To be hanged, drawn and quartered was the penalty for high treason in medieval England, and remained on the statute book but seldom used in the United Kingdom and Ireland until abolished under the Treason Act of 1814. It was a spectacularly gruesome and public form of torture and execution, and was reserved only for this most serious crime, which was deemed more heinous than murder and other capital offences. It was applied only to male criminals, except on the Isle of Man. Women found guilty of treason were sentenced to be taken to a place of execution and burned at the stake, a punishment changed to hanging by the Treason Act of 1790 in Great Britain, and 1796 in Ireland. It was also practiced, with variations, in other countries. The variations involved the torturing process and the crimes for which it was reserved.
Typically, the resulting five parts (i.e., the four quarters of the body and the head) were gibbeted (put on public display) in different parts of the city, town, or, in famous cases, in the country, to deter would-be traitors who had not seen the execution. After 1814, the convict would be hanged until dead and the mutilation would be performed post-mortem. Gibbeting was later abolished in England in 1843, while drawing and quartering was abolished in 1870.
There is debate among modern historians about whether "drawing" referred to the dragging to the place of execution or the disembowelling, but since two different words are used in the official documents detailing the trial of William Wallace ("detrahatur" for drawing as a method of transport, and "devaletur" for disembowelment), there is no doubt that the subjects of the punishment were disembowelled.
Judges delivering sentence at the Old Bailey also seemed to have had some confusion over the term "drawn", and some sentences are summarized as "Drawn, Hanged and Quartered". Nevertheless, the sentence was often recorded quite explicitly. For example, the record of the trial of Thomas Wallcot, John Rouse, William Hone and William Blake for offences against the king, on 12 July 1683 (see Rye House Plot) concludes as follows:
Then Sentence was passed, as followeth, viz. That they should return to the place from whence they came, from thence be drawn to the Common place of Execution upon Hurdles, and there to be Hanged by the Necks, then cut down alive, their Privy-Members cut off, and Bowels taken out to be burned before their Faces, their Heads to be severed from their Bodies, and their Bodies divided into four parts, to be disposed of as the King should think fit.
The Oxford English Dictionary notes both meanings of drawn: "To draw out the viscera or intestines of ... a traitor or other criminal after hanging" and "To drag (a criminal) at a horse's tail, or on a hurdle or the like, to the place of execution". It states that "In many cases of executions it is uncertain [which of these senses of drawn] is meant. The presumption is that where drawn is mentioned after hanged, the sense is [the first meaning]."
The condemned man would usually be sentenced to the short drop method of hanging, so that the neck would not break. The man was usually dragged alive to the quartering table, although in some cases men were brought to the table dead or unconscious. A splash of water was usually employed to wake the man if unconscious, then he was laid down on the table. A large cut was made in the gut after removing the genitalia, and the intestines would be spooled out on a device that resembled a dough roller. Each piece of organ would be burned before the sufferer's eyes, and when he was completely disembowelled, his head would be cut off. The body would then be cut into four pieces, and the king would decide where they were to be displayed. Usually the head was sent to the Tower of London and, as in the case of William Wallace, the other four pieces were sent to different parts of the country. The head was generally par-boiled in brine to preserve the appearance of the head in display, while the quarters were more often prepared in pitch, for longer-lasting deterrent displays.
The punishment was more notoriously and verifiably employed by King Edward I ("Longshanks") in his efforts to bring Wales, Scotland, and Ireland under English rule.
In 1283, it was inflicted on the Welsh prince Dafydd ap Gruffydd in Shrewsbury. Dafydd had been a hostage in the English court in his youth, growing up with Edward and for several years fought alongside Edward against his brother Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the Prince of Wales. Llywelyn had won recognition of the title, "Prince of Wales", from Edward's father King Henry III, and both Edward and his father had been imprisoned by Llywelyn's ally, Simon de Montfort, the Earl of Leicester, in 1264.
Edward's enmity towards Llywelyn ran deep. When Dafydd returned to the side of his brother and attacked the English Hawarden Castle, Edward saw this as both a personal betrayal and a military setback and hence his punishment of Dafydd was specifically designed to be harsher than any previous form of capital punishment. The punishment was part of an overarching strategy to eliminate Welsh independence. Edward built an "iron ring" of castles in Wales and had Dafydd's young sons incarcerated for life in Bristol Castle and daughters sent to a convent in England, whilst having his own son, Edward II, assume the title Prince of Wales. Dafydd's head joined that of his brother Llywelyn (killed in a skirmish months earlier) on top of the Tower of London, where the skulls were still visible many years later. His quartered body parts were sent to four English towns for display.
