the ultimate punishment available in English law for men who had been convicted
of High Treason. Women were burned at the stake instead,
apparently for the sake of decency.
sentence passed upon those convicted of High Treason up to 1870 was as follows : “That you be drawn on a hurdle to the place of
execution where you shall be hanged by the neck and being alive cut down, your
privy members shall be cut off and your bowels taken out and burned before you,
your head severed from your body and your body divided into four quarters to be
disposed of at the King’s pleasure.”So
not for the faint-hearted then!!
will see from the sentence, it should properly be called drawing, hanging and
quartering as the condemned was drawn to the place of execution, tied to the
hurdle or sledge which was dragged by a horse. This is confirmed by
contemporary law books.Drawing does not
refer to the removal of the intestines in this context and remained part of the
sentence for High Treason long after the disembowelling and dismemberment had
ceased.The hurdle was similar to a
piece of fencing made from thin branches interwoven to form a panel to which
the prisoner was tied to be dragged behind a horse to the place of execution.
Once there, the prisoner(s) were hanged in the normal way (i.e. without a drop
to ensure that the neck was not broken) but cut down whilst still conscious.
The penis and testicles were cut off and the stomach was slit open. The
intestines and heart were removed and burned before them. The other organs were
torn out and finally the head was cut off and the body divided into four
quarters. The head and quarters were parboiled to prevent them rotting too
quickly and then displayed upon the city gates as a grim warning to all.
At some point in this agonising process, the prisoner inevitably died of
strangulation and/or haemorrhage and/or shock and damage to vital organs.
It has to
be one of the most sadistic forms of execution ever invented, which it was in
1241, specifically to punish William Maurice who had been convicted of piracy.
David, the last Welsh Prince of Wales, was tried for treason at Shrewsbury in
Shropshire and was sentenced "to be drawn to the gallows as a traitor to
the King who made him a Knight, to be hanged as the murderer of the gentleman
taken in the Castle of Hawarden, to have his limbs burnt because he had profaned
by assassination the solemnity of Christ's passion and to have his quarters
dispersed through the country because he had in different places compassed the
death of his lord the king".
1500's, a total of 105 Catholic martyrs were hanged, drawn and quartered at
Tyburn in London for what amounted
to "spiritual treason" - failing to recognise the official religion
of the day.
Fawkes and his fellow "Gunpowder Plot" conspirators are possibly the
most famous and best remembered victims of this punishment. Fawkes was captured
and tortured on the rack to get him to reveal the names of the others who were
then arrested. They were tried at Westminster Hall in January 1606 and all seven
were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. The executions took place on
January 30th and 31st of that year. The first three, Sir EverardDigby, Thomas Bates and Robert Winter were put to
death near St. Paul’s church whilst
Guy Fawkes, Ambrose Rookwood, Thomas Winter and
Robert Keyes suffered the following day in the Old Place Yard in front of the
Houses of Parliament. Their heads were placed upon spikes on LondonBridge. (seedrawing for an engraving of the execution scene) Strangely,
by tradition, we burn the "guy" on the bonfire on fireworks night in
celebration of the Gunpowder Plot, although Fawkes was not burnt.
In August 1660, Charles II passed the Act of Indemnity
and Oblivion which gave a free pardon to anyone who had supported the
republican (Commonwealth) government of Oliver Cromwell. However, he retained
the right to try for treason those people who had participated in the trial and
execution of his father, Charles I.
A special court was appointed and in October 1660, the Regicides as they were known, were brought to trial. Ten were found guilty and were
sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. They were Thomas Harrison, John
Jones, John Carew, Hugh Peters, Adrian Scroope, Thomas Scot, Gregory Clement, Francis Hacker,
Daniel Axtell and John Cooke.Harrison was the first to die, he was executed at Charing Cross on Saturday, the
13th of October and was subjected to the full gruesome rigours of his
sentence.Two days later John Carew suffered the same fate, although his quartered body
was allowed to be buried rather than put on display. The
following day John Cooke and Hugh Peters were executed.Cooke’s head was displayed on a pole at
Westminster Hall with Harrison’s whilst Peters, was
displayed on LondonBridge. Wednesday, the
17th saw the executions of Scot, Clement, Scroope and
Jones.Finally on Friday, the 19th, it
was Hacker and Axtell’s turn.Oliver
Cromwell, Henry Ireton, Thomas Pride and John
Bradshaw were all dead by this time but were posthumously tried for high
treason. They were found guilty and in January 1661 their corpses were exhumed
and hung in chains at Tyburn.
