Saturday, 12 January 2013

The Harrowing Horror of the Terrifying Torments

                   There is an old tale of a sailor who was shipwrecked and managed to swim through the surf to the shore, scramble over the ragged rocks onto dry land, and then drag himself up a cliff, at the top of which he saw a gallows. The sailor fell to his knees and thanked God that he had been lucky enough to land in a Christian country. 

Man has long applied his imagination in devising original methods of disposing of his fellow man. A law from the time of Æthelstan decreed, 
Let him be smitten so that his neck break.” 
When Richard I was departing on crusade for the Holy Land, he ordered that if any man were to kill another whilst aboard ship, he was to be tied to the corpse and thrown overboard; if a man killed another on the land, he was to be buried alive with the corpse. If a miller was found to have stolen flour above the sum of 4d he was to be hanged from the beam of his mill. In London, a man found guilty of treason was to be bound to a stake in the Thames for two ebbs and two flows of the tide; ‘pirats and robbers by sea’ were hanged at the low water mark and left ‘till three tides haue ouerwashed them.’  In fifteenth century Fordwich, a condemned man was bound hand and foot and thrown by the prosecutor down the ‘Thieves Well’; at Dover, the criminal was taken to the cliff edge called Sharpnesse and infalistationed – that is, thrown over onto the beach below. In 1531, an Act of Parliament was passed allowing for the execution of one Richard Rose, a cook in the kitchens of the Bishop of Rochester who had introduced 
‘…a certeyne venym or poyson into a vessel replenysshed with yeste or barme stondyng in the Kechyn,’ 
which had resulted in the poisoning of at least sixteen people. On April 5th 1531, Rose was boiled to death at Smithfield; on March 17th in the following year, Margaret Davy, a maid-servant, was also boiled to death at Smithfield for poisoning three households in which she had worked. There are several reports in a variety of Chronicles that record certain individuals who called themselves Christ were crucified for their troubles, for instance, 
A man of Oxenford faynyd hym to be Cryst, and was crucified at Addurbury.” 
But of all the methods of execution favoured in the past, hanging, drawing and quartering was particularly popular. Regular readers of this blog will recall I have mentioned this method in numerous posts, but let’s look at it again. 

Hanging and Quartering

There is some confusion about the terminology of this punishment, which arises from the order in which its parts are now given. The correct order should really be drawing, hanging and quartering, as the condemned man was first drawn – i.e. dragged – to the place of execution; the chronicler John Capgrave writes in many places of men being ‘hangged, drawe and qwartered’, which may be the original cause of the confusion. There are some who think that the ‘drawing’ refers instead to the drawing out of the criminal’s entrails but this is not the case. 

Drawn to the Gallows on a sledge

There were three types of drawing – the most common was dragging the condemned to the gallows where he was to be hanged but in some other cases the drawing was the actual form of execution, whereby the criminal was dragged behind a horse until they died from the ordeal (it is well to remember the state of roads in the past, and in some instances it is recorded that sharp stones were sometimes placed along the route to worsen its condition). The final, rarer, type of drawing was when a man was tied to two or more horses and pulled apart. In a dispute between the citizens and Prior of Norwich, thirty-three rioters were sentenced to death, some by hanging, some by burning and some specifically by drawing (equis distracti), 
Attached to horses by the feet, they were dragged through the streets of the city till, after great suffering, they ended their lives and expired.” 
[Annales Monastici

Equis Distracti

There are many, many examples of the first sort of drawing. Sometimes, the man would have his arms tied behind his back and would pulled along behind the horse, or would be tied onto a hurdle or gate and dragged along, bouncing and bruising on every rock and furrow. 

Dragged to the Gallows on Hurdles

In the case of Thomas de Turberville, sentenced for treason in 1295, it was ordered that he be drawn on a fresh ox hide, specifically to prevent him from dying en route to the gallows. In 1238, King Henry III ordered that a man who had crept into his bedchamber with a knife, in an attempt to murder him, by torn apart by horses, and then beheaded with his body being cut into three pieces, which were hung on a gibbet, the spectacle to be a deterrent and a warning to others. 

Drawn behind a Horse

The sentence of drawing, hanging and quartering began to take the form that was followed for centuries at about this time; the prisoner would be drawn to the gallows, they would be hanged and cut down whilst still conscious, emasculated, their bowels and entails would be cut out and shown to them before being burned on a brazier, the prisoner would then be beheaded and their body cut into four pieces which would be publicly displayed. 

Executions on Kennington Common

In 1746, the year after the second Jacobite rebellion, nine prisoners were killed in this manner on Kennington Common and in 1820, five men involved in the Cato Street Conspiracy were hanged outside Newgate prison and then beheaded by a surgeon, although they were not quartered, although the executioners had to take refuge in the prison from an angry crowd, offended by the spectacle. This was the last manifestation of this sort of public execution in England.

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