Two decades later, on 23 August 1305, Sir William Wallace was the next person to be hanged, drawn and quartered, which occurred as a result of Edward I's Scottish wars. This established the precedent as the ultimate penalty for treason against the English crown. Both Dafydd ap Gruffydd and William Wallace asserted at their trials that they were not traitors for having fought in defence of Wales and Scotland against foreign invaders. Wallace, unlike his Welsh counterpart, had never fought for Edward before fighting against him.
Col. Daniel Axtell, Captain of the Parliamentary Guard at the capital trial of King Charles I at Westminster Hall, 1649. He was hanged, drawn, and quartered on 19 October 1660.
During the Wars of Scottish Independence, it became a much used sentence and numerous Scots were so executed including Sir Alexander Seton, three of King Robert Bruce's brothers: Alexander, Thomas and Nigel Bruce, and Sir Simon Frasier.
In an attempt to intimidate the Catholic clergy into taking the Oath of Supremacy, Henry VIII ordered that John Houghton, the prior of the London Charterhouse, be hanged, drawn and quartered, along with two other Carthusians. Henry also famously condemned Francis Dereham to this form of execution for being one of Catherine Howard's lovers. Dereham and the King's good friend Thomas Culpeper were both executed shortly before Catherine herself, but Culpeper was spared the cruel punishment and was instead beheaded. Sir Thomas More, who was found guilty of high treason under the Treason Act of 1534, was spared this punishment; Henry commuted the execution to one by beheading.
In the aftermath of the Babington Plot to murder Queen Elizabeth I and replace her on the throne with Mary, Queen of Scots, the conspirators were condemned to this method of execution in September 1586. On hearing of the appalling agony to which the first seven condemned were subjected while being butchered on the scaffold, Elizabeth ordered that the remaining conspirators, who were to be dispatched on the following day, should be left hanging until they were dead. Other Elizabethans who were executed in this way include Elizabeth's own physician, Dr. Rodrigo Lopez, a Portuguese Jew who was convicted of conspiring against her in 1594, and the Jesuit Edmund Campion.
Other notable deaths from the punishment include Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot to assassinate James I in 1605. Fawkes, though weakened by torture, cheated the executioners. When he was to be hanged until almost dead, he jumped from the gallows, so his neck broke and he died. A co-conspirator, Robert Keyes, had attempted the same trick, but the rope broke, so he was drawn fully conscious. Jesuit Father Henry Garnet was executed on 3 May 1606 at St. Paul's. His crime was to be the confessor of several members of the Gunpowder Plot. Many spectators thought that his sentence was too severe. Antonia Fraser writes:
With a loud cry of 'hold, hold' they stopped the hangman cutting down the body while Garnet was still alive. Others pulled the priest's legs ... which was traditionally done to ensure a speedy death.
Early in the English Civil War, John Lilburne, a prominent Parliamentarian who because of his radical views was known as "Free Born John", was captured by the Royalists while serving as a captain in the Parliamentary army. Moves were taken to try him and some other prisoners of war as traitors, but when on 17 December 1642 Parliament declared lex talionis (to retaliate in kind) he was instead exchanged for Royalist prisoners. From then on in England during the war Royalist prisoners of war were not tried and executed as traitors, but the Parliamentary side were well aware of what could happen if they lost the war, as the Earl of Manchester a Parliamentarian general said "We may beat the king 99 times, and yet he will be king still. If he beats us but once, we shall be hanged".
Under the Commonwealth, Miles Sindercombe a member of a plot to assassinate the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell only avoided being hanged, drawn and quartered because he took poison before the sentence could be carried out. St John Southworth, being a priest, was prosecuted under the Elizabethan anti-priest legislation which prescribed the sentence of hanging, drawing and quartering. He was hanged but spared the drawing and quartering.
