's literally to do with a taint on someone's bloodline.

So the main way that treason is different from any other crime, murder, for example, is that nobles, states, and goods are forfeited to the crown indefinitely.

Their heirs cannot inherit.

So the crime of the father is inherited by the sons and grandsons or whatever.

Yes, very much so.

And that's what makes treason, at a moment where you're talking about nobility and the crown, that is a powerful tool.

And what you see in Edward II's reign is factionalism, favourites, utilising these charges.

Whoever's got the king's ear can use this charge, this accusation against their enemies.

And it becomes a powerful way of wiping out entire bloodlines if you have the king's ear, if you have power.

And that's really where I think the treason act comes from, because if you can charge anyone with treason, it doesn't really have a meaning anymore.

And so that's where, under Edward III's rule, we see an attempt to try and redraw that boundary in the sand to say this is acceptable, but this is not acceptable.

Okay, so that's how we get to the bill of 31.

So you've got in front of you the text, have you, of the original, this is the original text of the treason act, basically.

Yeah, so what we've got here, and this is very much the heart of our exhibition, I should say very briefly, we are actually using the date 1352 for the act of this.

And that's because under medieval concepts of time, they didn't use December as the end of the year.

Yeah, of course.

So for the medieval people, this would have taken place in 1351.

But in modern historical thought, we use 1352.

And it's very complicated because lawyers use 1351, and historians use 1352.

And at the National Archives, obviously, we have the historical documents, and we tend to use the modern historical dating.

But we also have a function of, as the, what's called, so publishing legislation.

And because that's legal thought, that uses 1351.

So let's just say the early 1350s.

So what does it specify?

What can you be, basically, what can you be done for as a traitor?

So what we have here is we have the treason act, and we have actually got two copies.

We've got the parliament roll copy, which is the kind of precursor.

And what this has is the nobles actually asking the king to define what treason is.

So it's not just coming from the king, it's coming from a request from his nobles.

And obviously, for people who can't see it, I mean, it literally is a roll.

I mean, it's a roll of parchment.

This is parchment, presumably, written on with, do you know what the ink would be?

It would be gall ink, iron gall ink, probably.

And it's written in French, in Anglo-Norman French.

And so we have the parliament roll, and in our exhibition, which is just amazing, we've got the actual first statute roll.

So when we talk about legislation today going on the statute book, we have the medieval version, literally.

And it's got so much important legislation on it that it very rarely comes out.

So it's just amazing to have it in the exhibition.

It's very much the heart of everything, this entire story that we're going through.

So as I understand it, there are six terms, is that right?

So attempting to kill or even imagining the death of the king, queen, or eldest male heir to the throne.


I mean, even imagining it, that's...

Well, Henry VIII uses that, doesn't he?


Yeah, so the term is compassing and imagining, which is a very broad term, and it gets radically reinterpreted as time goes on.


And each time you said a new precedent.

And that is still on the statute book?


Okay, and the second one also, violating the king's companion, his eldest unmarried daughter, or the eldest male heir's wife.

That's still on the statute book?

It is.

So what does that mean, violating?

Does that mean raping or what?

So it's an attempt essentially to preserve the royal bloodline.

It's to avoid any external influence on that line.

So yeah, it's very much about preserving the inheritance.

Now, I should say that that clause is still in modern legislation, but it was actually updated in 2015 to make it gender neutral, because obviously, the Succession to the Crown Act was brought in.

But what does violating mean?

I mean, does it mean...

Well, it depends your imagination, Tom.

I mean...

So I guess it depends on how you would interpret the medieval language, and people have been doing that throughout the centuries since 1352.

Many fees for the barristers there.


Beyond the monarch, it talks about what's called leviying war.

Now, this is a really interesting concept, because leviying war, this is a time when we're talking about the crown and nobles.

So we're talking about unfurling banners in battlefield in open war.

