If medieval kings were duly anointed and therefore had God behind them, betraying a king was akin to blasphemy. Only the harshest of punishments was suitable for treason: to be hanged, drawn and quartered; however, a woman was burnt at the stake (the quartering of her body would result in people seeing naked lady parts, and that was unacceptable in a civilized society), and nobles convicted of treason had the more genteel conclusion of beheading.
High treason could be achieved by numerous actions:
- Killing (or planning to kill) the King, his wife, or his heir
- Violating the King's wife, the King's unmarried eldest daughter, the wife of the King's heir
- Warring against the King
- Providing aid and comfort to the King's enemies
- Counterfeiting the Great Seal or Privy Seal
- Counterfeiting English currency
- Killing an acting Chancellor, Treasurer, or a King's Justice
And because that many other like Cases of Treason may happen in Time to come, which a Man cannot think nor declare at this present Time; it is accorded, That if any other Case, supposed Treason, which is not above specified, doth happen before any Justices, the Justices shall tarry without any going to Judgement of the Treason till the Cause be shewed and declared before the King and his Parliament, whether it ought to be judged Treason or other Felony.Changes have been made over the centuries. For instance, although the Treason Act of 1351 still holds in Scotland (because Parliament has not given Scotland the power to change it), it is no longer treason in England (as of 1861) to copy the Great Seal. Also, counterfeiting was reduced to a felony in 1832.