Over six days in October 1660, after the Restoration of Charles II, nine of those convicted of the regicide of Charles I in 1649 were executed in London in the prescribed manner. Those executed were: Thomas Harrison, John Jones, Adrian Scroope, John Carew, Thomas Scot, Gregory Clement, Daniel Axtel, Hugh Peters, and John Cooke. Three more regicides suffered the same fate within two years: John Okey, John Barkstead and Miles Corbet. Additionally, the corpses of Oliver Cromwell, John Bradshaw and Henry Ireton were disinterred and hanged, drawn and quartered in posthumous executions for their involvement in the regicide.
Only a few months later on 6 January 1661, about fifty Fifth Monarchists, headed by a wine-cooper named Thomas Venner, made an effort to attain possession of London in the name of "King Jesus". Most of the fifty were either killed or taken prisoner, and on 19 and 21 January, Venner and ten others were hanged, drawn and quartered for high treason.
In October 1663 twenty-six men were arrested, imprisoned, and tried in York for their participation in The Farnley Wood Plot. Twenty three were hanged, drawn and quartered in York, but three rebels escaped from prison only to be recaptured in Leeds early the next year where they were then executed in a similar manner.
In 1676, Joshua Tefft was executed by this method at Smith's Castle in Wickford, Rhode Island. He was an English colonist who fought on the side of the Narragansett during the Great Swamp Fight battle of King Philip's War. He may be the only person ever hanged, drawn and quartered in North America. Metacomet, leader of the Narragansett, was himself beheaded and quartered, but not hanged, after his death.
Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh and the Roman Catholic primate of Ireland, was arrested in 1681 and transported to Newgate Prison, London, where he was convicted of treason. He was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, the last Roman Catholic to be executed for his faith in England. He was beatified in 1920 and was canonized in 1975 by Pope Paul VI. His head is preserved for viewing as a relic in St. Peter's Church in Drogheda, while the rest of his body rests in Downside Abbey, near Stratton-on-the-Fosse, Somerset.
Following a large rebellion against the Crown, only a few of the ringleaders 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 American War of Independence (1775–1783), notable captured colonists, such as signers of the American Declaration of Independence, were theoretically subject to being hanged, drawn and quartered as traitors to the King. (At the signing, Benjamin Franklin is quoted as having replied to a comment by John Hancock that they must all hang together: "Yes, we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.") However, during the war, American sailors and soldiers were treated as prisoners of war, as to do otherwise invited retaliation.
The penultimate use of the sentence in England was against the French spy François Henri de la Motte, who was convicted of treason on 23 July 1781. The last occasion was on 24 August 1782 against Scottish spy David Tyrie in Portsmouth for carrying on a treasonable correspondence with the French (using information passed to him from officials high in the British government). A contemporary account in the Hampshire Chronicle describes his being hanged for 22 minutes, following which he was beheaded and his heart cut out and burned. He was then emasculated, quartered, and his body parts put into a coffin and buried in the pebbles at the seaside. The same account claims that, immediately after his burial, sailors dug the coffin up and cut the body into a thousand pieces, each taking a piece as a souvenir to their shipmates. Little else is known of his life.
British courts continued to apply the sentence in Dublin, in Ireland. The last execution was of Robert Emmet on 20 September 1803, who was hanged and then beheaded once dead. Emmet had led a failed uprising against British rule earlier that year.
Edward Marcus Despard and his six accomplices were sentenced to hanging, drawing and quartering for allegedly plotting to assassinate George III but their sentence was commuted to simple hanging and beheading.
The Treason Act 1814 changed the law so that quartering would happen after death by hanging.
In 1817, the three leaders of the Pentrich Rising, convicted of high treason, suffered hanging and beheading only.
In 1820, Arthur Thistlewood and other participants in the Cato Street Conspiracy were condemned to this punishment, though the court record shows that the drawing and quartering was omitted from the completion of the sentence. The sentence was passed on the Irish rebel leader William Smith O'Brien in 1848 but commuted to transportation.
In Lower Canada (now Quebec), David McLane was hanged, drawn and quartered on 21 July 1797 for treason; however, Hangman Ward let McLane hang for 28 minutes. This ensured he was not alive to suffer the disembowelling, decapitation and quartering part of the sentence. Ignace Vailliancourt was "hanged, dissected and anatomized" on 7 March 1803 for murder; however, part of the sentence was that his body "be delivered to Dr. Charles Blake for dissection", so this was likely not a true drawing and quartering. During the War of 1812, in May 1814 at Ancaster, Upper Canada (now Ontario), Attorney General John Beverley Robinson orchestrated a show trial to discourage any tendencies to join with the American side in the war because many residents of Upper Canada were immigrants from the American Colonies or closely related to Americans. The judges indicted 71 traitors and sentenced 17 to be hanged, drawn and quartered. They finally pardoned nine, hanged eight and quartered none.