Actually, when we get to the late 14th century, the crown and the justice get into a right mess about all of this, because the peasants revolt of 1381, they think, this is treasonous, but actually, it's not leviying war, as in the way that it was defined in statute.

And so they try and prosecute the peasants under this term, but they can't really...

They can't make it stick, basically.

Yeah. In some cases, they try and make it stick, but it's a reinterpretation of this...

And is that still a statute book?

Yes, that is still a statute.

Okay, so living war against the crown in his realm, that's bad.

Adhering to the king's enemies in his own realm or elsewhere, I mean, that's what I guess ISIS people have been doing.

So it's an interesting one about how this is being written, because at this time as well, a lot of the king's nobles and the king himself claim lands in France.

So there's a very technical terminology being used here in order that if the king went to war as a noble with another noble in France, that that wouldn't be treasonous because it's not in the realm.

Presumably, the interpretation of that has evolved over over time. So if you're broadcasting for the Nazis or running off to sign up to the Caliphate, presumably those terms would still apply, would they?

It's very... I mean, this is written...

And that's still on the statute book, is it?

Yes, this is on the statute book today.

But it is... All of this is an interpretation of the Anglo-Norman French.

So we've always got to be careful about how we examine these things.

And there's a whole load of more clauses that have now been removed.

So those are the kind of key clauses, but there's also concerns about counterfeiting.

But they go very specific on the counterfeiting.

It's specific money from Luxembourg that's been brought into the kingdom.

Oh, you want to watch out for that, Luxembourg?

I want to shame that's been removed.

As someone who was born in Luxembourg, I can't say anything about that.

They should use the euro in Luxembourg now, do they?

They do, yes.

So would that count as that treasonous?

No, so this has all been taken out of the legislation.

I spent far too long writing for Britain's most popular newspaper, Tom, clearly.

So this comes in under the reign of Edward III.

And Edward III is a triumphant king, but then is succeeded by Richard II, who is a more histrionically autocratic figure, isn't he?

Yeah, you see under Edward III, you see a very strong relationship between the Crown and the Nobles.

Under Richard II, that is very much not the case, because the king is a child when he takes the throne.

And you see a lot of factionalism returning.

And we've kind of talked about that more in the exhibition.

We've actually got inventories of some of the goods that the favourites are forfeiting, including this lovely bed cover, which is embroidered with butterflies.

And that's one of the king's nobles.

It's got this butterfly bed set.

But Richard II ends up deposed by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, who becomes Henry IV.

I mean, toppling a king, an anointed king, that's the definition of treason, isn't it?

So Henry IV is a traitor, presumably.

So this is a very interesting question, because when parliament are considering all of this, and when the nobility are considering all of this around Richard's deposition, they get almost the way there, but they force them to, they depose him first.

They've, but they force him to abdicate willingly in quotations, I would say.

So it's very much, they don't take that final step.

And one of the really interesting things we've seen putting this exhibition together is that process by which in the 17th century, they will take that final step.

But under Richard II, it's not, the parliament's not quite powerful enough to do it.

They're sort of inhibited from doing it, basically.

But does that mean that in the reign of Henry IV and Henry V, if people are rushing around saying, actually, you're Yusipas, Richard II is the true king, are they being condemned as traitors?

Yeah, so we see at this time, treason, treasonous words start coming into the mix.

So this idea of compassing and imagining, it's, there's a question of what that actually means, what the action is.

What, is there an overaction of actually trying to imagine or plot or plan the death of the king?

And under Henry IV, we start to see words being brought into that, particularly words around claiming that Richard II is still alive.

So we've got an amazing bill in the exhibition of someone called John Whitelock.

And he, he says, I was with the king in Scotland, he is still alive, he should be put back on the throne.

He's a conspiracy theorist.

Well, he takes it to a great extent.

He actually offers to submit himself to all justices and put himself in the Tower of London and says, test my story.

Ooh, that's, that's a...

If you find I'm wrong, I will submit to any punishment that you ascribe to me.

But if I'm right, let me free and put Richard back on the throne.

