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Drawing and quartering
Drawing and quartering was part of the penalty anciently ordained in England for treason. It is considered by many to be the epitome of "cruel" punishment and was reserved for traitors because treason was deemed more heinous than murder and other capital crimes.
Until 1870, the full punishment for the crime was that the culprit be:
- Dragged on a hurdle to the place of execution
- Hanged by the neck, but removed before death
- Disembowelled, and the genitalia and entrails burned before the victim's eyes
- Beheaded and the body divided into four parts (quartered).
Typically, the resulting five parts (i.e., the four quarters of the body and the head) were gibbetted (put on public display) in different parts of the city or town to deter would-be traitors. Gibbeting was abolished in England in 1843.
Men convicted of the lesser crime of petty treason were dragged to the place of execution and hanged until dead, but not subsequently dismembered. Women convicted of treason or petty treason were burned at the stake rather than being subjected to this punishment. There is confusion among modern historians about whether "drawing" referred to the dragging to the place of execution or the disembowelling.
This gruesome penalty was first used by King Edward I ('Longshanks') in his efforts to bring all of Great Britain under English rule. It was first inflicted in 1283 on the Welsh prince Dafydd ap Gruffydd, and on Sir William Wallace a few years later.
Shakespeare's play Henry V features the discovery of a French plot to kill King Henry V before he sailed to France. Two of the conspirators (Henry, Lord Scroop of Masham , and Richard, Earl of Cambridge) were nobles and were beheaded; Thomas Grey , Knight of Northumberland, was drawn and quartered.
Other notable victims of the punishment include Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot as well as Edward Marcus Despard and his six accomplices who were hanged, drawn and quartered in 1606 for conspiring to assassinate James I. Guy Fawkes tried to kill himself by jumping when the noose was placed around his neck. Unfortunately for him the rope broke, so he was drawn fully conscious.
In Britain, this penalty was usually reserved for commoners, including knights; noble traitors were "merely" beheaded, at first by sword and later by axe. The different treatment of lords and commoners was clear after the Cornish Rebellion of 1497: lowly-born Michael An Gof and Thomas Flamank were hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, while their fellow rebellion leader Lord Audley was beheaded at Tower Hill. If there was a large rebellion against the Crown, only a few of the ring leaders would be "hanged drawn and quartered", most would either be hanged, sent to penal colonies, or pardoned. The Bloody Assizes of Judge Jeffreys after the Monmouth Rebellion is a notorious post Civil War English example, but in the aftermath of rebellions in Ireland and Scotland punishment was often just as ruthless.
During the English Civil War the first prominent Parliamentarian captured by the Royalists was John Lilburne. Proposals to try him for treason were dropped when the Parliamentary side threatened to retaliate against captured Royalists. Instead Lilburne was freed in an exchange of prisoners. During the American war of independence notable captured colonists were treated as prisoners of war rather than as traitors, and thus were spared this punishment.
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