February 19

In the Old Bailey, on this day in 1663, one John Twynn, printer, was condemned to death for high treason for the printing of a “seditious, poisonous, and scandalous book, entitled A Treatise on the execution of Justice is as well the people’s as the magistrate’s duty, and if the magistrates prevent judgment, then the people are bound by the law of God to execute judgment without them, and upon them.”

The sentence upon Printer Twynn was, “That he be led back to the place from whence he came, and from thence to be drawn upon an hurdle to the place of execution; and there to be hanged by the neck, and being alive, to be cut down, and his privy members to be cut off, his entrails to be taken out of his body, and he living, the same to be burnt before his eyes; his head to be cut off, his body to be divided into four quarters, and his head and quarters to be disposed of at the pleasure of the king’s majesty.”

It is to be wondered just what poor Twynn put into his long-titled book, as on the same day, a printer and two booksellers were indicted by the same court for the production of two books which caused his majesty an equal amount of displeasure. After disposing of Twynn, Lord Chief Justice Hyde meted out a rather mild punishment to the others, with the following remarks: “You three have been severally indicted for a heinous and great offence: Brewster, you have been indicted for two several books, as full of villainy, and slander, and reproach to the king and government, as possibly can be: And 1 will tell you all three, it is the king’s great mercy you have not been indicted capitally; for every one of those books are filled with treason, and you for publishing of them, by strictness of law, have forfeited your lives and all to the king: It is his clemency towards you. You may see the king’s purposes; he desires to reform, not to ruin his subjects. The press is grown so common, and men take the boldness to print whatever is brought to them, let it concern who it will, it is high time examples be made. I must let you and all men know, by the course of the common law, before this new act was made, for a printer, or any other under the pretence of printing, to publish that which is a reproach to the king, to the state, to his government, to the church, nay to a particular person, it is punishable as a misdemeanor. He must not say he knew not what was in it; that is no answer in law.”

The prisoners were then condemned to stand in the pillory for two hours on two different days and then were committed to the next gaol-delivery, without bail, and were to remain prisoners during the king’s pleasure, following which they were to be fined £600 each.

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