And we don't know whether his, his claim was actually tested because he actually breaks out of the Tower of London and escapes.

What does he?

And he had an inside man who actually suffers a traitor's fate in his stead.


So the guy who helped him sneak out gets hanged drawn and quartered in his place.

That's harsh.

So before we go, in the second half, we'll talk, we'll move into the Tudors.

But before we get to break, because we've got a few minutes just before the break, can you tell us something about, because you've got some other amazing looking documents here, which are from the sort of very late part of medieval period?


So what we've got here is that extension of compassing and imagining.

So we have words, first of all, but then we have ideas about astrology, magic, necromancy as being treasonous.

Ooh, treasonous magic.

Tell me about treasonous magic.

So this is a story of Eleanor Cobham, who's often described as a royal, a royal witch.

And she is the wife of Humphrey Duke of Loster, who is the king, so Henry VI, his uncle.

And he's essentially next in line to the throne if Henry VI dies, because he hasn't got an heir at this point.

And what Eleanor and her associates are accused of doing is summoning spirits and magical demons to predict when the king will die.

So they're not predicting, they're not plotting the death of the king as such.


But that's the whole imagining the death.

Imagining the death of the king.


So they're imagining, they're trying to find work out when this will happen and when Eleanor will become queen.

And she's the one who ends up kind of game of throne style having to walk the walk of shame through the streets of Lester.

Oh, that's Cersei Lannister.


So we have, her trial is really interesting.

So we have two sides to it.

There's the trial for treason, which is slightly fudged because they don't have in precedent a way of putting a noble woman on trial at this time.


So for women, it's different.

Is it the penalty or?

So under the treason act, well, actually the treason act doesn't define the punishment of the treason.

But the tradition is that a woman would be burnt rather than hanged, drawn and quartered.

But they don't really know, under Magna Carta, nobles at this time have the right to be tried by a panel of their peers, a jury of their peers.

But it doesn't say anything about women.

So they don't really know how to try Eleanor.

So they put her on trial as a kind of associate.

They put her associates properly on trial.

But they also have this secondary religious tribunal for which we don't have the records.

And they are the ones that find her guilty of certain heresies.

And she's made to walk a public walk of shame, shame, shame, on three occasions.

You'd be very good at that, Tom.

You missed your calling.

So the documents that we have about that, what's this specific document?

In the exhibition, we've got the indictments against her associates, who are two of them are one of them is hanged, drawn and quartered.

One of them dies in prison while waiting the results.

But we've also got a story of the kind of what happens after the trial because Eleanor is a very polarizing figure.

People love her or people really do not like her.

And we have a case here recorded of someone who essentially is very pro Eleanor and anti what has happened in the trial.

And she had cost Henry the sixth while he's riding across Blackheath and essentially says, you are stupid.

The whole of England knows that you are stupid.

Send Eleanor back to her husband because as well as this public walk of shame, she's been made to divorce her husband or her marriage has been annulled because it was claimed that she used magic to seduce Humphrey in the first place.


And actually, that's probably not true.

We think it's probably a fertility medicine or fertility magic that's been used.

There's a woman called the witch next eye, Marjorie Jordan.

Witch next eye.

Next eye.

So eye is a place near Westminster.

So it's the witch that lives near Westminster.


And she is actually burnt as part of this process because she's accused of providing Eleanor with these magical potions, these magical remedies.


I mean, this is very much the kind of the traditional understanding of how medieval.

This is exactly, yeah.

As a modern historian, this is precisely our imagined medieval history to be, which is fertility rituals, people shouting that other people are stupid.

I mean, But, but having said that, I mean, Eleanor isn't burnt, is she?

I mean, she gets kind of packed off.


She's she's sent away for life imprisonment in the end.

But yeah, no, no physical punishment.

But in reaction to this, they changed the law.

So they now work out this, this naughty question they haven't got scripture before and purest of the realm are now put on trial by a jury of their male peers.


And so that will become important for the Tudors.

