Internet Shakespeare Editions



The hanging, drawing and quartering of Sir John Oldcastle.
From the Furness Library of the University of Pennsylvania.

Almost a spectator sport, hanging was the most common method of executing convicted criminals. Hanging came in various stages of severity: more serious crimes involved slow death and mutilation.

The greatest and most grievous punishment used in England . . . 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.

Read the actual wording of the law.

Pictured here is the execution of Sir John Oldcastle, from Holinshed's Chronicles. Holinshed writes:

The hanging of Sir John Oldcastell
Aboute the same season, was sir John Oldcastell, Lord Cobham taken . . . not without daunger and hurtes of some that were at the taking of him, for they could not take him, till he was wounded himselfe. . . . in the end he was condemned, and finally was drawen from the tower unto S. Giles fielde, and there hanged in a chayne by the midle, and after consumed with fire, the gallawes and all.
(Quoted from the Holinshed site at the Furness Library, University of Pennsylvania.)

On "lesser hangings."*


  1. "Lesser hangings"

    Sometimes, if the trespass be not the more heinous, they are suffered to hang till they be quite dead. But if he be convicted of willful 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 continued till his bones consume to nothing. . . .

    When willful manslaughter is perpetrated, beside hanging, the offender has 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.
    (From William Harrison's Description of England, 1587.)