Charles II Treason and Sedition Act (1661)
With the restoration of Charles II to the throne of England, new laws were passed defining what it meant to go against the monarchy, vastly expanding the scope of what counted as treason and sedition. The new beginning of the English monarch would see the expansion of old ideas of power.
With the restoration of Charles II to the throne, Parliament passed the treason and sedition act to safeguard and preserve the monarch and government. While laws against sedition and treason were already in existence, the new act clarified some evidence thresholds and added new offenses to the list of treasonable or seditious offenses. To be convicted of high treason, two witnesses would be required to testify under oath or the accused would have to confess willingly and without violence (this two witness rule would become vital in the case of Algernon Sidney, featured later in this volume, whereby one of his writings would be used as a “witness” against him). Treasonable offenses were expanded to not only actual actions of treason, but also to “imagine, invent, devise, or intend” the death of the king, depriving him of his crown, levy war against the king, or spur foreigners to invade any country under the crown. The act also made it seditious to write, publish, or utter accusations of Charles being a papist or intending to introduce popery during his reign, or express anything that might cause people to hate or dislike the king or the government. Publishing pamphlets about the 1640s Parliament or asserting that Parliament has legislative powers without the king is also censored under this act.
The act reasserts the power of the monarch and curbs the rights of subjects. What are the exceptions in this act? Are there any limits on the king? How does this act further his power? How does this act make speech subversive or encourage self-censorship? How might it constrain his critics in areas like the slave trade or accumulation of power?
- Kelsey, Sean. “The Death of Charles I.” The Historical Journal 45, no. 4 (2002): 727-54. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3133526
- Kelsey, Sean. “The Trial of Charles I.” The English Historical Review 118, no. 477 (2003): 583-616. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3489287
- HOLMES, CLIVE. “THE TRIAL AND EXECUTION OF CHARLES I.” The Historical Journal 53, no. 2 (2010): 289-316. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40865689
The “Rump” Parliament
- Worden, Blair. The Rump Parliament, 1648-1653. Cambridge England: University Press, 1974.
The English Civil Wars
- Cust, Richard, and Ann Hughes. The English Civil War. Arnold Readers in History. London: Arnold, 1997.
- Ashley, Maurice. The English Civil War. Rev. and Reillustrated ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990.
- Ashton, Robert, and Raymond Howard Parry. The English Civil War and After, 1642-1658. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970.
- Hibbert, Christopher. Cavaliers & Roundheads: The English Civil War, 1642-1649. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1993.
Charles II, 1661: An Act for Safety and Preservation of His Majesties Person and Government against Treasonable and Seditious practices and attempts’, in Statutes of the Realm: Volume 5, 1628-80, ed. John Raithby (s.l, 1819), pp. 304-306. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/statutes-realm/vol5/pp304-306 [accessed 28 September 2017].
Reasons for passing this Act.
Seditious Sermons, Pamphlets, and Speeches.; 13 Eliz. c. 1.; What shall be adjudged.; To be proved by Two Witnesses.
The Lords and Commons assembled in Parliament deeply weighing and considering the miseries and calamities of well nigh twenty yeares before your Majesties happy Return and withall reflecting upon the causes & occasions of soe great and deplorable confusions do in all humility and thankfulnes acknowledge Your Majesties incomparable Grace and Goodnes to Your People in Your Free and Generall Pardon Indempnity and Oblivion by which Your Majestie hath beene pleased to deliver Your Subjects not only from the Punishment but alsoe from the Reproach of their former miscarriages which unexampled Piety and Clemency of Your Majesty hath enflamed the hearts of us Your Subjects with an ardent desire to expresse all possible zeal and duty in the care and preservation of Your Majesties Person in whose Honour and Happines consists the good and welfare of Your People and in preventing (as much as may be) all Treasonable and Seditious Practices and