This article discusses complexities and ambiguities that arose during the proceedings of a Catholic treason trial. The analysis proceeds by way of a case study of the trial of William Parry who was one of Lord Burghley’s spies. Despite having confessed plotting to assassinate Queen Elizabeth, during his performance in his trial Parry decided to change his story and retract his putatively voluntary confession. Based on Parry’s trial records this essay draws attention to the contesting discourses of patriotism and treason that were produced during the court procedures, suggesting that treason trials in Elizabethan England could not always be conducted safely nor controlled so as to produce the desired propaganda for the crown. The mise en scene by the authorities of a public show trial was one thing; its actual administration, quite another. Punishers and defendants interacted in the communicative space of the trial and through that interaction there emerged a multiplicity of possibilities, of interpretations and appropriations, of meanings and understandings.