Hanging, drawing and quartering.
This was 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.
The full 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.
In 1283, 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
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 7
were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. The executions took place on
January 30th and 31st of that year. The first 3, Sir Everard
Digby, 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
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.
There 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.
The 1745 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
There were also 17 at Kennington Common, the place of execution for the
Thereafter, there were only a further 4 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.
Francois 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.
A year later David Tyrie was executed at Portsmouth on Saturday, the 24th of August (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.
The last 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 4 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 7 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.
“hanging, drawing and quartering” took place outside Friar Gate Gaol in
recorded instance of hanging and decapitation took place a few months later in
Twenty two men were tried at
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.
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.