And the last document that we should look at before we go to the break is.

That's the best aesthetically.

It's a wonderful document issued by the first of the Tudors, Henry the Seventh.

So this is a huge role.

It's a massive role.

It's a massive role.

I mean, if you unfurled that role, Tom, I'm not exaggerating to say you could unfurl that role and it would stretch from here to the exit of the National Archives.

Yeah, you could carpet.

You could carpet the whole corridor.

You could carpet Tom Holland's house with that role.

So that's in the name of Henry the Seventh.

Who is the traitor who is being figured in that role?

So this is a very interesting document and entry.

This is the attainer of Richard the Third.

So again, that same attainting process.

Except when this is passed before Parliament, Richard's already dead because Henry has killed and defeated him at the Battle of Bosworth.

Henry the Tudor categorically a traitor at Bosworth.

He stands up against the King in open battle with banners unfurled and the King dies in that battle.

Except because Henry is now on the throne, he posthumously attains Richard the Third and he does this.

But presumably he's not calling him Richard the Third.

He's calling him Duke of Gloucester or what?

Yes, Richard Duke of Gloucester.

And what he does is he backdates the start of his reign to the day before the Battle of Bosworth.

And by doing so, he says, Richard was a traitor, I was a king, you traitorously stood against me in battle.

Right. And so I'm obviously an absolute whiz at reading medieval handwriting.

And I can't help noticing, so this one is in English, right?

Yes. So by the later half of the 15th century, these records start to appear in English rather than the Anglo-Norman or the Latin in previous years.

And so it was introduced in Parliament. Presumably Parliament is either packed with Henry supporters or, you know, people have just tailored their cloth to fit the new regimes.

So with these kinds of things, nobody would vote against them, right?

So it's interesting, with Richard the Third detainer, we actually know that there was a bit of dissent, particularly among the commons about how this was being received.

And there's, we don't have records of that in the parliamentary rolls, but we have it from other accounts that this was sore questioned with this idea.

But ultimately, Henry's in a position of power at this point and to stand against him and to go against that wouldn't really have been possible.

Okay. So the Battle of Bosworth obviously ends the Middle Ages. Modernity begins. The Tudors arrive. And I think that in the break, we'll have a break now.

And then when we come back, we'll look at how the Tudors use.

Top trees in coming out.

Top trees in coming. But if you want to see the documents that we've been discussing or any others, do come to this incredible exhibition.

Trees and people, power and plot at the National Archives, it is absolutely free. You don't even need to book it.

And you can get information on the opening hours and all that kind of stuff at the National Archives website,

We will be back with Tudor Trees and Trials.

Hey, I'm Cassie DePeckel, the host of Wondery's podcast Against the Odds.

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Hello, welcome back to the Rest is History. We are still here in the great cavernous expanse of the National Archives surrounded by partaments and rolls and all kinds of weird and wonderful things from their Trees and Exhibition.

And Tom, we have reached the top century for Trees and which is there.

No, all Trees and fans love the Tudors, don't they?

Yeah, well, we should discuss, we will get on to discussing who our favourite and least favourite Tudor traders are.

Spoiler alert, obviously Thomas Moore is a very bad man.

So, Ewan, in the first half you were taking us through a lot of medieval treason.

So, what should we start with? So, I have here, I'm rustling this piece of paper which I can, are real short people.

That's not a piece of parchment, is it?

It's not a piece of parchment. It is a printout of a transcript.

So, whereas Anne, late Queen of England, lately our wife, lately a tainted.

So, everyone knows where we're going with this. This is Anne Boleyn.

So, Anne Boleyn's treason trial, she is tried by peers, isn't she?

She is, yes.

So, she's guilty of what? Witchcraft? In fact, in the death of the King as well?

So, not witchcraft.


The accusations against her. So, we've got her trial records in the exhibition and they practically never come out.

So, this is an amazing opportunity to come and see them. They accused her of incest with her brother and other several courtiers and of plotting the death of the King and inciting them to plot the death of the King.

