The Tudor Society

Burning at the stake

I've talked about quite a few burnings at the stake recently as part of my "on this day in Tudor history" series of videos and this inspired me to look into the history of the punishment and to find out why it was used and how it was used.

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  1. L

    Thanks Claire! Very interesting to hear the history and rationale around this awful execution method!

    1. R

      Horrible ways to go. I do hope Claire isn’t becoming obsessed with these executions, but it is very odd how they had theories and rational thinking behind such terrible punishments. Hanging, drawing and quartering had an explanation for every part of it, each step was symbolic and these condemning ideas were read out, such as cutting out the heart which conceived the plots, the private parts cut out so as those condemned can conceive no heirs, the head struck off as the mind was used to think up their treason, so on. The fires of these terrible burnings representing the fires of hell and deliverance for those condemned. The soul may still be saved. Of course we can’t understand this and are horrified as indeed many did at the time, especially those who witnessed them, but the world of 500 years ago was an alien place. Many supported the way “heretics” were treated because it was a part of their life, their upbringing , it was their way, they were dangerous and possibly evil, the way things had been for a century and a half before Mary even and would be afterwards. It was a terrible sentence, horrible, not to be condoned in any way, but it was accepted at the time. The thing is, if we lived then, we would believe the same thing, that is frightening, but if we were raised in the sixteenth century our world view would be the same as theirs. Ironically, some of those burned as “anathema” by the authorities had condemned others themselves, that is how ingrained this belief system was. It was universal. What changed from regime to regime was that the definition of which beliefs were acceptable and which condemned as heresy varied. There were at least eight changes of religious orthodoxy between 1530 and 1562. Can you imagine the confusion?

      1. C - Post Author

        Ha! I’m trying not to let all of these executions get to me!

    2. C - Post Author

      That’s ok!

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Burning at the stake