The power of the English monarch to execute subjects

stevev

Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
3,628
Las Vegas, NV USA
When did it end? Clearly the Tudors had it and used it apparently without legal process. With the Stuarts Parliament seems to have assumed that power by beheading Charles I. Since then I know of no monarch that used this power. Justice came under the law courts and Parliament which was the highest court. Did the monarch still have this as a reserve power which existed in theory but was never used while capital punishment was still legal?.
 
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Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,746
Dispargum
When Henry VIII executed two of his wives he went through the process of charging and convicting them of treason. In the case of Catherine Howard the conviction was via a bill of attainder, a legislative (not judicial) conviction that was later banned by the US Constitution, but Henry couldn't just kill her. He first had to convince Parliament. Anne Boleyn was convicted by a jury of 27 peers. It was much easier for Henry to get a conviction back then than it would be today, but there was still a process.
 
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Dec 2014
453
Wales
OK. Then there was some sort of process? Enlighten me.
A good example is that of Anne Bolyn:

Three days later, Anne and George Boleyn were tried separately in the Tower of London, before a jury of 27 peers. She was accused of adultery, incest, and high treason. By the Treason Act of Edward III, adultery on the part of a queen was a form of treason (because of the implications for the succession to the throne) for which the penalty was hanging, drawing and quartering for a man and burning alive for a woman, but the accusations, and especially that of incestuous adultery, were also designed to impugn her moral character. The other form of treason alleged against her was that of plotting the king's death, with her "lovers", so that she might later marry Henry Norris. Henry Percy, 6th Earl of Northumberland, sat on the jury that unanimously found Anne guilty. When the verdict was announced, he collapsed and had to be carried from the courtroom. He died childless eight months later and was succeeded by his nephew.

Anne Boleyn - Wikipedia

Generally a monarch would get the result they wanted because the judge and jury would see it as a chance to win favours with the monarch (and avoid his enmity), but it is worth noting that with regard to the charges brought against Anne and several others that led to their execution (almost certainly bogus) one of the accused, Sir Richard Page, was also accused of having a sexual relationship with the Queen, but he was acquitted of all charges after further investigation could not implicate him.

A charge brought against someone who was the enemy of the monarch may have been generally a foregone conclusion, but it was due to power and corruption rather than the lack of a due process - at least as far as the gentry were concerned.
 
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stevev

Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
3,628
Las Vegas, NV USA
Thanks. I don't know if Mary I observed the legal niceties as much.

So when did the monarch's de facto power to obtain executions end in fact and in principle, two different things . I looked up Elizabeth II's reserve powers. She is Commander in Chief but the death penalty is outlawed now in the UK.
 
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Dec 2014
453
Wales
It appears that Tudor monarchs had the power to rule by decree. If there were trials they were often show trials. The main power of Parliament was the control of taxation and finance. But if a monarch could find other sources of revenue they could do what they wished. Henry VIII found it in the monasteries of England which he plundered.

I don't think anyone doubts the Tudors had great power to execute subjects almost at will in many cases. My question is when was this power was lost in fact and in principle which are two different things.
Not true. Don't forget only a few decades before the country had been torn apart between two warring factions, and the old king Richard III had been killed after the forces of one of the Northern Lords - the Stanley family - had turned against him. In a few more decades another king would be executed. Henry VII faced numerous rebellions, Lady Jane Grey, though named queen by the then king Edward VI was executed and Elizabeth faced many threats to her throne which she had to manage by careful political manipulation. Massive amounts of power resided with the Lords and with parliament, who between them controlled both wealth and military power. By and large all monarchs had to play a careful game of keeping the Lords in general happy, or risk the consequences.

With perhaps the exception of Henry VIII, any king who ruled badly - who tried to issue death warrants without due process for example - risked assassination or even open revolt.