But there's no charges in here of witchcraft.

Even though Henry thought that, Henry put it about, didn't he, that he'd been bewitched into marriage.

But they don't, they don't think that'll stand up in court, basically.

It's not recorded in the trial proceedings.

But they do go into a lot of detail in other instances. They talk about her and her brother George and tongues in each other's mouths and all this kind of detail.

But does that count as treason? Because you're, I don't know, committing, you're cuckolding the King.

Does that come under the remit of the treason act?

So, for the men involved, it potentially does.

But for Anne, that's not necessarily a charge that would stand up.

So, which is why they have to accuse her of plotting the death of the King and inciting...

And so, that's what gets us, she's convicted of treason.


Okay, so the next question is, the penalty for a woman is to be burnt. So why is she not burnt?

So, it's described as an act of leniency on the King's behalf.

I'm not sure that's quite the way that we should be thinking about this.

But he arranges, and we have the warrant for this.

He arranges for her to be beheaded at the tower instead of being burnt.

Yeah, here, this is his, he's writing to William Kingston, the Constable of the Tower, and he says, we moved by pity, do not wish the same Anne to be committed to be burned by fire.

But we command that immediately after a seat of these presence up on the Greenwood, then our Tower of London are foresaid, the head of the same Anne shall be caused to be cut off.

Interestingly, this document is now in a book. It's bound in a book.

So, that's, it's not, it's not on a, they've dispensed with roles.

I mean, portray my ignorance of medieval archives here.

So, we have the, the trial records are on parchment rolls.


But they're actually, there's an interesting materiality to them, in that they're part of what are called the bags of secrets, or the bag of secrets.

And this is a whole series of records that are literally kept in parchment bags, and they're kept in a secret cupboard at Westminster, to which only three people have the key.

Even now, isn't it?

So, not today, not since the 19th century.

And these are trials that are particularly constitutionally important, or have some sort of particular importance, and they'd literally take the records and put them away where they could be kept secretly.

So, as I understand it, part of the, you know, Henry VIII brings in new refinements of the Treason Act.

And one of the refinements in the specific case of Ambulin is that it becomes treasonous to defend Ambulin.

Is that still on the statute book? Could Tudor historians be accused of treason?

So, pretty much all of Henry VIII's additions to treason legislation are removed as soon as he's dead by his son and his son's councillor.

They say he's gone too far, and they take it right back to 1352.

And they do that actually throughout, so obviously Henry breaks with the Roman church, and that creates a whole load of new treasons in and of itself.

But as the country moves from being Catholic to being Protestant to going back to Catholic again, you see new legislation being introduced and then immediately repealed by the successor.

So, they always go back to 1352. It seems to be that they're seeing it as the core legislation.

It's the treason equivalent of Magna Carta.

Yes, exactly the same.

So, you talk about how the introduction to the Reformation complicates the whole business of treason, because obviously, if you don't want to sign up to the Reformation as a matter of principle, then you have to decide what is the worst to forfeit your immortal soul or to risk your life by committing treason.

And the emblematic figure who decides that he would rather lose his head than his soul is Thomas More.

The idea that people will betray their country rather than their ideals, do you think that concept begins with more in British history?

It's a challenge that's never really there in the same way before Thomas More.

But I think you do see, I'm thinking back to Richard II's reign, for example, you do see nobles standing up against, they're not afraid to suffer the consequences.

And we do get people, particularly Richard II's reign, saying, I will stand up for these beliefs.

So, they're kind of lullards and people like that, is it?

So, you get it on a lullard basis, but you also get it amongst an ability.

So, with the lords appellant and then the counterappellants.

So, I'll be argue that the national interest is not being served by this particular king, basically.

But that's slightly different, isn't it?

I mean, that's the kind of opinion the government's no good.

But saying, you know, my principles are more important than my loyalty to a king.

I mean, that's the kind of slight refinement of it.

