Upon Life
by Jack Emery

Jack Emery - Upon Life

BBC Radio 3

"Upon Life" - three 17th-century trials compiled from contemporary transcripts by Jack Emery. In each, the prisoner at the bar is on trial for his life; in each, he is denied defense counsel; and in each, to begin with, he refuses to recognise the right of the court to sit in judgement of him.

The historical advisor was Dr. Pauline Gregg.

The programmes were broadcast from the Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, in 1991.

1) 'Inquest for Blood' (Friday 8th March 1991)

The trial of Charles Stuart, King of England, for high treason.

On the 1st of January 1649, the Rump Parliament passed an ordinance for the trial of King Charles I. He was charged with subverting the fundamental laws and liberties of the nation and with maliciously making war on the Parliament and people of England. In a reversal of the traditional definition, Parliament declared that it was treason for a King to wage war upon his subjects. When the House of Lords refused to give their assent to the ordinance, the Rump declared the House of Commons to be the supreme authority in the land with powers to pass laws without the consent of the King or the Lords.

A High Court of Justice was specially convened for the trial, which was held in the Painted Chamber of the Palace of Westminster. Although the Commissioners of the High Court were anxious that the trial should be seen to be open and public, stringent security measures were enforced. Soldiers were stationed to control the crowds, guards were posted on the roofs, cellars were searched. President Bradshaw wore a steel-lined bullet-proof hat in case of an assassination attempt.

The trial opened on the afternoon of the 20th of January 1649, with further sessions on the 22nd and 23rd. With quiet dignity the King exasperated the Commissioners by refusing to answer the charges against him. He did not recognise the jurisdiction of the High Court and challenged the basis on which the purged House of Commons could claim to represent the people of England. Each session ended with Bradshaw ordering the soldiers to remove the King - thus emphasising the overriding presence of the Army in the proceedings and underlining the King's claim that the present administration was a worse threat to the liberty and welfare of the people of England than he had ever been.

On the 24th of January, thirty-three witnesses against the King were heard by a sub-committee of the High Court and the following day their depositions were read out in a public session. The depositions proved the King's personal participation in the wars, gave evidence of his approval of various atrocities and demonstrated his intention of stirring up and continuing the wars. On the 26th of January, the Commissioners drafted the sentence, condemning Charles Stuart as a "tyrant, traitor, murderer and public enemy to the Commonwealth of England". The final session of the trial was held on the 27th of January. Bradshaw's 40-minute address to the prisoner asserted that even a King was subject to the law, and that the law proceeded from Parliament. Furthermore, Charles Stuart had broken the sacred reciprocal bond between king and subject. By making war on his own people, he had forfeit his right to their allegiance. Declaring Charles guilty of the charges against him, Bradshaw ordered the sentence to be read out. To his great dismay, Charles was not allowed to speak and was abruptly led away from the court to await his execution.

With Brett Usher [King Charles I], David King [Lord John Bradshaw, President of the High Court of Justice], Steve Hodson [Solicitor-General Cook], James Greene [Clerk to the Court], Christopher Good [John Downs], and Christian Rodska [The Reporter].

Also, Michael Graham Cox, Michael Howarth, Dale Rapley, and Jenny Howe.

With students from the Central School of Speech and Drama, and members of the Magnificent Theatre Company

Directed by Jane Morgan who would like to acknowledge her debt to historian C. V. Wedgwood.

70 minutes.

2) 'Man of the People' (Friday 15th March 1991)

The trial of John Lilburne, Leveller, at the Guild Hall, London, in October 1649 for publishing treasonous pamphlets.

John Lilburne (1615-1657), English political leader and pamphleteer of the Levelers. He was tried before the court of the Star Chamber as early as 1638 for printing and distributing antiepiscopal works. Imprisoned from 1638 to 1640, he was released with the aid of Oliver Cromwell and in the course of the first civil war rose (1642-45) to be a lieutenant colonel in the parliamentary army. He resigned from the army because he refused to sign the Presbyterian Covenant required for admission to the New Model Army. Lilburne then became a pamphleteer and leader of a large following of common soldiers and artisans who hoped for a fundamental, democratic revision of the constitution and the social system. After 1646 he spent much of his life in prison or exile but continued his propaganda work even there. His pamphlet England's Birthright (1645) contained the principles that became the basis for the Leveler programme later stated in 'An Agreement of the People'. Lilburne protested the arbitrary rule of the Rump Parliament and, though no royalist, protested the tribunal that condemned Charles I to death.

On September 14, 1649, Attorney-General Edmund Prideaux demanded to know if Lilburne had written 'An Outcry of the Young Apprentices of London', but Lilburne denied the government’s right to question him. A warrant for his arrest was issued five days later, and at the Guildhall, London, he was charged with high treason.

Dressed carefully in doublet buttoning down to the hips, wrote biographer Pauline Gregg, with lace at the neck and cuffs, trousers slashed and decorated, good boots and spurs, there was nothing at first glance to indicate the struggle he had been through. It was apparent, however, that strife over the years had coarsened his features, that the delicacy of the young man’s face had gone. The disfigurement caused by his eye injury many years before gave his face in repose a slightly saturnine look. He no longer curled his hair back from his ears, as he had done as a young man, but let it hang to his shoulders, slightly grizzled and somewhat unkempt. The expanse of forehead was more apparent than ever, and the profile still showed the high ascetic nose. It was perhaps in the eyes and the mouth that the greatest difference showed. At twenty-three Lilburne held the simple belief that the demonstration of an injustice led to its abrogation. Seven years later disillusionment and bitter struggle had left their mark in the set of his mouth and the challenge in his eyes.

