Act for Continuing the Imprisonment of Robert Blackburn, 1714
In 1696 a group of English Jacobites planned to assassinate the Prince of Orange. The assassination was to be part of a more general rising throughout the land supported by French troops. The plan was betrayed to the de facto government by Captain Thomas Prendergrass (a loyal Jacobite, but one who balked at assassination) and Francis de la Rue, son of a French major in the guard at Saint Germain.
Nine men were condemned to death for their part in the plan. Dozens of others were arrested on suspicion of complicity. Most of these were released within a matter of months. However, six men were kept in prison in spite of the fact that, in violation of Habeas Corpus, they had been charged with no offence:
The de facto government passed an act of Parliament in 1696 allowing these six men to be imprisoned for twelve months without trial (10 William III, cap. 13). The act was renewed in each of the five subsequent years. When Princess Anne of Denmark usurped the throne in 1701, the de facto government passed an act of Parliament allowing the men to be imprisoned indefinitely (1 Anne, stat. 1, cap. 29). Likewise when the Elector George I of Hanover usurped the throne in 1714, the de facto government passed another similar act (1 George I, stat. 2, cap. 7) reprinted below.
Counter was released in 1702, but the other five men remained imprisoned until their deaths. John Bernardi was the last to die, in 1736, after more than forty years as a prisoner.
A printed version of the 1714 act can be found on page 59 of volume 4 of The statutes at large, from Magna Charta, to the thirtieth year of King George the Second, edited by John Cay (London: Thomas Baskett, 1758). For a detailed study of the 1696 plan, see Jane Garrett, The Triumphs of Providence: The Assassination Plot, 1696 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980).
Whereas by an act of Parliament made in the first year of the reign of Her late Majesty Queen Anne intituled An act for the continuing the imprisonment of Counter, and others, for the horrid conspiracy to assassinate the person of His late sacred Majesty King William the Third the persons hereafter named (that is to say) Robert Blackburn, John Bernardi, Robert Cassels, Robert Meldrum and James Chambers, then prisoners in Newgate for a detestable traitorous conspiracy to assassinate the royal person of His said late Majesty, were to be detained and kept in custody, without bail or mainprize, during Her said late Majesty's pleasure, and will now be set at large unless some further provision be made for the continuance of their imprisonment for the said offence:
Be it therefore enacted by the King's most excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, that the said Robert Blackburn, John Bernardi, Robert Cassels, Robert Meldrum, and James Chambers, shall be detained and kept in custody, without bail or mainprize, during His Majesty's pleasure.
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© Noel S. McFerran 2005.