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 above picture, I’m reading a 1580 letter from Anne Broughton to her father 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 thought the jury was 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, or water until the judge deemed their decision was correct. But Richard Crompton, in another Folger rare book, sheds light on the same event:
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. (c. 1580) the which my selfe-saw.
The jury acquitted the defendant “against apparent evidence,” perhaps because they believed he killed “Atkinson’s man” in self-defense and that murder was too harsh a verdict. Eleven of the jury were thus sent to the Star Chamber and convicted of perjury, fined, and forced to march in a public shame procession, being marshaled by the court bailiffs 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.” It gives poignant insight into what juries were willing to do to push back against the law’s violence.
Juries could be punished for their verdicts until 1670.