As always, Lilburne handled his own defense. He caught the Attorney-General and judge by surprise. They had expected him simply to express general principles and deny that the court had jurisdiction. Instead, with Edward Coke’s Institutes and other law books by his side, he tied up the proceedings with one technical objection after another. He demanded to see the indictment against him. He picked apart circumstantial evidence that he was the author of An Outcry of the Young Apprentices of London. He noted that the Rump Parliament’s sedition law was enacted after he had already been imprisoned in the Tower of London. Despite the judge’s objections, he repeatedly told the jury that they were empowered to issue a verdict on laws as well as the facts in his case.

The trial was over in two days, and he won a stunning acquittal. Levellers struck a silver and copper-gilt medal in his honour. It showed his picture and was inscribed with these words: John Lilburne saved by the power of the Lord and the integrity of his jury who are judge of law as well as fact. Oct. 26, 1649.

Unfortunately, he got into disputes while trying to collect rent from former royalist properties given him as compensation for his unjust imprisonments. One of the cases was judged by Parliament, which saw an opportunity to get even and Lilburne was banished (1652), but returned to England, and was again tried and acquitted (1653). Deemed dangerous, he was held in prison. In his last years he became a Quaker.

Behind many of our most fundamental civil liberties there stood John Lilburne, a mere apprentice who helped develop a bold new vision of liberty, took a principled stand, risked his life, defied tyrants, and got his story out. He suffered that we might be free.

With Karl Johnson [John Lilburne], Christian Rodska [The Reporter], Robin Bailey [Judge Keble], David Neal [Judge Jermyn], Edward de Souza [Attorney-General Edmund Prideaux], David Bannerman [Colonel Purefoy], Vincent Brimble [Lieutenant], Christopher Good [Mr. Nutleigh], James Greene [Mr. Newcombe], David King [Thomas Lewis], Brian Miller [mR. sPRAT], Danny Schiller [Mr. Daffern], and Michael Kilgarriff [The Clerk of the Court].

Directed by John Theocharis.

90 minutes.

3) 'Regicide' (Friday 22nd March 1991 @ 9:45 p.m.)

With the restoration of Charles II in 1660, the wheel of revolution had come full circle. The trial of Major General Thomas Harrison in October 1660, one of those accused of signing Charles I's death warrant, for High Treason.

Thomas Harrison (1606 - October 14, 1660) was a Puritan soldier and later a leader of the Fifth monarchy men. The son of the mayor of Newcastle-under-Lyme he managed to be admitted to the Inns of Court as an attorney at Clifford's Inn.

During the Civil War he declared for Parliament and served in the Earl of Manchester's army. He fought in many of the major battles of the war and joined the New Model Army in 1645. By the end of the conflict he had risen to the rank of Major-General and was a noted friend and supporter of Oliver Cromwell.

He was elected to the Long Parliament for Wendover in 1646. When conflict resumed he was wounded at Appleby in July 1648. He had to return to London but was well enough to command the escort that brought the King to London in January 1649. Harrison sat as a commissioner (judge) at the trial and was the seventeenth of fifty nine commissioners to sign the death warrant of King Charles I.

In 1650, Harrison was appointed to a military command in Wales where he was apparently extremely severe. He was promoted to the rank of Major-General in 1651 and commanded the army in England during Cromwell's Scottish expedition. He fought at the battle of Knutsford in August and at Worcester in September 1651.

By the early 1650s Harrison was associated with the radical Fifth Monarchy Men and became one of their key speakers. He still supported Cromwell and aided in the dissolution of the Rump Parliament in April 1653. Harrison was a radical member of the Nominated Assembly (Barebones Parliament) that replaced the Parliament. When the Assembly was dissolved, Harrison and others refused to leave and had to be forced out by soldiers. Harrison was dismissed from the Army in December.

Like many, he was outraged by the formation of the Protectorate and the elevation of Cromwell to Lord Protector. Under the Protectorate (1653-60) Harrison was imprisoned four times.

After Cromwell's death Harrison remained quietly in his home, supporting none of the contenders for power. Following the Restoration, Harrison declined to flee and was arrested in May 1660, tried in October, and was the first of the Regicides to be executed by being hanged, drawn and quartered on October 14, 1660.

With John Rowe [Major General Thomas Harrison], Paul Daneman [Sir Orlando Bridgeman, Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer], Jim Norton [Attorney General Edward Turner], Michael Cochrane [Solicitor General Heneage Finch], Christian Rodska [The Reporter], Norman Jones [Denzel Hollis], Christopher Good [Clerk of the Court], David King [Sir Thomas Allan], Ian Lindsay [George Pickering], Danny Schiller [John Lyle], Brian Miller [Clerk], James Greene [Nutley], Michael Kilgarriff [Lord Newborough], and Alfred Hoffman [Farrington].

Other parts were played by members of the cast.

Directed by Martin Jenkins.

70 minutes.


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