It’s an honor to be researching in the Folger Shakespeare Library archives this summer, working on my project about early modern legal violence. In the picture left, I’m reading a 1580 letter from Anne Broughton to her father Richard Bagot about a jury who committed what we would call “jury nullification.” Anne writes,
this day a Jurie of glomer went on p..ression to the aboutes westner hall being m..shalled with tipstases with goodlie paper hatbandes for acquinting a prisoner at glourer that had killed on medlictmer Atkinsons man in glom..
At first I interpreted that the jury might be marching in protest, perhaps because they had been forced to acquit someone they believed to be guilty; juries’ decisions were often subordinate to the assize bench, and juries could be kept without food, fire, tobacco, and water until the judge deemed their verdict was “just.” But Richard Crompton, in L’authoritie et Jurisdiction des Courts, sheds light on what must be the same jury:
Eleven of a Jury… did acquite one Hodye of Felony before Sir Roger Manwood Chiefe Baron in his Circuit in Somersetshire against apparent evidence: they were fined in Star-chamber, and did weare papers in Westminster hall, circa 22.Eliz. the which my selfe-saw.
“22 Eliz.” is the twenty-second year of Elizabeth’s reign, or 1580, the Bagot family lived near Somersetshire, and as the jury “did weare papers in Westminster Hall,” it seems to be the jury that Anne describes. Crompton writes that the jury acquitted the defendant “against apparent evidence,” perhaps because they believed he killed “Atkinson’s man” in self-defense and that manslaughter was a more just verdict than murder. Eleven of the jury were thus sent to the Star Chamber, convicted of perjury, fined, and forced
to march in a public shame procession, being marshaled by the court bailiffs (tipstaffs) while wearing paper hats (“goodlie paper hatbandes”) that likely read “for wilful perjury.” If convicted of jury nullification, jurists could be whipped, pilloried, have their ears cut off, be imprisoned, or “sometimes by more of these punishments joined together.” Their verdict provides insight into what juries were willing to do to push back against the law’s violence.
Juries could be indicted for their verdicts until 1670, when it was ruled that juries could no longer be compelled to vote against their conscience.