The United Kingdom has a funny old legal system. About 20% of it is made up by traditions which don’t necessarily mean much, but add colour and spectacle to an otherwise potentially colourless and drab Parliament. This article isn’t about the traditions per se, it’s more about the elaborate ways in which Monarchs through the ages have attempted to reinforce their unquestionable rule through the legal system.
This is a collection of the weirdest and most fascinating treason laws that ever existed in the UK. Some of which are still technically in force today, their legal status is indicated in each one. Enjoy!
This interpretation is a bit of a play on the actual law which states defaming, defacing or mocking the Monarch’s portrait (also known as Lese-majesty for those wanting the technical/legal term) is treasonous and therefore punishable under law. Placing a postage stamp which bears Her Majesty’s portrait upside-down is, therefore regarded as treason, though no-one’s ever been arrested for it!
Does Law Still Exist? – Yes | Has Anyone Ever Been Arrested For It? – No | Weirdness – 5/10
This ancient law, which originally states, ‘compassing the death of the sovereign, or of the sovereign’s wife or eldest son and heir’ is a criminal offence. This comes from the Treason Act 1351 and is, yet again, technically still in force today. This means that if one were to now imagine the death of The Queen or Prince Philip and you were a British Citizen, you’d be technically breaking the law!
Does Law Still Exist? – Yes | Has Anyone Ever Been Arrested For It? – Yes | Weirdness – 6/10
This also comes under ‘high treason’. Anyone who tries to hinder the line of succession, that is attempts to impede the rightful heir from becoming King or Queen is guilty of this offence, which again is still on the statute books. Hindering the line of succession could be anything from actually killing the heir to attempting to declare them illegitimate.
Does Law Still Exist? – Yes | Has Anyone Ever Been Arrested For It? – No | Weirdness – 6/10
This law was introduced during World War 1 in the notorious ‘Defence Of The Realm Act 1914′. The exact position of the law was to censor the media. It prevented anyone from spreading, even by word of mouth, reports which would cause harm to the reputation or as it were ‘spirits’ of His Majesty The King’s Armed Forces or British Subjects during the war. Multiple people were arrested for this during the war.
Does Law Still Exist? – No | Has Anyone Ever Been Arrested For It? Yes | Weirdness – 4/10
This law states that legally, it’s an offence to attempt to remove the Sovereign from the throne or even to advocate doing this. The full text being, “it is an offence to deprive or depose the Queen from her established constitutional position – and to publish any writing or printing advocating such change”. This law was introduced in 1848 at the height of rebellion from the Chartists and Irish radicals. The offence is punishable by up to life imprisonment.
Does Law Still Exist? – Yes | Has Anyone Ever Been Arrested For It? Yes | Weirdness – 7/10
This other piece of Victorian legislation, introduced in 1842, makes it an offence to ‘alarm’ the Monarch, with any means. In specific, it made it an offence to alarm the Monarch with a firearm after the then recent attempt on Queen Victoria’s life with a firearm. This piece of legislation was used not too long ago to prosecute Marcus Sarjeant in 1981 for firing blank rounds at the Queen during the annual Trooping The Colour. He was jailed for 5 years.
This part of Treason legislation set out how a committer of high treason was to be punished. The official text said, “[they're to] be drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution and there be hanged by the neck, but not until they are dead, but that they should be taken down again, and that when they are yet alive their bowels should be taken out and burnt before their faces, and that afterwards their heads should be severed from their bodies, and their bodies be divided into four quarters, and their heads and quarters to be at the King’s disposal.” – This remained the lawful and correct punishment for high treason until 1814, when the official method of execution for high treason was reduced to hanging.
Does Law Still Exist? – No | Has Anyone Ever Been Arrested For It? N/A | Weirdness – 10/10
As many people know, capital punishment was abolished in the United Kingdom in 1960… for most offences, the primary exclusions being high treason. Arson in the Royal Dockyards remained on the statute books until the 1970s. The offence was, officially, “causing a fire or explosion in a Royal dockyard”. Amazingly, the punishment for this remained death by hanging until abolition of the offence in 1971.
Does Law Still Exist? – No | Has Anyone Ever Been Executed For It? Yes | Weirdness – 9/10
Sorry, but Arson in a Royal Dockyard ceased to be an offence altogether, let alone punishable by death, in 1971.
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