Chapter XVII: Of Sundry Kinds Of Punishment Appointed For Offenders

In cases of felony, manslaughter, robbery, murder, rape, piracy, and such capital crimes as are not reputed for treason or hurt of the estate, our sentence pronounced upon the offender is, to hang till he be dead. For of other punishments used in other countries we have no knowledge or use; and yet so few grievous crimes committed with us as elsewhere in the world. To use torment also or question by pain and torture in these common cases with us is greatly abhorred, since we are found always to be such as despise death, and yet abhor to be tormented, choosing rather frankly to open our minds than to yield our bodies unto such servile haulings and tearings as are used in other countries. And this is one cause wherefore our condemned persons do go so cheerfully to their deaths; for our nation is free, stout, haughty, prodigal of life and blood, as Sir Thomas Smith saith, lib. 2, cap. 25, De Republica, and therefore cannot in any wise digest to be used as villains and slaves, in suffering continually beating, servitude, and servile torments. No, our gaolers are guilty of felony, by an old law of the land, if they torment any prisoner committed to their custody for the revealing of his accomplices.

The greatest and most grievous punishment used in England for such as offend against the State is drawing from the prison to the place of execution upon an hurdle or sled, where they are hanged till they be half dead, and then taken down, and quartered alive; after that, their members and bowels are cut from their bodies, and thrown into a fire, provided near hand and within their own sight, even for the same purpose.

Sometimes, if the trespass be not the more heinous, they are suffered to hang till they be quite dead. And whensoever any of the nobility are convicted of high treason by their peers, that is to say, equals (for an inquest of yeomen passeth not upon them, but only of the lords of parliament), this manner of their death is converted into the loss of their heads only, notwithstanding that the sentence do run after the former order. In trial of cases concerning treason, felony, or any other grievous crime not confessed, the party accused doth yield, if he be a noble man, to be tried by an inquest (as I have said) and his peers; if a gentleman, by gentlemen; and an inferior, by God and by the country, to wit, the yeomanry (for combat or battle is not greatly in use), and, being condemned of felony, manslaughter, etc., he is eftsoons hanged by the neck till he be dead, and then cut down and buried. But if he be convicted of wilful murder, done either upon pretended malice or in any notable robbery, he is either hanged alive in chains near the place where the fact was committed (or else upon compassion taken, first strangled with a rope), and so continueth till his bones consume to nothing. We have use neither of the wheel nor of the bar, as in other countries; but, when wilful manslaughter is perpetrated, beside hanging, the offender hath his right hand commonly stricken off before or near unto the place where the act was done, after which he is led forth to the place of execution, and there put to death according to the law.

The word felon is derived of the Saxon words fell and one, that is to say, an evil and wicked one, a one of untameable nature and lewdness not to be suffered for fear of evil example and the corruption of others. In like sort in the word felony are many grievous crimes contained, as breach of prison (Ann.of Edward the Second), disfigurers of the prince's liege people (Ann.of Henry th had defiled their nuns. As in theft therefore, so in adultery and whoredom, I would wish the parties trespassing to be made bond or slaves unto those that received the injury, to sell and give where they listed, or to be condemned to the galleys: for that punishment would prove more bitter to them than half-an-hour's hanging, or than standing in a sheet, though the weather be never so cold.

Manslaughter in time past was punishment by the purse, wherein the quantity or quality of the punishment was rated after the state and calling of the party killed: so that one was valued sometime at 1200, another at 600, or 200 shillings. And by a statute made under Henry the First, a citizen of London at 100, whereof elsewhere I have spoken more at large. Such as kill themselves are buried in the field with a stake driven through their bodies.