It’s all about society…
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.
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:
- a wife killing her husband,
- a clergyman killing his prelate, or
- 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:
- a wife attempting to kill her husband,
- a servant forging his master’s seal, or
- a servant committing adultery with his master’s wife or daughter.
Counterfeiting gold or silver coin was also petty treason before the 1351 Act elevated this to high treason. However the method of execution was not changed.