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Roger Casement sentenced to death
Sketch of Sir Roger Casement's being found guilty of High Treason against the Crown being handed down by John Bull (England). Photo: Issues and Events, Villanova University

Roger Casement sentenced to death

London, 29 June 1916 - Sir Roger Casement was today found guilty of high treason and has been sentenced to death.

The Lord Chief Justice – assisted by two other judges – passed the sentence at the King’s Bench.

The charge of high treason was defined under a 1351 statute as ‘levying war against the King or being adherent to the King's enemies in his realm, giving them aid and comfort in the realm or elsewhere’.

The fact that the trial proceeded based on this statute led Sir Roger Casement to state that he had been tried, ‘not by the civilisation of the twentieth century, but by the brutality of the fourteenth.’

At the Bow Street court: (L) Two counsel for the prosecution, Mr Humphreys and Mr Bodkin; (C) Attorney-General, Sir F. E. Smith MP, leading counsel for the Prosecution; (R) Mr Artemus Jones and Professor J. H. Morgan, Counsel for the Defense. (Images: Illustrated London News, 20 May 1916)

In a final speech to the court, Casement had said that he wished to correct inaccurate evidence put before the court:

‘I never asked an Irishman to fight for Germany. I have always claimed that an Irishman has no right to fight for any other land but Ireland. The abhorrent insinuation that I got my peoples’ rations reduced because they refused to join the Irish Brigade is an abominable falsehood….The other suggestion that men were sent to punishment camps at my instance for not joining the Irish Brigade is one that I need hardly pause to deal with. It is devoid of all foundation.

‘...there is widespread imputation of German gold...Those who know me know the nature of this malicious invention, for they know that through all my past record I have never sold myself to any man or to any government, and I have never allowed any government to use me. From the first moment that I landed on the continent until I came home again to Ireland I neither asked for nor accepted a single penny of foreign money, either for myself or for any Irish cause or for any purpose whatever, but only the money of Irishmen.’

Sir Roger Casement in front of the audience that gathered in the small court room at Bow Street in London where the trial was held. To his right, partially obscured, sits Casement's fellow accused Sergeant Daniel Bailey who traveled by U-Boat with him from Germany last April ahead of the rebellion to be staged in Dublin. (Image: Le Mirroir, 4 June 1916.)

He thanked those English friends who had stood by him and concluded:

‘I must state categorically that the rebellion was not made in Germany, was not directed from Germany, was not inspired from Germany, and not one penny of German gold went to finance it.’

When Sir Roger Casement concluded his speech, the three judges donned traditional black caps and passed the sentence of death.

An appeal is to be lodged.

[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]

RTÉ

Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.