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Capital punishment survived in many forms in England for several centuries. The annals are filled with stories of beheading, hanging, boiling to death, and various other practices for such crimes as murder, treason, coin clipping, and theft. According to Foucault, public execution was a necessary "political ritual," because criminals offended law-abiding persons, and personally attacked the sovereign "since the law represents the will of the sovereign" (47). Because crime threatened the power dynamic between sovereigns and their people, execution was viewed as a necessary means to restore the proper dynamic within a country (48).
According to John Laurence, William the Conqueror is accepted as having
introduced beheading to England, with Waltheof, Earl of Northumberland, as
the first victim in 1076 (28).
Beheading was considered to be an honourable way to die and was, therefore,
used only for nobles or criminals of the higher classes (6). Some famous persons who were executed by
Hanging was a form of capital punishment that had been practiced for several thousands of years; it is mentioned once in the Mosaic law (see Deut. 21:22–23). In London, the main permanent gallows were located at Tyburn. Sometimes, gallows were set up to supplement those at Tyburn, if there were a large number of hangings that were to occur at the same time. An example of just such an occasion occurred in 1554, when 58 men were hanged in connection with Sir Thomas Wyatt’s rebellion. The locations of the extra gallows were recorded by Henry Machyn in his diary:
The xij day of February was mad at evere gate in Lundun a newe payre of galaus and set up, ij payre in Chepesyde, ij payr in Fletstrett, one in Smythfyld, one payre in Holborne, on at Ledyn-hall, one at sant Magnus London [-bridge], on at Peper allay gatt, one at Sant Gorgeus, on in Barunsay [Bermondsey] strett, on on Towr hylle, one payre at Charyngcrosse, on payr besyd Hyd parke corner.Machyn 55
Most of these gallows were temporary.
Under the reign of
that the traitor is to be taken from prison and laid on a hurdle [. . .], and drawn to the gallows, then hanged by the neck until he was nearly dead, then cut down; then his entrails were to be cut out of his body and burnt by the executioner; then his head to be cut off, his body divided into four quarters, and afterwards set up in some open place as directed.
Records of executions show variations on this sentence for treason and other offenses. For example, in 1576, a goldsmith named Thomas Green was drawn from Newgate to Tyburn, and was there hanged, beheaded, and quartered for the clipping of gold and silver coins (Marks 160). Another example can be seen in Stow’s
The 26. of February Willi. Constable alias Fetherstone was arraigned in the Guild hall of London, who had caused letters to bee cast abrode, that king Edward was aliue, and to some he shewed himselfe to be king Edward, so that many persons both menne and women were troubled by him, for the which sedition the said William had bin once whipped and deliuered, as is aforesaid: But now he was condemned, and the 13. of March he was drawne, hanged and quartered at Tyborne.
Some men were similarly punished during the reign of
It is unknown when Tyburn Tree, the most famous permanent gallows of London,
was established. Alfred Marks conjectures that Tyburn dates from the time of
According to a 1607 map of Middlesex, engraved by John Norden, Tyburn was located just outside of
Hyde Park, well outside of the
city of London (so far outside, in fact, that Tyburn could not be included in the Agas map). Marks states that in
1220 the king ordered the construction of two gallows at Tyburn (63).
These gallows were used until 1571, when they were replaced by a triangular
gallows, or the "triple tree" as it was called, which was capable of holding
over twenty-four men at a time (64).
The first recorded reference to the triple tree came from an account of the
execution of Dr. John Story, who was executed there 1 June 1571 (64, 159). In 1759, the triangular
gallows were replaced by moveable gallows, and the last execution at Tyburn took place
London’s consciousness of what happened at Tyburn is evident in the writings of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. Executions at Tyburn were recorded by John Stow, in his Annals, and Henry Machyn, in his diary. There were also references made to Tyburn in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama; the first was made by the pseudonymous Martin Marprelate in
The Praise and Vertue of a Jayle and Jaylers