Common Law in medieval and early modern English and Welsh history could be quite a convenient tool for monarchs and their supporting ministers. With the stroke of the quill onto parchment and Parliamentary approval, not only could the riches and properties of "treasonous" nobility be easily converted to the crown, but most prominently during the reign of King Henry VIII, an attainder could also arrange for swift judicial murder.Share
Just how did this work? The Act of Attainder was a handy procedure of Parliamentary Law that swiftly enabled Parliament to pass judicial sentence upon an accused person, whether justified or not irrelevant, as if it was a court of law. The concept when actualized enabled Parliament to act as judge and jury, with the Act of Attainder submitted for review replacing a judicial verdict. Thus, the accused was condemned by statute rather than judged by a jury of peers. Literally speaking, the condemned was determined by legislative action to have "tainted blood" that needed to be "destroyed".
Think about that for a moment. With ink and quill a minister acting on behalf of a monarch could propose a law and demonstrate that an individual violated the said law, thus punishment levied -- often retroactively. The minister could bi-pass the potential of subject revolt based on questionable actions, a clever individual demonstrating his innocence, and the risk of trial and judgment by peers. An attainder could even be brought for Parliamentary consideration after an offender's death in battle or revolt. Nifty, eh? What a convenient stroke of genius!
Although the use of Acts of Attainder began in the 14th century, first to depose the DeSpensers, allies and favorites of King Edward II, they were initially limited to garnishing the riches and lands of men who rivaled the security of the monarch or who were defeated in battle. During King Henry VIII's reign, however, the Act of Attainder became a far more ominous tool, as for many unfortunate souls, it resulted in a death sentence, a convenient and expedient way to exact justice through judicial murder. In all cases, whether execution was exacted or not, the condemned lost nobility status if applicable with all property reverted to the crown, obviously leaving the condemned, family and heirs destitute.
Let's now look at some of the famous and infamous who became victims of 16th century Parliamentary Acts of Attainder...(Read more.)