The Trial of Nicholas Throckmorton

Edited and Introduced by Annabel Patterson - TS02

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In the autumn of 1553, a new queen reigned in England. The Roman Catholic Mary Tudor had succeeded her sickly young brother Edward VI, and Protestant Englishmen — among them Sir Thomas Wyatt the younger — were trying desperately to engineer her fall. Wyatt’s rebellion was unsuccessful, and in the wake of his execution one of those put on trial for treason was Sir Nicholas Throckmorton: courtier, parliamentarian, and member of the Warwickshire gentry. According to the custom of the time, he was not permitted counsel and had to defend himself. The Trial of Nicholas Throckmorton records, virtually in dramatic form, Throckmorton’s spirited and skillful resistance to his accusers. So learned and quick-witted was his defence that he was acquitted by the jury, an almost unheard-of occurrence in Tudor treason trials. The record of Throckmorton’s trial ― “expressed in a dialogue for the better understanding of every man’s part” ― would become a canonical text in the legal history of England, and particularly important in Whig and liberal history and thought.

Annabel Patterson has edited this important political trial from the version in Raphael Holinshed’s The Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (London, 1587), a revision and expansion of the first edition of 1577. Her introduction sets the political scene, provides a biography of Throckmorton, analyzes the trial’s place in the fabric of the Tudor law of treason, and considers its aftermath in the experiences of the jury who acquitted Throckmorton, and of later figures such as William Walwyn, John Lilburne, and Algernon Sidney. Two appendices provide Tudor writings relating to the trial, and there is a bibliography of related studies.

The Trial of Nicholas Throckmorton re-introduces a notable historical text to students of Tudor and Stuart literature and drama, history, law, and culture.

Annabel Patterson is Karl Young Professor of English at Yale University. She has taught in universities in both Canada and the United States, and has published a number of distinguished essays and books on topics in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century literature and history, including her study, Reading Holinshed’s Chronicles (1994).

108 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-9697512-8-1 softcover
Published: 1998


Renaissance Quarterly, 53:2 (Summer 2000), pp. 599-601. Reviewed by Rebecca S. More.

The Sixteenth Century Journal, 31:2 (Summer 2000), pp. 502-503. Reviewed by Gary G. Gibbs.

University of Toronto Quarterly, 69:1 (Winter 1999/2000), pp. 189-190. Reviewed by Robert Whalen.



The Trial of Nicholas Throckmorton

Appendix A: The Legend of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton (excerpts)

Appendix B: Tudor Documents Relating to Throckmorton's Trial
i. John Bradford, Remarks on a Memorable Trial (1555)
ii. Rose (Hickman) Throckmorton, Autobiography (1610) (excerpts)
iii. Sir Thomas Smith, The Commonwealth of England and Manner of Government Thereof (1583) (excerpts)

Textual Note

Selected Bibliography