October 22 – An investigation into treasonous words

On this day in Tudor history, 22nd October 1537, in the reign of King Henry VIII, an examination, or rather interrogation, began after a man was accused of speaking maliciously against the king.

The investigation found that there was actually no evidence that the man had ever spoken these words. It was a case of someone trying to get another person into trouble, trouble that could result in the person being executed for high treason.

Find out what happened…


22 October
On this day in Tudor history, 22nd October 1537, an examination, or rather interrogation, was carried out regarding an accusation of treasonous words spoken against King Henry VIII.

Now the 14th century treason act had made it high treason to compass, that is to say imagine or contrive, the death of the king, or of the king’s wife, or the king’s eldest child and heir. The 1534 Treason Act took this a bit further, stating traitors were those who:
“do maliciously wish, will or desire by words or writing, or by craft imagine, invent, practise, or attempt any bodily harm to be done or committed to the king’s most royal person, the queen’s or the heirs apparent, or to deprive them of any of their dignity, title or name of their royal estates, or slanderously and maliciously publish and pronounce, by express writing or words, that the king should be heretic, schismatic, tyrant, infidel or usurper of the crown…”

So what was going on in 1537?

Well, John Newman of Newnton in Northamptonshire had been accused of speaking maliciously against the king and local justices had to look into the matter, for the words were thought to be treasonous. Depositions were taken in an examination carried out on this day in 1537 from Sir John Harbrown, parson of Newnton, William Davy, Margaret Pere, Johne Parke and other tenants of Newnton. I’ll read to you from the record of the examination:

“Sir John Harbrowne, parson of Newnton, Northants, deposes that John Parke, of Newnton, said to John Newman, on a Sunday before Michaelmas Day, at matins in the church: “Beware what thou sayest, for it is treason that thou speakest,” but what the words were he cannot tell. Margaret Pere says that Newman said: “It is pity that the King was ever crowned, for we have had more pilling and polling since he was crowned than ever we had before, and it is pity that he hath lived so long.”

Wm. Davy deposes that Newman said in the church, about the time of evensong, that “we had never goud hewsse sen the King was crowned King,” and then John Parke said to him, “Beware what thou sayest, for thou speakest treason.” John Parke says he never heard such words spoken, but about Midsummer John Hewet said at matins time that he heard say the leads of Buckingham church were valued. Harbrowne then said he heard at Heygham on the Saturday that Buckingham church was down. Then John Newman said: “God forbid that we should have any mo churches down.” Then John Parke said to Newman: “Be contented, for the King is supreme head of the Church, and we must be ruled as it shall please the King to have us,” adding: “Beware what thou speakest, for a little word is treason.” All the tenants of Newnton say they never heard such words spoken as Margaret Pere has alleged, and that Wm. Davy was not in the church when this matter should be spoken. John Stretton, John Hewyet, William Rosse, Robarde and Ric. Pere, and John Graunt are bound for Newman and Parke.”

So, John Newman was unhappy with what was happening to religious buildings in Henry VIII’s reign, with the dissolution of the monasteries, so much so that, according to Margaret Pere, he thought it a pity that the king had lived so long, suggesting that it would be better if the king had died. Another John, John Parke, had warned Newman that he was speaking treason, but he went on. However, others did not hear the words reported by Margaret Pere and pointed out that William Davy wasn’t even there.

After further investigations, on 12th November 1537, Sir William Parr and Richard Throckmorton reported to Thomas Cromwell, the king’s chief advisor, saying that “Most of the witnesses affirm the articles in the bill to be true, saving that Wm. Davie now denies that he heard Newman speak such words, and says he confessed it for malice at the instance of Margaret Pere. The matter against both Newman and Parke appears to be maliciously contrived by her.”

So it sounds like Margaret Pere exaggerated Newman’s words and that she persuaded Davy to back her up and pretend he’d heard treasonous words too. A nasty situation. Newman was in custody due to the accusations and John Parke, the man who had warned him, was also in custody as he was accused of “concealing Newman’s words”. Parr and Throckmorton finished their report by saying that those concerned were “in surety until further orders”.

Newman may have complained sorely about the dissolution of the monasteries and what the king was taking from religious buildings, and his words, as warned by Parke, might have been close to treason, but they weren’t as bad as Pere claimed.

I wasn’t able to find mention of Parke and Newman again, but I do hope that they were freed and that Margaret Pere got a good talking to.
Historian G R Elton, in his book “Policy and Police: The Enforcement of the Reformation in the Age of Thomas Cromwell”, gives another example of a false accusation of treason that very same autumn. On 16th November 1537, Sir William Parr reported to Thomas Cromwell that “One John Sprat has been accused falsely by his boy of wishing success to the Northern men. Asks how he shall punish such as forge such false tales.” Apparently, the boy was cross with his master because his wages hadn’t been paid. Oh dear.

What Pere and the boy did could have led to innocent men losing their lives, for the punishment for high treason was death, and a horrible one too – being hanged, drawn and quartered. Awful.

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One thought on “October 22 – An investigation into treasonous words”
  1. I am surprised to hear that anyone who was taken up for treason during the reigns of the Tudor monarchs was ever found not guilty. I thought once they picked you up, you were doomed.

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