A new exhibition at the National Archives in Kew, Treason: People, Power & Plot, opens today.

It explores 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. Remarkably, the core of the original Treason Act is still in force and relatively unchanged today.

Firework by Angela Corbett and Prestwich Creative Living Centre © Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust

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.

‘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.’

Fireworks by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham © Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust

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 ultimately to the extension of voting rights.

The question of perspectives is raised in terms of 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 1776 American Declaration of Independence, accusing the King of being the traitor.

Fireworks by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham © The Barns-Graham Charitable Trust

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.

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