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Law School Research Seminar - Shannon McSheffrey, Concordia University

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Title: 'High Jinks or High Treason: Prosecuting the Evil May Day Riot, 1517'

Abstract: ‘On the eve of May 1, 1517, an anti-immigrant riot, later known as “Evil May Day,” broke out in London. The royal response to the Evil May Day insurrection, as it was later called, was a multi-day pageant of severe justice punctuated by theatrical reprieves. Though the offence of ‘riot’ was normally treated as a misdemeanour, punished by small fines, dozens of those who took part in the disorder were indicted for high treason. At least fifteen were put to death at eleven different points within London’s city walls and there are indications that the final execution toll was much greater than fifteen, as high as forty-three. The king tempered judicial brutality with royal mercy, issuing dramatic pardons to some, even as others were drawn, hanged, and quartered in London’s most central places. This paper will consider how the crown managed the legal prosecution of this riot – and why Henry VIII and his chief minister Thomas Wolsey took such extreme measures’

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