Drawing and quartering were abolished in 1870.
A letter to the London Review of Books, February 12, 2009, p. 4, from a Bill Gilmour refers to three people being hanged, drawn and quartered in Scotland in 1820. Gilmour notes that the punishment remained on the statute book until 1947.
The crime of treason, or offences against the crown is often thought of in terms of attempted regicides, such as Guy Fawkes and others mentioned above. However, the crime was interpreted at different periods of English history to include a variety of acts which, at the time, were deemed to threaten the constitutional authority of the monarchy.
For example, on 12 December 1674, William Burnet was condemned to this punishment for offences against the king: namely that he "had often endeavoured to reconcile divers of his Majesties Protestant subjects to the Romish Church, and had actually perverted several to embrace the Roman Catholique Religion, and assert and maintain the Pope's supremacy." In other words, he had come to England and attempted to convert Protestants to Roman Catholicism. In a similar vein, John Morgan was also sentenced to this punishment on 30 April 1679, for having received orders from the See of Rome, and coming to England: there being "very good Evidence that proved he was a Priest, and had said Mass".
On the same day in 1679, two other people were found guilty of offences against the king, at the Old Bailey. In this case, they had been "Coyning and Counterfeiting". Again, they were sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. In a similar case on 15 October 1690, Thomas Rogers and Anne Rogers were tried for "Clipping 40 pieces of Silver" (in other words, clipping the edges off silver coins). Thomas Rogers was hanged, drawn and quartered and Anne Rogers was burned alive.
Lord Hale mentions in his History of Pleas of the Crown that although sometimes people were sentenced to this punishment for counterfeiting coins, this sentence was in fact unlawful, as the proper sentence for this kind of treason omitted quartering.
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.
In Britain, this penalty was usually reserved for commoners, including knights. Noble traitors were beheaded, a much less painful punishment, at first by sword and in later years 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.
However, this class distinction was not applied in the Second Scottish War of Independence when many noblemen suffered this form of execution including three of the brothers of King Robert the Bruce and his brother-in-law Sir Christopher Seton who were all members of the nobility.
This class distinction was brought out in a House of Commons debate of 1680, with regard to the Warrant of Execution of Lord Stafford, which had condemned him to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Sir William Jones is quoted as saying "Death is the substance of the Judgment; the manner of it is but a circumstance.... No man can show me an example of a Nobleman that has been quartered for High-Treason: They have been only beheaded". The House then resolved that "Execution be done upon Lord Stafford, by severing his Head from his Body".
Dismemberment of the body after death was seen by many contemporaries as a way of punishing the traitor beyond the grave. In western European Christian countries, it was ordinarily considered contrary to the dignity of the human body to mutilate it. A Parliamentary Act from the reign of Henry VIII stipulated that only the corpses of executed murderers could be used for dissection. Being thus dismembered was viewed as an extra punishment not suitable for others. There are cases on record where murderers would try to plead guilty to another capital offence so that, although they would be hanged, their body would be buried whole and not be dissected.
Attitudes towards this issue changed very slowly in Britain and were not manifested in law until the passing of the Anatomy Act in 1832. Respect for the dead is still a sensitive issue in Britain as can be seen by the furor over the "Alder Hey organs scandal" when the organs of deceased children were kept without their parents' informed consent.
An account is provided by the diary of Samuel Pepys for Saturday 13 October 1660, in which he describes his attendance at the execution of Major-General Thomas Harrison for the regicide of Charles I. The complete diary entry for the day, given below, illustrates the matter-of-fact way in which the execution is treated by Pepys:
To my Lord's in the morning, where I met with Captain Cuttance, but my Lord not being up I went out to Charing Cross, to see Major-general Harrison hanged, drawn, and quartered; which was done there, he looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition. He was presently cut down, and his head and heart shown to the people, at which there was great shouts of joy. It is said, that he said that he was sure to come shortly at the right hand of Christ to judge them that now had judged him; and that his wife do expect his coming again. Thus it was my chance to see the King beheaded at White Hall, and to see the first blood shed in revenge for the blood of the King at Charing Cross. From thence to my Lord's, and took Captain Cuttance and Mr. Sheply to the Sun Tavern, and did give them some oysters. After that I went by water home, where I was angry with my wife for her things lying about, and in my passion kicked the little fine basket, which I bought her in Holland, and broke it, which troubled me after I had done it. Within all the afternoon setting up shelves in my study. At night to bed.
