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Medieval Justice

Discussion in 'Research' started by TheokinsJ, Jun 14, 2013.

  1. TheokinsJ

    TheokinsJ Troubadour

    In my WIP, my main character witnesses a public execution of a man convicted of murder. I am wondering how this might play out and what method could be used to execute the man- So far beheading seems the obvious way, but I find it a little to direct, hanging is also another option but I wanted something that can be 'over quickly', what methods were there for execution in medieval times besides those I have mentioned?
  2. Spider

    Spider Sage

    The fasted method I can think of is sticking him with a sword or some other weapon, but if you want a method that will really settle in your main character's mind, they also used to burn people at the stake in medieval times.
  3. Butterfly

    Butterfly Auror

    Hanging was a quick execution... usually. The gallows were designed in such a way that the fall would break the neck rather than strangle. Occasionally, the head was severed if the drop was miscalculated as too far.
  4. Kahle

    Kahle Minstrel

    -Drowning-accused was tied to rocks and thrown in the river. If they floated they were guilty, if they sank and survived long enough they were freed

    -Coals-forced to hold hot coals for a certain period of time, then examined for burns afterwards, depending on how bad the burns were, they were guilty

    Those are more for witch trials and the like, and usually resulted in the accused's guilt. For executions themselves=

    -Hanging-mentioned, very public, could handle multiple people or one at a time.
    -Burnings-mentioned, usually for heresy or witchcraft, crimes against the church, etc. also very public.

    -Skinning-theft from the church, tied up, then a butcher or torturer would slowly flay the criminal, then present the skin to the church, or hung up as a warning. Death by blood loss, or they would pass out from the amount of pain. The skin was usually kept intact. Skinning was piecemeal for torture.

    -Drawn and quartered-stretched by securing the four limbs to horses and pulling in all directions, followed by disemboweling, and finally beheading the criminal, usually public.

    -Stoning-more of a small community punishment for outsiders, outcasts, or witches. Everyone gets rocks and pelts the accused with stones until they die. Less official form of punishment.

    All of these were crowd pleasers, and drew the entire community to a central square. Replace our sports games with executions essentially, only less frequent. The more notorious the act, the bigger the crowd. People would be quick to turn on their neighbors in such a case as well.
    TheokinsJ likes this.
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Is the victim noble? In most places in the Middle Ages, beheading was for nobility, hanging was for commoners.

    Drawing and quartering, drowning, and the rest, those were mainly for special cases -- mob violence, killing witches (as mentioned) or some other need for ritualistic execution.
  6. Tevaras

    Tevaras Minstrel

    There were two types of hanging: 'long drop' and 'short drop'.
    The long drop was designed to cause death be cervical dislocation (snapping the spinal chord at the neck) and relatively quick (though from the onlookers perspective there can be some reflexive twitching). As Butterfly has pointed out, if the length of the drop is tool long (based approximately on body weight) the decapitation could result. If too short, see 'short drop' method below ;-).

    Short drop method caused death by strangulation as the criminal did not get up enough momentum to snap the spinal chord. It was not a quick death, and less pleasant to watch for the onlookers.

    There was an intermediate drop length called the standard drop which was designed to eliminate strangling of the 'victim' in the short drop, but the drop length was not based on weight, so was not as reliable. The long drop based on weight was introduced by William Marwood in 1872 as a further 'improvement'.

    Burning at the stake could also be a long and painful process. If the 'victim' got a good lungful of superheated air the damage to the lungs would be sufficient that they choked to death, other wise they would die of burning. For those that recanted, they often were strangled, 'better' than being burned to death I suppose.

    Guillotine is another relatively 'quick' death, but in the real world not invented until the 1790's. It was intended to replace beheading by the sword which sometimes required multiple swings and was not considered 'humane'. First use was on 25 April 1792. It was invented by the physician Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, who, ironically enough, was executed by the guillotine on 26 March 1814.

    In your W.I.P. take your pick :). You can also have different countries/states/counties preferring different methods.

    Hope that helps :).
    TheokinsJ likes this.
  7. Tevaras

    Tevaras Minstrel

    Oops - got that the inventor was guillotined wrong: according to Wikipaedia:
  8. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

    Older methods:
    Impaling,(pain in the butt really) Brought to you by Vlad, vampire inspiration. Funny, a wooden stake is the way to kill a vampire.
    crusified, nailed or tied to a cross and left to die.(original Conan movie)
    pressing: tied down, and rocks and small boulders were placed on victim until they died, it was probably real impressive.
    fed to the lions.
  9. karim

    karim Acolyte

    well i thnk norman england had this sort of trial were two murder suspects were pit against each other to fight till one surrendered the one that surrendered was hanged i know its not over quickly by the way execution in medieval england differed from one place to another you could thrown from the cliffs of hastings at hastings or hanged somewhere else
  10. dragonspritz

    dragonspritz Acolyte

    Perhaps take a different angle with the medieval justice theme.

    Death was very common in those days, the actual execution would be more of a entertainment instead of something to be feared for.

    It was the judges that striked fear into the hearts of the commoners. Thats why in medieval england's judiciary system was setup to have judges wear red, the colour of the devil. They were to look as imposing as possible, and with their overbearing wigs bear the weight of judgement upon the sinners.

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