Attempts for the time to come And because the growth and increase of the late troubles & disorders did in a very great measure proceed from a multitude of seditious Sermons Pamphlets and Speeches dayly preached printed and published with a transcendent boldnes defaming the Perfon and Government of your Majestie and your Royall Father wherein men were to much encouraged and (above all) from a wilfull mistake of the Supreame and lawfull Authoritie whilst men were forward to cry up and maintaine those Orders and Ordinances Oathes and Covenants to be Acts legall and warrantable which in themselves had not the least colour of Law or Justice to support them from which kind of distempers as the present Age is not yet wholly freed so Posterity may be apt to relapse into them if a timely remedy be not provided Wee therefore the Lords and Commons in Parliament assembled having duly considered the p[re]misses and remembring that in the Thirteenth yeare of the Reigne of Queene Elizabeth of ever blessed memory a right good and profitable Law was made for preservation of Her Majesties Person Do most humbly beseech Your most Excellent Majesty that it may be Enacted And be it Enacted by the Kings most Excellent Majesty by and with the advice and consent of the Lords and Commons in this p[re]sent Parliament assembled and by Authoritie of the same That if any person or persons whatsoever after the four and twentieth day of June in the yeare of our Lord One thousand six hundred sixty and one during the naturall life of our most Gracious Soveraigne Lord the King (whom Almighty God preserve and blesse with a long and prosperous Reigne) shall within the Realme or without compass imagine invent devise or intend death or destrucc[i]on or any bodily harm tending to death or destrucc[i]on maim or wounding imprisonment or restraint of the Person of the same our Soveraigne Lord the King or to deprive or depose him from the Stile Honour or Kingly Name of the Imperiall Crowne of this Realme or of any [other His Ma[jes]tie Dominions or Countreys or to levy war against His Majestie within this Realme or without or to move or stirr any Foreiner or Strangers with force to invade this Realme or any other His Majesties Dominions or Countreys being under His Majesties Obeysance And such Compassings Imaginations Inventions Devices or Intentions or any of them shall exp[re]ss utter or declare by any Printing Writing Preaching or Malicious and advised speaking being legally convicted thereof upon the Oaths of two lawfull and credible Witnesses upon triall or otherwise convicted or attainted by due course of Law then every such person and persons soe as aforesaid offending shall be deemed declared and adjudged to be Traitors and shall suffer paines of death and alsoe loose and forfeit as in cases of High Treason
II. Certain Offences, during His Majesty’s Life, to disable Persons to bear any Office.
Exception of Peerage.
And be it further Enacted by the Authority aforesaid That if any person or persons at any time after the four and twentieth day of June in the yeare of our Lord One thousand six hundred sixty and one during His Ma[jes]tie life shall malitiously and advisedly publish or affirm the King to be an Heretick or a Papist or that he endeavours to introduce Popery or shall maliciously and advisedly by writing printing preaching or other speaking expresse publish utter or declare any Words Sentences or other thing or things to incite or stir up the people to hatred or dislike of the Person of His Majestie or the established Government then every such person and persons being thereof legally convicted shall be disabled to have or enjoye and is hereby disabled and made incapable of having holding enjoying or exercising any place Office or promotion Ecclesiasticall Civill or Military or any other Imployment in Church or State other then that of his Peerage and shall likewise be liable to such further and other punishments as by the Common Laws or Statutes of this Realm may be inflicted in such cases
III. The Parliament begun 3d Nov. 1640 declared to be dissolved.
No legislative Power in either or both Houses of Parliament without the King. Affirming that the said Parliament is not dissolved, or that there lies any Obligation upon any Person to endeavour a Change of Government, or that the Parliament has a legislative Power without the King.; Premunire.; 16 R. II. c.5.; The solemn League and Covenant unlawful.; Orders and Ordinances of both or either Houses of Parliament void.; Proviso for Indemnity by 12 Car. II. c. II.