Because that's where we'll go with, say, you know, the French Revolutionary, the French Revolution, the communists and all that kind of stuff.

And indeed, ISIS, that these are people who passionately believe that their loyalty to ideals should trump their loyalty to the monocle to the state.

Yeah, I think that's correct.

In the earlier periods, very much the process is not right.

I'm not getting a fair trial.

And that's what they're standing up for.

But you're right that with the break from the Roman church, we do see this spiritual element being brought into it.

And it's there with the Lollards, but it's never really there on a nationwide scale as it is with the break from Rome.

So before we move on to the next document, let's just focus for a second on Thomas More.

I think you're unsound on Thomas More, Tom, because we've established in previous episodes of The Restless History that you're, I think, deep down...


I think you're a bit unsound on the Reformation, aren't you?

It depends on your definition of soundness.

I think I'm impeccably sound on it.

So on Thomas More, are you a Hillary man, Tellite, or...?

No, I'm not.

Yeah, I'm not for all seasons.

You're a man for all seasons.

Are you? You're a man for all seasons?

Yeah, I really am. I am more.

I'm absolutely team Thomas Cromwell. I love Thomas Cromwell.

Yeah, of course you are. So Cromwell also ends up with his head off.

That is unjust. That is totally unjust.

And that's a result of a Bill of Attainter, isn't it?

So he's not brought to trial.

Henry just says, I'm bringing in a Bill of Attainter off with his head.

But he's not guilty of treason, is he?

Is he guilty of treason?

Yes, I think he is.

Well, because a Bill of Attainter is...

Somebody's nodding.

Actually, we haven't told the audience, but there are people in the background.

And people are nodding.

Yeah, because a Bill of Attainter...

Other more.

If you're a tainted, then you're a traitor.

And so that remains a kind of arrow in the quiver of the monarch.

So, yeah, from the Wars of the Roses onward, basically, parliamentary attainter is the way you go to prosecute someone for treason.

So it's the go-to measure, because if you have parliament support, you introduce it, and they are attainted, in fact, by parliament.

So it definitely becomes the go-to measure.

But again, Thomas Moore's records are scrawled away into these bags of secrets.

And we actually have that they're really interesting in that they record his own words in them.

And they record them in English as opposed to the Latin, so that they can bring him down on these words about, for example, the sword of two edges.

If you can have a forfeit your soul or forfeit your life.

And they record these words in the official records.

We should say at this point also that if you are accused of treason, you don't get a defence lawyer, do you? Not until the 1690s.

Not at this period. No.

You do see at the start of Henry's reign, moves to start making a fairer process in that further proof is required.

But at this point, you still don't get that defence that you would get in later years.

So we've got two more documents to go.

Let's look at this.

I mean, this is a huge, again, so this is not really, it's not bound in a book, is it?

It's some, I don't know what you'd call this.

Is it a technical term for this kind of arrangement?

So it's a modern binding of very miscellaneous documents brought together.

This is all about porridge, isn't it? This is just a random file.

Fans of porridge.


This is the moment you've been waiting for.

Porridge and treason.

Porridge and treason?

We do very niche subjects in the rest of history.

So talk us through porridge and treason.

So this is the act brought in for poisoning in Henry VIII's reign.

And this is all about a man called Richard Russe.

Richard Russe is a cook and he works in the household of the Bishop of Rochester, John Fisher.

And one day, the porridge gets poisoned in the morning.

Now the bishop doesn't actually eat his porridge that morning.

And so he's absolutely fine.

He's deemed to be, they record that he's sick and so he doesn't have porridge that day.

But other members in the household do eat this porridge.

And there's also a lot of this porridge is given out to local poor people as arms.

And it's recorded that Russe had put something in the porridge while it was brewing and he's poisoning people.

Now we don't know how all of this, we don't know what actually happened because the Bishop of Rochester is a big supporter of Catherine of Aragon.

So very much anti-Ambalin and the King and Ambulans family are not particularly happy with him doing so and supporting Catherine.

