Our exhibition Treason: People, Power & Plot opens on 5 November
We all think we know the story of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot, perhaps the most famous case of treason remembered today. But in an unprecedented sweep of almost 700 years of our shared past, our new exhibition, Treason: People, Power & Plot, will explore how the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, the establishment of the Church of England, the creation of the United States of America and even the extension of UK voting rights, all share links with acts of treason.
First defined in law in 1352, treason remains one of the most serious crimes a person can commit. And, remarkably, the core of the original Treason Act, passed during the rule of Edward III, remains in force and relatively unchanged today.
Using the original 14th century statute roll copy of the Act as a starting point, Treason: People, Power & Plot offers a unique selection of letters, pamphlets, posters, maps and trial papers to reveal the motives, actions and consequences of those accused of being traitors, many of whom paid the ultimate price for their cause.
Emmajane Avery, director of Public Engagement at The National Archives, said: ‘Treason: People, Power & Plot allows us to consider the changing nature of justice through the ages.
‘The National Archives preserves a wealth of historical records that cover a substantial timespan, and this exhibition showcases some of the iconic moments that have helped shape the country we live in today.
‘Through some genuinely history-defining documents, such as the original 1352 Treason Act and the Monteagle Letter, suggesting the recipient should not attend parliament on 5 November 1605, visitors will come face to face with 700 years of history in this thought-provoking exhibition.’
Treason: People, Power & Plot explores stories as diverse as the charges brought against Anne Boleyn in 1536, and the trial and execution of Charles I in 1649, to the efforts of enslaved Baptist preacher Samuel Sharpe and his support for emancipation in Jamaica in 1832, and the work of John Frost and the Chartist movement leading to the 1839 Newport Rising and, ultimately, the extension of voting rights.
Also, the question of perspectives will be posed through the British reaction to the Boston Tea Party in 1773, George III’s Proclamation of Rebellion following Congress’s initial petition for independence in 1775, and the subsequent American Declaration of Independence, printed in Philadelphia on 4 July 1776, accusing the King of being the traitor.
As well as the exhibition, The National Archives’ Treason season will see a variety of on site and online events and activities planned until April 2023, including talks, films, document displays and podcasts.
A History of Treason: The Bloody History of Britain Through the Stories of its Most Notorious Traitors, authored by the curators and published by Bonnier Books, is available to pre-order from our online shop.
Sign up to our mailing list or follow us on social media (#TreasonSeason) to find out more about the exhibition and our accompanying programme of events and activities.