Petty treason
Petty treason or petit treason was an offence under the common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

 of England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 which involved the betrayal of a superior by a subordinate. It differed from the better-known high treason
High treason
High treason is criminal disloyalty to one's government. Participating in a war against one's native country, attempting to overthrow its government, spying on its military, its diplomats, or its secret services for a hostile and foreign power, or attempting to kill its head of state are perhaps...

 in that high treason can only be committed against the Sovereign. In England and Wales, petty treason ceased to be a distinct offence from murder
Murder is the unlawful killing, with malice aforethought, of another human being, and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide...

 by virtue of section 1 (repealing the previous statute) and section 2 (assimilating the offence to murder) of the Offences against the Person Act 1828
Offences Against the Person Act 1828
The Offences against the Person Act 1828 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. It consolidated provisions related to offences against the person from a number of earlier statutes into a single Act...

. It never existed in Scotland. It has also been abolished in other common-law countries.

The common law offence was codified in the Treason Act 1351
Treason Act 1351
The Treason Act 1351 is an Act of the Parliament of England which codified and curtailed the common law offence of treason. No new offences were created by the statute. It is one of the earliest English statutes still in force, although it has been very significantly amended. It was extended to...

. Under that Act, petty treason was an aggravated form of murder. It consisted of:
  1. a wife killing her husband,
  2. a clergyman killing his prelate
    A prelate is a high-ranking member of the clergy who is an ordinary or who ranks in precedence with ordinaries. The word derives from the Latin prælatus, the past participle of præferre, which means "carry before", "be set above or over" or "prefer"; hence, a prelate is one set over others.-Related...

    , or
  3. a servant killing his master or mistress, or his master's wife.

The Act abolished three other forms of petty treason which had existed under common law:
  1. a wife attempting to kill her husband,
  2. a servant forging his master's seal
    Seal (device)
    A seal can be a figure impressed in wax, clay, or some other medium, or embossed on paper, with the purpose of authenticating a document ; but the term can also mean the device for making such impressions, being essentially a mould with the mirror image of the design carved in sunken- relief or...

    , or
  3. a servant committing adultery
    Adultery is sexual infidelity to one's spouse, and is a form of extramarital sex. It originally referred only to sex between a woman who was married and a person other than her spouse. Even in cases of separation from one's spouse, an extramarital affair is still considered adultery.Adultery is...

     with his master's wife or daughter.

The element of betrayal is the reason why this crime was considered worse than an ordinary murder; medieval and post-medieval society rested on a framework in which each person had his or her appointed place and such murders were seen as threatening this framework. Many people had somebody subordinate to them and feared the consequences if the murder of superiors was not punished harshly.

To counterfeit means to illegally imitate something. Counterfeit products are often produced with the intent to take advantage of the superior value of the imitated product...

ing gold or silver coin was petty treason before the 1351 Act elevated this to high treason. However the method of execution was not changed.

The punishment for a man convicted of petty treason was to be drawn to the place of execution and hanged
Hanging is the lethal suspension of a person by a ligature. The Oxford English Dictionary states that hanging in this sense is "specifically to put to death by suspension by the neck", though it formerly also referred to crucifixion and death by impalement in which the body would remain...

, but not quartered
Hanged, drawn and quartered
To be hanged, drawn and quartered was from 1351 a penalty in England for men convicted of high treason, although the ritual was first recorded during the reigns of King Henry III and his successor, Edward I...

 as in the case of high treason. The punishment for a woman was to be burned at the stake
Burned at the Stake
Burned at the Stake is a 1981 film directed by Bert I. Gordon. It stars Susan Swift and Albert Salmi.-Cast:*Susan Swift as Loreen Graham / Ann Putnam*Albert Salmi as Captaiin Billingham*Guy Stockwell as Dr. Grossinger*Tisha Sterling as Karen Graham...

 without being drawn there (the penalty for high treason was drawing and burning). In later years the law offered a modicum of mercy to women who were to be executed in this fashion: the executioner was equipped with a cord passed around the victim's throat and, standing outside of the fire, would pull it tight, strangling her before the flames could reach her. In a few instances however, this could go wrong, with the cord burning through and the victim burning alive; the ensuing scandals were part of what led to the abolition of this punishment and its substitution by hanging in 1790.

The common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

 defence of provocation
Provocation (legal)
In criminal law, provocation is a possible defense by excuse or exculpation alleging a sudden or temporary loss of control as a response to another's provocative conduct sufficient to justify an acquittal, a mitigated sentence or a conviction for a lesser charge...

, by which a verdict of murder could be reduced to manslaughter
Manslaughter is a legal term for the killing of a human being, in a manner considered by law as less culpable than murder. The distinction between murder and manslaughter is said to have first been made by the Ancient Athenian lawmaker Dracon in the 7th century BC.The law generally differentiates...

, was also available in petty treason trials.

Despite its name, petty treason was nevertheless considered to be a felony
A felony is a serious crime in the common law countries. The term originates from English common law where felonies were originally crimes which involved the confiscation of a convicted person's land and goods; other crimes were called misdemeanors...

, and so the rules of evidence and procedure in petty treason trials were the same as in murder trials. Consequently the Treason Act 1695
Treason Act 1695
The Treason Act 1695 is an Act of the Parliament of England which laid down rules of evidence and procedure in high treason trials. It was passed by the English Parliament but was extended to cover Scotland in 1708 and Ireland in 1821...

 did not apply to petty treason. Petty treason also differed from high treason in that the legal defence of benefit of clergy
Benefit of clergy
In English law, the benefit of clergy was originally a provision by which clergymen could claim that they were outside the jurisdiction of the secular courts and be tried instead in an ecclesiastical court under canon law...

was available for petty treason until 1496, whereas it was never available for high treason.
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