At 26-27 Great Tower Street, Tower Hill, London, there is a pub called "The Hung Drawn and Quartered". On the wall is the altered quotation from Samuel Pepys, shown above. The pub is close to the site of several executions, but not to Charing Cross.
In France, the traditional punishment for regicide (whether attempted or completed) under the ancien régime (known in French as écartèlement) is often described as "quartering", though it in fact has little to do with the English punishment. The process was as follows: the regicide offender would be first tortured with red-hot pincers, then the hand with which the crime was committed would be burned, with sulphur, molten lead, wax, and boiling oil poured into the wounds. The quartering would be accomplished by the attachment of the condemned's limbs to horses, who would then tear them away from the body. Finally, the often still-living torso would be burned. Notable examples include:
These executions were carried out (along with most others under the ancien régime) in the Place de Grève.
In Russia, quartering (четвертование) or division into five parts (пятирение, according Prince Mikhail Shcherbatov, a Russian Enlightenment author), referred to a punishment in which the executioner severed the limbs one by one, and then decapitated the convict. It was a common punishment for mutiny or rebellion until the beginning of 18th century.
Persons who were quartered in Russia include:
The problem of political crime in Russia in the early Modern age and the punishment for it is discussed in a work of the Russian modern historian, Professor E. V. Anisimov "Dyba (the Rack) and knout" which was published in 1999 in Russian.
Five activists of the Decembrist revolt in 1826 were sentenced by an extraordinary "Supreme" Court to be quartered but were executed by hanging after royal clemency was extended.
The quartering was a quite usual qualified method of capital punishment in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth for revolt and high treason in early Modern Age.
The practice was also used in Denmark.
The Chinese quartering was similar to the French version and was used as a form of capital punishment for crimes such as treason or regicide. The subject would have his limbs and head tied to five horses/chariots in a spreadeagle position. The horses/chariots would then be sent speeding off in different directions away from the subject, causing the limbs and head to be ripped off and death by dismemberment resulted. The punishment was officially termed as Chelie (Chinese: 車裂; literally "chariot breaking") and was colloquially referred to as Wuma Fenshi (Chinese: 五馬分屍; literally "dismemberment by five horses"). Another variant of the Chinese quartering, also resulting in death by dismemberment, was called "slow slicing" or Lingchi (Chinese: 凌遲), in which the subject's body is dismembered by slicing with knives. It was more common in the Qin Dynasty and Han Dynasty. Dismemberment by horse-pulling became less usual than cutting. Emperor Muzong of Liao abolished it in AD 965. But in Emperor Shengzong of Liao such tortures were still carried out. Hongwu Emperor ordered to quarter Gao Qi into eight pieces. Yongzheng Emperor abolished it after report of quartering of an official.
DRAWING AND QUARTERING, part of the penalty anciently ordained in England for treason. Until 1870 the full punishment for the crime was that the culprit be dragged on a hurdle to the place of execution; that he be hanged by the neck but not till he was dead; that he should be disembowelled or drawn and his entrails burned before his eyes; that his head be cut off and his body divided into four parts or quartered. This brutal penalty was first inflicted in 1284 on the Welsh prince David, and on Sir William Wallace a few years later. In Richard III.'s reign one Collingbourne, for writing the famous couplet "The Cat, the Rat and Lovel the Dog, Rule all England under the Hog," was executed on Tower Hill. Stow says, "After having been hanged, he was cut down immediately and his entrails were then extracted and thrown into the fire, and all this was so speedily done that when the executioners pulled out his heart he spoke and said ` Jesus, Jesus." Edward Marcus Despard and his six accomplices were in 1803 hanged, drawn and quartered for conspiring to assassinate George III. The sentence was last passed (though not carried out) upon the Fenians Burke and O'Brien in 1867. There is a tradition that Harrison the regicide, after being disembowelled, rose and boxed the ears of the executioner.