Hung, drawn and quartered

Hanged, drawn and quartered

To be hanged, drawn and quartered was the penalty once ordained in England for the crime of high treason. It is considered by many to be the epitome of cruel punishment, 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. Women found guilty of treason in England were sentenced to be burnt at the stake, a punishment abolished in 1790.


Until 1814, the full punishment for the crime of treason was to be hanged, drawn and quartered in that the condemned prisoner would be:

  1. Dragged on a hurdle (a wooden frame) to the place of execution. (This is one possible meaning of drawn.)
  2. Hanged by the neck for a short time or until almost dead (hanged).
  3. Disembowelled and emasculated and the genitalia and entrails burned before the condemned's eyes (this is another meaning of drawn—see the reference to the Oxford English Dictionary below).
  4. 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 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 concludes as follows:

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 second 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 burnt 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.


H. Thomas Milhorn claims that hanging, drawing and quartering was first used against William Maurice, who was convicted of piracy in 1241. This would make Henry III the first practitioner.

The punishment was more famously 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 nunnery 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.

William Wallace

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.

Cornish leaders An Gof and Thomas Flamank

The leaders of the first Cornish Uprising of 1497, Michael An Gof and Thomas Flamank, were hanged, drawn and quartered on 27 June 1497 at Tyburn, London.

Tudor era

In an attempt to intimidate the Roman 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.

Stuart era

Other notable deaths from the punishment include Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot to assassinate James VI 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. 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:

Under the Commonwealth, while convicted traitors were seemingly spared this gruesome execution, 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 this 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 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 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 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.

From the eighteenth century

Nine soldiers from the Manchester Regiment who had taken part in the Jacobite Rising were hanged, drawn and quartered at Kennington Common, London, on 30 July 1746.

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. Those taken in arms (military) were treated as prisoners of war.

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 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.

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 disembowling, 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.

Details of the crime

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 Popes supremacy." In other words, he had come to England and attempted to convert Protestants to 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 burnt alive.

Similar, lesser punishments for treason

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 burnt at the stake.

Class distinctions in its application

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.

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".

Religious considerations

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. This may be linked to the contemporary Christian belief in bodily resurrection on the Day of Judgment. 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.

Eyewitness accounts

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 regicide. The complete diary entry for the day, given below, illustrates the matter-of-fact way in which the execution is treated by Pepys:

At 26-27 Great Tower Street, Tower Hill, London, there is a pub called "The Hung Drawn and Quartered", although the correct past tense of hanging is hanged. 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.

Mentions in fiction

Shakespeare's play Henry V features the discovery of the Southampton 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.

In Robin Hobb's "realist" fantasy novels The Farseer Trilogy and The Tawny Man Trilogy, villagers accused of being able to talk to animals are hanged, quartered, and burned.

Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities also refers to Charles Darnay possibly being drawn and quartered as a punishment if he were convicted of treason.

The historical execution of the regicide Robert-François Damiens, including quartering using horses, drew prominent late-20th-century attention:

In the 1995 film Braveheart, William Wallace, portrayed by Mel Gibson, is depicted being drawn, quartered and beheaded in 1305 for his role in the Scottish rebellion against Edward I.

French quartering

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 burnt, 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 burnt. Notable examples include:

These executions were carried out (along with most others under the ancien régime) in the Place de Grève.

Gérard's execution took place on the market square in Delft, the Netherlands.

Russian quartering

In Russia, quartering (четвертование) or qwintering (пятирение) 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 begining of 18th century.

Persons who were quartered in Russia include:

The problem of political crime in Russia in early Modern age and punishment for it discused very good in a work of Russian modern historian, proff. Anisimov E.V. "Dyba (the Rack) and knout" which published in 1999 in russian language.

Five activists of Decembrist revolt in 1826 were sentensed by extraordinal "Supreme" Court to be quartered but according royal "clemency" were executed by hangig.

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