Internet Shakespeare Editions


Let the punishment fit the crime

One punishment that seems not to have dismayed the recipient. From the Roxburghe Ballands. University of Victoria Library.

Crime and punishment

Some crimes and the punishments decreed for them:

All quotations on this page are from William Harrison's Description of England, 1587.


  1. A woman who poisons her husband

    "If a woman poison her husband she is burned alive . . . he that poisons a man is to be boiled to death in water or lead, although the party die not of the practice."

  2. Perjury

    "Perjury is punished by the pillory, burning in the forehead with the letter P, the rewalting [destruction] of the trees growing upon the grounds of the offenders and loss of all his movables."

  3. Refusing to enter a plea: pressed to death

    "Such felons as stand mute and speak not their arraignment are pressed to death by huge weights laid upon a board, that lies over their breast, and a sharp stone under their backs, and these commonly hold their peace, thereby to save their goods unto their wives and children, which if they were condemned should be confiscated to the prince."

  4. Trespasses and sedition

    "Many trespasses also are punished by the cutting of one or both ears from the head of the offender, as the utterance of seditious words against the magistrates."


    "Heretics are burned quick [alive--not quickly]."

  5. Harlots and their mates

    "Harlots and their mates [are punished] by carting [being dragged behind a cart], dunking, and doing of open penance in sheets, in churches and market streets."

  6. Rogues and scolds

    "Rogues and vagabonds are often stocked and whipped, scolds are dunked upon dunking stools in the water."

  7. Thieves

    "Thieves that are saved by their books and clergy, for the first offense, if they have stolen nothing else but oxen, sheep, money, or such like, which be no open robberies . . . are burned in the left hand, upon the brawn of the thumb with an hot iron, so that if they be apprehended again, that mark rate them to have been arraigned of felony before, whereby they are sure at that time to have no mercy."

  8. Pirates

    "Pirates and robbers by sea are condemned in the court of the admiralty, and hanged on the shore at low water mark, where they are left till three tides have washed over them."