Beware the executioner

Today’s snippet is a description of the execution method favoured for traitors in Jacobean England. Sir Edward Coke, passing final judgement against the Gunpowder Plotters at their trial in 1606, omninously describes their impending death. This fate was subsequently met by eight of the plotters, including Guy Fawkes.

He shall have his judgement to be drawen to the place of Execution from his prison, as being not worthie anymore to tread upon the face of the earth, whereof he was made. Also for that he hath beene retrograde to nature, therefore is hee drawen backwards at a horse taile… hee must be drawen with his head declining downeward, and lying so neere the ground as may be, being thought unfit to take benefit of the common ayre: For which cause also, he shalbe strangled, being hanged up by the necke between heaven and earth, as deemed unworthy of both, or either: As likewise, that the eyes of men may behold, and their hearts contemne him. Then hee is to be cut downe alive, and to have his privie parts cut off and burnt before his face, as being unworthily begotten, and unfit to leave any generation after him. His bowles and inlayed parts taken out and burnt, who inwardly had conceived and harboured in his heart such horrible Treason. After to have his head cut off which had imagined the mischief. And lastly, his body to be quartered and the quarters set up in some high and eminent place, to the view and detestation of men, and to become a pray for the fowles of the aire.

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  • October 9, 2009 - 12:19 pm | Permalink

    The brutality served to act as a deterrent. But there was a theatrical element to the executtions; they reinforced government rhetoric & authority’s moral condemnation. Many of the victims died agonisingly slow deaths, and most had suffered at the hands of the torturers in the Tower prior to being dragged through the streets to the scaffold.

  • October 9, 2009 - 11:39 am | Permalink

    It’s difficult not to detect some sadistic pleasure in that judgement. The preoccupation with doing such physical damage is bewildering.

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