So there are some suggestions that this may have been a way to try and bump off John Fisher, but we don't know for sure.

Richard Russe is actually recorded in one Chronicle account as having put the poison in as a joke.

As a joke?

He thinks people will get a bit sick but not that they'll die.

The banter.

Porridge banter.

But what we see is he's brought in and he's originally charged with murder because that is what he's essentially done.

But Henry VIII is very paranoid against poisoning generally.

It's a thing they do at Rome, it's a thing they do at the Papal Court, it's not a thing that happens in England and he's frankly terrified by it seemingly.

And what we see is, so on the table here we've got the draft act for poisoning.

In the exhibition we've actually got the final enrolled version in the parliament rolls.

And what we see is a change in the language that makes poisoning move from being murder to being high treason.

And that is happening after the fact.

So Richard Russe, it changes what he's been poisoning.

Poisoning who?

Poisoning anybody.


And is this, I mean you kind of imply that this is a sinister foreign thing that they get up to in Italy?

Romish behaviour.

Romish behaviour.

Is that the kind of the subtext for it?

That decent Protestants don't go around poisoning porridge or?

So at this point we're not into the Protestant era yet.

We're still in the, he's not broken from Rome at this point, this is 1531.

But there is that idea that it's a foreign thing to do.

But also it draws on concepts of what's called petty treason.

Now that's a different form of treason that is also in the 1352 act.

And that talks, that makes it treason to try to, in the same terms as the king, to try and compass and imagine the death of your master or to kill your master.

That is a treasonous behaviour.

So Russe's case I think draws a bit on that as well.


And then, so that's off the statute book now, right?

I mean, poison somebody and not guilty of treason.

So that is repealed at the end of the next round?

If I poison Tom, that's not treachery.

I'm your master?

I feel hanging, drawing and quartering would be too good for you.

Too good, right, I see.

Let's move on to the final document.

I'm not even going to dignify that ludicrous remark with the reply.

Well it is worth considering briefly in that actually Richard Russe's punishment is not to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

Oh no, he gets boiled, doesn't he?

He gets boiled.

You'd boil me.


And that's a horrible death being boiled.

Unlike being drawn and quartered.

Right, okay, but just to go back, Thomas Moore, Thomas Cromwell, Amberlynn, Catherine Howard all have their heads dropped off.

So that idea that you are upper class, generally you're not going to have horrible things.

The kind of the public, the humiliating, agonising deaths, these are for the people from the lower orders.

Robert Aske was hung in a, he was hanged in a cage, wasn't he?

In York or something.

You know, the guy from the rebellion, Pilgrimitra Grace.

They do like to come up with particularly horrific deaths of people who have stood up.

So John Oldcastle's rebellion in the 15th century, he is essentially hanged and burned at the same time.

It's combining heresy and treason.

In Richard Russe's case, it's meant to visualise the act of poisoning porridge.

So he's taken in and out of the boiling water.

Oh, he's taken in and out.

On several occasions.

But that idea, so that idea back in the early 15th century that you can be simultaneously a traitor and a heretic.

I mean, under Elizabeth and then under James I, that's something that the kings and queens are less keen to engage in, isn't it?

Because under Elizabeth, the Jesuits who were coming over are condemned very much as traitors, not as heretics.

And when we come to the last document, which is probably the most famous display of treason in British history, the gunpowder plot.

You know, this exhibition that your wonderful exhibition opens on the 5th of November.

Again, they are condemned as traitors, not as heretics.

So at this point, it's interesting in that because they've broken from Rome, there is now that split in terms of, on one hand, the crowns and state are very much against people supporting.

Catholic plots, for example.

But there is also a sense that you can be a recusant and you can privately worship, but you can't support foreign powers against the monarch.

And that is something that with the break from Rome becomes considerably more part of what's going on.

Most of Elizabeth's reign is very much religious treasons coming to the fore.

So the document that you've got, so this is from the gunpowder plots.

Do you want to talk us through what this is?