the Sessions of the Old Bailey on the 15th of October 1690 Thomas Castle was sentenced to be hanged
drawn and quartered for forging shillings.It is interesting that in the Ordinary’s Account he states Castle’s
sentence as “Drawn, Hanged and Quartered” confirming that the drawing referred
to the drawing to the place of execution on a hurdle or sledge and not to disemboweling.Castle was spared the full punishment and was
drawn on a sledge to Tyburn and hanged on Friday the 24th of October.
were hanging, drawing and quartering executions as a result of the 1715
Rebellion. Three men were convicted of High Treason by the King’s Bench on the
22nd of November 1715 and were drawn to Tyburn for execution on the 7th of
December of that year. They were John Dorrell,
Captain John Gordon and Captain William Kerr.
Jacobite Rebellion led to a considerable number of trials for High Treason
which resulted in 91 sentences of hanging, drawing and quartering being passed
by a Special Commission at Carlisle, of which 33 were carried
out during October and November of 1746.Twenty at Carlisle,
six at Brampton
and seven at Penrith. A further 22 executions took place at York during November
1746 after trials by a Special Commission.
There were also 17 at Kennington Common, the place of execution for the County of Surrey, between July and
November.These included Sir John Wedderburn, John Hamilton, Andrew Wood, Alexander Leith and
Captain James Dawson.Kennington Common
is now known as KenningtonPark, near Camberwell
in London.The execution of 37 year old Francis Townley in July 1746 is described thus: “After he had hung
for six minutes, he was cut down, and, having life in him, as he lay on the
block to be quartered, the executioner gave him several blows on the breast,
which not having the effect designed, he immediately cut his throat, after
which he took his head off then ripped him open, and took out his bowels and
threw them into the fire which consumed them, then he slashed his four
quarters, put them with the head into a coffin, and they were deposited till
Saturday, August 2nd, when his head was put on Temple Bar, and his body and
limbs suffered to be buried.”Thehead was stolen (on the instructions of his
family) from Temple bar and held, in secret, by the Townley
family, until 1945 when it was interred in the Townley
vault in Burnley (along with another head).Francis Townley had commanded the English
Jacobite Manchester Regiment which surrendered to the Duke of Cumberland after
briefly holding Carlisle in late 1745. Francis and
his regiment had held the town whilst John Hamilton had held the Castle.
there were only a further four hanging, drawing and quartering executions in
the 18th century. Dr. Archibald Cameron was convicted under the 1746 Act of
Attainment for his part in ’45 rebellion and was executed at Tyburn on
Thursday, the 7th of June 1753.He was
allowed to hang for 20 minutes before being cut down, his head was removed, but
it was unclear whether the rest of the sentence was carried out. His remains
were buried in the Savoy chapel.
Henri de la Motte suffered at Tyburn on Friday, the
27th of July 1781 for conspiring against the life of the King.He was hanged for nearly half an hour before
his head was cut off and shown to the crowd, and his heart cut out and
burnt.His body was then scored with a
knife as a symbolic form of quartering.
later David Tyrie was executed at Portsmouth on Saturday,
the 24th of August 1782, (possibly on the shore line) having been tried by a
Special Commission at Winchester and convicted of giving information to an
enemy (France) in time of war.His
sentence was carried out in full.
18th century occurrence was at Maidstone on the 7th of July 1798 when James O’Coigley was executed for “compassing and imagining the
death of the King and adhering to the King’s enemies” – the French.
19th century, there were four recorded sets of executions for High Treason in
all of which the prisoners were hanged until dead and then beheaded, the rest
of their sentence being remitted.
The first was the execution of the seven Despard
Conspirators, which took place at Horsemonger Lane Gaol in Surrey on Monday, the 21st of February 1803.They were symbolically drawn around the
prison yard before their execution. Colonel Edward Despard, John Francis, John
Wood, James Broughton, James Sedgewick, Arthur Wrutton and John McNamara were put to death by William Brunskill.
Act of 1814 which came into force on 27 July of that year formally removed the
disembowelling part of the punishment and substituted normal hanging followed
by post mortem decapitation.
