On August 14th 1670,the Quaker William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, preached to a large crowd on a London Street. The peace was disturbed and Penn, with his co-religionist William Mead, was arrested. The two men stood trial at the Old Bailey in the first days of September. They conducted their own defence and Penn recorded the trial in great detail. His record was preserved in the State Trials which were collected in 1719. In this series we will present Penn’s account in its entirety. In it Penn is the “Observer” who makes frequent comments throughout and sums up the conclusion of the Trial. This trial was, in effect, the first on record to explore the limits of Free Speech – a subject that is still a matter of concern in the 21st. Century. Here is the second instalment.
NewgateTHE TRYAL of WILLIAM PENN and WILLIAM MEAD,at the Sessions held at the Old Baily in London, the 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 5th of September, 1670.
Done by themselves.Day 2: The third of September 1670, the Court sat.PRESENTSAM. STARLING, MayorTHO. HOWEL, Recorder.THO. BLOODWORTH, Alderman.WILLIAM PEAK, Alderman.JOHN ROBINSON, Alderman.RICHARD FORD, Alderman.JOSEPH SHELDEN, Alderman.JOHN SMITH, Sheriff.JAMES EDWARDS, Sheriff.RICHARD BROWNE, Sheriff.CRYER. OYez, etc.CLERK. Bring William Penn and William Mead to the Bar.MAYOR. Sirrah, who bid you put off their Hats? Put on their Hats again.OBSERV. Whereupon one of the Officers putting the Prisoners Hats upon their Heads (pursuant to the Order of the Court) brought them to the Bar.RECORDER. Do you know where you are?PEN. Yes.RECORDER. Do not you know it is the King’s Court?PEN. I know it to be a Court, and I suppose it to be the King’s Court.RECORDER. Do you not know there is Respect due to the Court?PEN. Yes.RECORDER. Why do you not pay it then?PEN. I do so.RECORDER. Why do you not pull off your Hat then?PEN. Because I do not believe that to be any Respect.RECORDER. Well, the Court sets forty Marks a piece upon your Heads, as a Fine for your Contempt of the Court.PEN. I desire it might be observed, that we came into the Court with our Hats off (that is, taken off) and if they have been put on since, it was by Order from the Bench; and therefore not we, but the Bench should be fined.MEAD. I have a Question to ask the Recorder. Am I fined also?RECORDER. Yes.MEAD. I desire the Jury, and all People to take notice of this Injustice of the Recorder; who spake to me to pull off my Hat? and yet hath he put a Fine upon my Head. O fear the Lord, and dread his Power, and yield to the Guidance of his Holy Spirit, for he is not far from every one of you.The Jury sworn again.OBSERV. J. Robinson, Lieutenant of the Tower, disingenuously objected against —- Bushel, as if he had not kiss’d the Book, and therefore would have him sworn again; tho’ indeed it was on purpose to have made use of his Tenderness of Conscience in avoiding reiterated Oaths, to have put him by his being a Jury-man, apprehending him to be a Person not fit to answer their Arbitrary Ends.The Clerk read the Indictment, as aforesaid.CLERK. Cryer, Call James Cook into the Court, give him his Oath.CLERK. James Cook, lay your Hand upon the Book.
The Evidence you shall give to the Court, betwixt our Sovereign the King, and the Prisoners at the Bar, shall be the Truth, and the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth. So help you God.COOK. I was sent for, from the Exchange, to go and disperse a Meeting in Gracechurch-Street, where I saw Mr. Penn speaking to the People, but I could not hear what he said, because of the Noise; I endeavoured to make way to take him, but I could not get to him for the Crowd of People; upon which Capt. Mead came to me, about the Kennel of the Street, and desired me to let him go on; for when he had done, he would bring Mr. Penn to me.COURT. What Number do you think might be there?COOK. About three or four Hundred People.COURT. Call Richard Read, give him his Oath.OBSERV. READ being sworn was ask’d, what do you know concerning the Prisoners at the Bar?READ. My Lord, I went to Gracechurch-Street, where I found a great Crowd of People, and I heard Mr. Penn preach to them; and I saw Capt. Mead speaking to Lieutenant Cook, but what he said, I could not tell.MEAD. What did William Penn say?READ. There was such a great Noise, that I could not tell what he said.MEAD. Jury, observe this Evidence, He saith he heard him Preach, and yet faith, he doth not know what he said.MEAD. Jury, take notice, he swears now a clean contrary thing to what he swore before the Mayor when we were committed: For now he swears that he saw me in Gracechurch-Street, and yet swore before the Mayor, when I was committed, that he did not see me there. I appeal to the Mayor himself, if this be not true.OBSERV. But no Answer was given.COURT. What Number do you think might be there?READ. About four or five hundred.PEN. I desire to know of him what Day it was?READ. The 14th Day of August.PEN. Did he speak to me, or let me know he was there; for I am very sure I never saw him.CLERK. Cryer, call —- —- into the Court.CLERK. Give him his Oath.—- My Lord, I saw a great Number of People, and Mr. Penn I suppose was speaking; I see him make a Motion with his Hands, and heard some Noise, but could not understand what he said. But for Capt. Mead, I did not see him there.RECORDER. What say you, Mr. Mead, were you there?MEAD. It is a Maxim in your own Law, Nemo tenetur accusare seipsum, which if it be not true Latin, I am sure it is true English, That no Man is bound to accuse himself: And why dost thou offer to ensnare me with such a Question? Doth not this shew thy Malice? Is this like unto a Judge, that ought to be Counsel for the Prisoner at the Bar?RECORDER. Sir, hold your Tongue, I did not go about to ensnare you.PEN. I desire we may come more close to the Point, and that Silence be commanded in the Court.CRYER. Oyez, all manner of Persons keep Silence upon Pain of Imprisonment–Silence Court.PEN. We confess our selves to be so far from recanting, or declining to vindicate the Assembling of our selves to Preach, Pray, or Worship the Eternal, Holy, Just God, that we declare to all the World, that we do believe it to be our indispensable Duty, to meet incessantly upon so good an Account; nor shall all the Powers upon Earth be able to divert us from reverencing and adoring our God who made it.BROWN.You are not here for worshipping God, but for breaking the Law; you do yourselves a great deal of Wrong in going on in that Discourse.PEN. I affirm I have broken no Law, nor am I guilty of the Indictment that is laid to my Charge; and to the End the Bench, the Jury, and my self, with these that hear us, may have a more direct Understanding of this Procedure, I desire you would let me know by what Law it is you prosecute me, and upon what Law you ground my Indictment.RECORDER. Upon the Common Law.PEN. Where is that Common Law?RECORDER. You must not think that I am able to run up so many Years, and over so many adjudged Cases, which we call Common Law, to answer your Curiosity.PEN. This Answer I am sure is very short of my Question, for if it be Common, it should not be so hard to produce.RECORDER. Sir, will you plead to your Indictment?PEN. Shall I plead to an Indictment that hath no Foundation in Law? If it contain that Law you say I have broken, why should you decline to produce that Law, since it will be impossible for the Jury to determine, or agree to bring in their Verdict, who have not the Law produced, by which they should measure the Truth of this Indictment, and the Guilt, or contrary of my Fact?RECORDER. You are a sawcy Fellow, speak to the Indictment.[Sidenote: OBSERV. At this time several upon the Bench urged hard upon the Prisoner to bear him down.]