Yes, this is the Montaigal letter, the Montaigal letter.

Oh yeah, we love the Montaigal letter.

We do, because we did an episode on gunpowder plot.

So tell us about the Montaigal letter for those people who've been foolish enough not to listen to our...

Well, they can listen to it now, have an interest in it, and then rush off and listen to the...

They'll have a sneak preview now from you and...

And they can come and see it in the exhibition because it's going to be out on display as well.

So this is a letter that is essentially brought, it's delivered to Montaigal, Montaigal, a few days before the gunpowder plot is about to take place.

And it essentially warns him to not go to Parliament, to go to his country, a state, and it says, essentially, this is not a joke, don't go to Parliament because bad things will happen.

This is not a drill. They will receive such a blow. Is that the one?

The Parliament will receive a terrible blow.


And as a consequence of this, they go investigating and they find eventually the gunpowder.

They don't find it the first time. They think that Guy Fawkes is a servant, but on going back again, they find the gunpowder.

And it's interesting the gunpowder plot in terms of thinking about this move from Crown to State, because on one hand, they're targeting the King, but also the King in Parliament, and that institutional damage that would have happened had it gone ahead.

But it's also targeting the Protestant faith, and that's why it becomes the emblem of British Protestantism, isn't it?

For, you know, I mean, right the way into the 20th century, I guess that's faded now.

But that's why it is the absolute archived gunpowder, treason and plot.


Yeah, definitely. And one of the interesting things that people might not know about the gunpowder plot is that actually there's legislation put in place afterwards to make the 15th of November a public celebration and public Thanksgiving, and that is actually brought into legislation directly.

We have the details of that, and it makes it a national day of Thanksgiving.

So I think we've reached the end, haven't we, Tom?

Well, it's the perfect end because your exhibition, as we said, is opening on the 5th of November.

Treason, people, power and plot.

So before we just completely sign off, Ewan, you can save one traitor from this table and you can definitively condemn one. Who are they?

That is a very good question. I think I would have to save Richard Roos.

The Poison, the Porridge Man.

Because I think it's a horrible, it is a joke, it's a horrible joke gone wrong, but ultimately he's a man caught up in the middle of much, much broader political concerns.

And somebody has to go.

Somebody has to go.

I think if you're squeamish, you gave Richard the third, wouldn't you, because he's already dead.

Richard the third has a lot of supporters, and I'm not going to condemn him.

You'll get just endless grief on Twitter if you condemn Richard the third.

I am going to say...

Philip Langley and Steve Coogle, like a film about you.

I am going to say Guy Thorks controversially, because I think he's targeting...

It's such a wide attack on the institutions, and it does make that change between from Crown to State.

So you could have gone off table and chosen Thomas Moore. You didn't. That's fine.

No, I don't think... I think the fifth of November... Guy Thorks is the perfect choice, because fifth of November emblematic of gunpowder trees and plot, and that is the date on which this fantastic exhibition at the National Archives is opening.

Let me just reiterate.


There are amazing documents. This is people's once in a lifetime opportunity to see them together.

The Ambulin document. Fantastic.

Do they have to book? Do they have to pay money?

They don't have to book? No.

No. Neither of those things.

Absolutely not. And if you simply can't have enough of trees, and there is also a fantastic book that goes with the history of trees, and the bloody history of Britain through the stories of its most notorious traitors.

And Dominic, we have more notorious traitors to come, don't we?

We love traitors.

This is only the first part of a two-part special.

If you like us talking about parchment and traitors, you're absolutely in luck, because we'll be back next time with more of this kind of stuff.

It's not just parchment, because we will be moving into the first entry.

So, Ewan, thank you so much.

Congratulations on this amazing exhibition.

To our listeners, we'll see you next time.

In the meantime, hopefully you'll have been to the National Archives to see the exhibition for yourselves, and you'll have bought the book, so you'll be better informed than we are.

But either way, we will see you next time. Goodbye. Bye-bye.

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