“hanging, drawing and quartering” took place outside Friar Gate Gaol in Derby on Friday, the 7th of November, 1817 when Jeremiah Brandreth, William Turner and Isaac Ludlam,
known as The “PentrichMartyers,”were executed for
attempting to lead a revolution.They
were hanged for half an hour (until dead) before being taken down, whereupon
the executioner cut off their heads with an axe and held Brandreth’s
up to the crowd exclaiming, "Behold the head of the traitor, Jeremiah Brandreth.“ This was the last use of the axe for
decapitation in Britain.
The five Cato Street conspirators
became the last to suffer this fate in England when they were
executed in front of Newgate prison on Monday,
May the 1st 1820 for conspiring to murder several members of the
Cabinet (see drawing).
The case became known as the Cato Street conspiracy as the
5 men involved hatched their plot in London’s Cato Street, off the Edgware Road.They were a group of middle aged men
comprising of Arthur Thistlewood, James Ings, John Brunt, Richard Tidd,
and William Davidson, who had formed a plan to overthrow the government.
However, their security had been breached by a government agent and they were
all arrested.They were tried at the Old
Bailey and having been found guilty, the Lord Chief Justice sentenced them as
follows, “That you, each of you, be taken hence to the goal from whence you
came, and from thence that you be drawn on a hurdle to a place of execution,
and be there hanged by the neck until dead; and that afterwards your heads
shall be severed from your bodies, and your bodies divided into four quarters,
to be disposed of as his Majesty shall think fit. And may God of His infinite
goodness have mercy upon your souls”.The Sheriff for the City of London, Mr. Rothwell
was, as was normal, in charge of the actual arrangements for carrying out the
sentence and decided, it would seem, principally to avoid traffic congestion,
to do away with the drawing to the place of execution on a hurdle.Additional barricades were erected to keep
the expected large crowds of spectators back and an additional platform added
at the back ofNewgate’s normal gallows.Work went on with these arrangements all weekend.Additional security was also deployed in the
form of troops of soldiers.The new
platform was covered in sawdust to absorb the blood and the men’s coffins
placed on it in readiness.Jeremy
Botting was the executioner, and prepared his charges in the normal way on the
front section of the gallows. They were attended on the gallows by the Rev. Cotton,
the Ordinary of Newgate.At , the drop fell and the traitors were suspended. It
took about 5 minutes for all visible signs of life to be extinguished, but they
were left on the ropes for half an hour to ensure total death. The bodies were
then drawn back up onto the platform and placed on their coffins with the neck
of each over a small block set at the end of each coffin in turn. The rope was
removed and each head severed by a masked man using a surgical knife. The
executioner showed each of the heads to the crowd proclaiming, "This is
the head of a traitor."It is
thought that a medical man or a butcher actually performed the decapitation.
recorded instance of hanging and decapitation took place a few months later in Scotland.
Twenty two men were tried at Stirling on the 13th and
14th of July for High Treason for their parts in the “1820 Rising.”They were a group of radicals campaigning for
universal male suffrage, better working conditions and a Scottish parliament,
who had attempted to seize the Carron Ironworks, near
Falkirk but were captured by the British army at Bonnymuirtried. Andrew Hardie and
John Baird, the two leaders, pleaded guilty at trial and all 22 received the
death sentence on the 4th of August.Hardie and Baird were executed at Stirling on Friday, the
8th of September. After hanging for half an hour, their bodies were cut down
and placed in their coffins, with their necks over the one edge. Their heads
were then cut off and shown to the crowd. On the gallows, Hardie
told the spectators, “I die a martyr to the cause of truth and injustice.”The remaining 20 conspirators were reprieved.
this, another cruel punishment passed into history, however, it remained the
lawful punishment for High Treason until abolished in 1870.
It was rarely carried out in full as it was considered so barbaric. Governments
were concerned about public opinion even in those days. Ordinary hanging
replaced it, although the Monarch could still order beheading and quartering of
the body, but the cutting down of the prisoner whilst still alive and the
disembowelling and burning of his organs had ceased a century earlier.It was not until the Forfeiture Act of 1870
that all reference to drawing and quartering was removed from the Statute Book.
Post 1870 normal hanging in private became the only penalty and there were very
few executions for treason.
It is interesting to note that men convicted of Petty Treason and High Treason
offences such as coining were not subjected to quartering, being just drawn on
a hurdle or sledge to the place of execution and hanged in the normal way, and
yet women convicted of these offences were burnt at the stake until 1789.It is unclear why this was.Peers of the Realm who were convicted of High
Treason were beheaded.