Treason, manhood, and the English State : shaping constitutional ideas and political subjects through the laws of treason, 1397-1424 : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in History at Massey University, Manawatu, New Zealand

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Debates about treason are inherently constitutional conflicts. By defining treason and naming the entities against which traitors offend, the state delineates the nature and limits of its own authority. By implication, treason is integral to shaping loyal political subjects. This thesis uses legal records alongside a range of other sources to examine how the relationship between the English state and its political subjects was being negotiated through the laws of treason during the politically turbulent period between 1397 and 1424. Previous studies have asserted that between the mid-­‐fourteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the legal scope of treason remained static and the crime continued to be viewed primarily in traditional terms as an attack on the king’s person. By contrast, this thesis demonstrates that while customary and chivalric definitions remained relevant, by the early fifteenth century they were being subsumed by constructions of treason as a crime against the the nation, the public good, and the English people. This had significant constitutional repercussions. It fostered the alignment of political subjecthood with ethnicised national identity; it introduced into English law the idea of treason as an insult to the abstract public authority of the state; and it enabled significant expansions in the scope of treason to encompass verbal and written expressions of political dissent, and other offences. By considering the content of sources but also their multilingual character, this thesis illuminates rhetorical and linguistic strategies used to construct or to resist allegations of treason, and demonstrates how the vernacular functioned both to authorise and to subvert the state’s prosecution narratives. This thesis also presents a new interpretation of significant changes in the treatment of treasonous speech by showing that this was facilitated by a cultural conjunction between the gendering of particular speech acts and the perceived material effects of men’s words. This created the justification for men's words to be punished as treasonous deeds, but also generated means by which the accused could assert resistant identities as loyal subjects and 'trewe men'.
Listed in 2016 Dean's List of Exceptional Theses
Treason, Law and legislation, History, Medieval history, England, Dean's List of Exceptional Theses