Petty treason

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Petty treason or petit treason was an offence under the common law of England which involved the betrayal of a superior by a subordinate. It differed from the better-known high treason 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 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. 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. 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, 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, or
  3. a servant committing adultery 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...
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