And to the end that no man hereafter may be misled into any seditious or unquiet demeanour out of an opinion that the Parliament begun and held att Westminster upon the third day of November in the yeare of our Lord One thousand six hundred and forty is yet in being which is undoubtedly dissolved and determined and so is hereby declared and adjudged to be fully dissolved and determined or out of an Opinion that there lies any obligation upon him from any Oath Covenant or Engagement whatsoever to endeavour a change of Government either in Church or State or out of an Opinion that both Houses of Parliament or either of them have a Legislative Power without the King All which assertions have beene seditiously maintained in some Pamphlets lately printed and are daily promoted by the active enemies of our Peace & Happines Be it therefore further Enacted by the Authority aforesaid That if any person or persons at any time after the four and twentieth day of June in the yeare of our Lord One thousand six hundred sixty and one shall maliciously and advisedly by Writing Printing Preaching or other speaking express publish utter declare or affirm That the Parliament begun at Westminster upon the third day of November in the yeare of our Lord One thousand six hundred and forty is not yet dissolved or is not determined or that it ought to be in being or hath yet any continuance or existence or that there lies any Obligation upon him or any other person from any Oath Covenant or Engagement whatsoever to endeavor a change of Government either in Church or State or that both Houses of Parliament or either House of Parliament have or hath a Legislative Power without the King or any other words to the same effect That then every such person & persons soe aforesaid offending shall incurr the danger and penalty of a Premunire mentioned in a Statute made in the sixteenth yeare of the Reigne of King Richard the Second And it is hereby alsoe declared That the Oath usually called the Solemn League and Covenant was in it selfe an unlawfull Oath and imposed upon the Subjects of this Realm against the Fundamentall Laws and Liberties of this Kingdome and that all Orders and Ordinances or pretended Orders and Ordinances of both or either Houses of Parliament for imposing of Oathes Covenants or Engagements Leavying of Taxes or Raising of Forces and Armes to which the Royall Assent either in Person or by Commission was not expresly had or given were in theire first creation and making and still are and soe shall be taken to be null and void to all intents and purposes whatsoever [Provided neverthelesse that all and every person and persons Bodies Politique and Corporate who have beene or shall att any time hereafter be questioned for any thing acted or done by colour of any the Orders or Ordinances herein before menc[i]oned and declared to be null and void and are indempnified by an Act entituled An Act. of Free and Generall Pardon Indempnity and Oblivion made in the twelfth yeare of His Majesties Reign that now is or shall be indempnified by any Act of Parliament shall and may make such use of the said Orders and Ordinances for theire Indempnity according to the true intent and meaning of the said Act and no other as he or they might have done if this Act had not beene made Any thing in this Act contained to the contrary notwithstanding.
IV. No Person to be prosecuted for any Offences in this Act (other than Treason) unless by special Order from His Majesty. Limitation of Prosecution.
Provided alwaies That noe person be prosecuted for any of the offences in this Act menc[i]oned (other then such as are made and declared to be high Treason) unlesse it be by Order of the Kings Majestie His Heires or Successors under his or theire Signe Manual or by Order of the Councell Table of His Majesty His Heires or Successors directed unto the Attorney Generall for the time being or some other of the Council learned to His Majesty His Heires or Successors for the time being nor shall any person or persons by vertue of this present Act incur any of the penalties herein before menc[i]oned unlesse he or they be prosecuted within six moneths next after the Offence committed and indicted thereupon within three moneths after such prosecuc[i]on Any thing herein contained to the contrary notwithstanding
V. Treasons and Offences within this Act to be proved by Two Witnesses viva voce.
[Provided always and be it Enacted That no person or persons shall be indicted arraigned condemned convicted or attainted for any of the Treasons or Offences aforesaid unlesse the same Offender or Offenders be thereof accused by the Testimony and deposition of two lawfull and credible Witnesses upon Oath which Witnesses at the time of the said Offender or Offenders arraignment shall be brought in person before him or them face to face and shall openly avow and maintain upon Oath what they have to say against him or them concerning the Treason or Offences contained in the said Indictment unles the party or parties arraigned shall willingly without violence confess the same
VI. Proviso for Privilege of Debate in Parliament; and for Repeal or Alteration of Laws, or redressing public Grievances.
Provided likewise and be it Enacted That this Act or any thing therein contained shall not extend to deprive either of the Houses of Parliament or any of theire Members of theire just ancient Freedome and priviledge of debating any matters or busines which shall be propounded or debated in either of the said Houses or att any Conferences or Committees of both or either of the said Houses of Parliament or touching the repeal or alterac[i]on of any old or p[re]paring any new Lawes or the redressing any publique grievance but that the said Members of either of the said Houses and the Assistants of the House of Peers and every of them shall have the same freedome of speech and all other Priviledges whatsoever as they had before the making of this Act Any thing in this Act to the contrary thereof in any wise notwithstanding.
VII. Proviso for Trial and Pardon of Peers, &c.
[Provided alwaies and be it Ordained and Enacted That no Peer of this Realm shall be tried for any offence against this Act but by his Peers and further That every Peer who shall be convicted of any offence against this Act after such conviction be disabled during his life to sit in Parliament unlesse His Majesty shall graciously be pleased to pardon him And if His Majesty shall grant his pardon to any Peer of this Realm or Commoner convicted of any offence against this Act after such Pardon granted the Peer or Commoner so pardoned shall be restored to all intents and purposes as if he had never beene convicted Any thing in this Law to the contrary in any wise notwithstanding.
EARLY ACCESS: Transcription is under editorial review and may contain errors.
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