The Changing Definition of Treason in Britain Throughout History

TLDR This episode explores the evolution of treason laws in Britain, from the trial of Charles I to the present day. It discusses how treason has been redefined and updated over time, reflecting the changing political and social landscape of the country.

Timestamped Summary

00:00 The episode discusses the exhibition on treason at the National Archives, focusing on the trial of Charles I and the changing definition of treason in Britain.
05:33 The trial of Charles I was extrajudicial and illegal, as the king refused to recognize the authority of the courts and would not enter a plea, but the court ignored this and claimed authority under the treason act.
09:59 Charles Stuart cleverly sidesteps arguments from the 1640s and gains legitimacy as the ruler of Britain in 1660, introducing a declaration of breeder, a general pardon and indemnity, and allowing liberty of conscience, except for the 59 men known as the Regicides who are condemned as traitors and executed.
14:51 Witnesses to the executions of the Regicides in 1660 were horrified by the gore and brutality, causing a shift in public opinion towards less violent punishments for traitors, leading to the emergence of a more pluralistic political arena in Britain.
19:16 The Popish plot and the larger Exclusion Crisis were fueled by fears of a Catholic conspiracy and the potential succession of James, the Duke of York, as king, with Oates' fabrications gaining traction due to a desire to embarrass Charles II and exclude James from the throne.
23:58 Oates becomes emboldened and makes more outlandish accusations, Justice Berry is found dead, Oates gains support from the House of Commons and House of Lords, and the Whigs and Tories trace their origins back to the arguments surrounding the published plots.
28:51 The late 18th century saw a change in society with the emergence of Enlightenment ideas and the desire for independence, as seen in the American colonies' grievances over taxation and representation, leading to the incorporation of the treason act into the US constitution and the redefinition of treason as levying war against the republic.
33:52 Thomas Hardy and other radical reformers in England were accused of treason for advocating for radical change and rebellion against authority, but they were acquitted, leading to the government updating the treason laws to prevent losing similar cases in the future.
38:35 The act of treason in Britain becomes increasingly difficult to prosecute and is used less frequently over the course of the 20th century, with the last person executed for treason being William Joyce, who was found to be not even a British citizen.
43:05 The treason law in Britain is being considered for refinement and reframing by the government, but whether or not it can be adequately changed remains uncertain.
47:46 Throughout history, governments have attempted to update and redefine treason laws to suit their own needs and circumstances, as seen in the case of the 1661 law that redefined treason as seeking to harm King Charles II, and this continues to be a topic of interest and debate.
Categories: History

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