High crimes: the law of treason in late Stuart Britain

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Gladstone, Cynthia Ann

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Between the years 1660 and 1715 the government in England used treason law as an effective, if controversial, tool in the development of the English state. The same was true of the authorities in Scotland and eventually, after the Union in 1707, of the government of Great Britain. The goal of treason law was to protect the monarch and to secure the powers that distinguished him or her as the sovereign authority in the state. In this process of state building, the law itself was necessarily transformed in response to the changing legal, political and constitutional situation. While the authorities wielded treason charges ruthlessly and sometimes mercilessly, they generally operated within the confines of the law; no early modern government wished to appear tyrannical or arbitrary. Treason law was employed in the late Stuart period with bloody results, and its zealous use contributed to the grievances against the regime before the Glorious Revolution. Somewhat ironically, however, by eliminating troublesome elements in British society, the Stuarts contributed to the relative stability of the reigns of their Hanoverian successors in the eighteenth century. This dissertation employs both print and manuscript sources in the study of hitherto unexplored facets of both treason law and of state building from a legal perspective. This is the first work on treason to important years between the Restoration and the Union, when the number of trials for this most serious of all crimes reached new heights and during which time the procedural law of treason underwent significant changes. It is also the first work in which the Scottish statutes and manuscripts from the Scottish archives are analyzed in detail for the information they yield about treason law in Scotland, a subject that scholars have largely neglected. It contributes to the literature of state building by refining ideas regarding the factors that create and sustain a viable state. The Appendix presents data regarding approximately 2,600 persons charged with treason in England and Scotland during this period.