December 02, 2004

*Drawing and Quartering

In honor of certain court proceedings in California, let's take a look at capital punishment. Specifically, drawing and quartering.

This particular form of capital punishment was generally used on those convicted of treason, and was indeed the official punishment for treason in parts of Asia and Europe. There were two main procedures for drawing and quartering a person.

The first, and original, was used primarily in Russia. The person's arms and legs were tied to four different horses, which were then whipped to run in different directions. Any limbs not pulled off before the ropes broke were dislocated. After the horses had done their damage, the person was usually decapitated.

England developed another way to draw and quarter those convicted of treason. The man would be dragged on the ground by a horse to the site of his execution, where he would be hanged but not allowed to die. While hanging and alive, he was disemboweled. After watching his intestines burn in a fire, he was decapitated. Now dead, his body was cut into quarters.

The English method was intended to make the execution as big a spectacle as possible, in hopes of preventing future treasonous acts. The horse dragged the so-called traitor through town to bring as many spectators as possible to the event, and the quartering after death was clearly just for show.

The first man to meet his end by English-style drawing and quartering was David III, the last native Prince of Wales, who had fought for Welsh independence. In 1283, after being convicted of treason, he was publicly drawn and quartered. This remained the legal punishment for treason until Parliament outlawed it in 1870. Two Irish revolutionaries had been condemned to die this way, but there was a public outcry against such a cruel form of death. The last time it was carried out in England was 1820.

Posted by Jennifer at December 2, 2004 04:57 PM


For an excellent, gruesome description of draw and quartering in the case of a regicide, let me recommend the opening to Discipline and Punish byt Michel Foucault. It is, without a doubt, the most captivating opening of any philosophical book. Ever.

Posted by: Daniel at December 2, 2004 06:22 PM

Are you channeling Mookie now?

Posted by: Victor at December 3, 2004 06:43 AM

I don't know where I heard this , but a long time ago I was told that the childrens game "Marco Polo" had something to do with drawing and quartering, and that Marco Polo was executed in this manner.

Am I mad? Is this true?

Posted by: Oorgo at December 3, 2004 12:44 PM

Oorgo, that's the first I've heard that one. A quick search shows he lived to about 70 years old and probably died of natural causes.

Posted by: Jennifer at December 3, 2004 02:08 PM

I am sure they were also castrated.

Posted by: Monjo at December 7, 2004 06:50 AM

When was “draw and quartering” last executed in Eastern Europe? I’m trying to find out if the scene from the documentary “Faces of Death VI” is real

Posted by: anthony at December 23, 2004 06:15 PM