The Tudor Society

Execution methods – From boiling to pressing

Following on from last week's Claire Chats video talk on hanging, drawing and quartering, this week I'm looking at other methods of execution used in England, and also Scotland, during the Tudor period. Brutal times!

I mention how the Scottish beheading machine, the Maiden, still survives today and you can see a photo of it at

Notes, Sources and Further Reading

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  1. R

    In Halifax in Yorkshire something similar to the Maiden pre dated and existed and the method of execution could be adapted for certain crimes. One famous method was for cattle theft, the blade was dropped when four oxen were driven away from the machine and raised the other way.

    In Italy you could be executed by being strapped inside a wheel and spun around with the spokes sticking into you until you died.

    On Death Machines they showed a variation on hanging, drawing and quartering were your guts were attached to a hook and a crank used to draw them out, like a long string of sausages. You could live up to two hours if they didn’t then kill you by beheading or cutting out your heart.

    The Romans had a quirky method of execution, in addition to crucifixion and throwing you to the lions, were they are said to have cut you in two end to end with a saw. However, after failing demonstrations, it is now believed this was a myth and such a method of execution was impossible.

    Even when the short drop was introduced in the later Victorian age, if the executioner didn’t weigh the prisoners properly he miscalculated and the poor person chocked instead of dying quickly. The executioner in Walton, Liverpool would turn up drunk and often got it wrong. He was eventually dismissed, but not before he had botched several hangings. As you say, Claire, you could hang for numerous offences, and this reached a zenith under the George’s, with 200 hanging offences. Any theft worth 40 shillings automatically saw a person hang and any theft of or from property over five shillings could see you hang. Jack the Lad escaped death three times by escaping from the condemned cell and getting out of jail, but he got betrayed by a partner in crime and aged 23 was eventually hung for burglary. His partner, who had been freed after dobbing him in, was arrested again a few weeks later for another crime and hung. The character of the Artful Dodger in Oliver Twist was based on him.

    Burning at the stake was also the death sentence for women who committed treason and for women who killed their husbands. However, in Russia, women who killed their husbands were buried alive.

    1. C - Post Author

      I’ll have to look into that Halifax machine, thank you. It’s awful the things that the human mind can think up! Thank you for sharing those.

      1. R

        You’re welcome. What scares me is how complacent we can become when talking about such horrible, painful things that our ancestors inflicted on each other. Maybe when watching or reading our brain knows it is not real, as in happening now, live, but if we saw an execution, I am certain we would be horrified. They went to watch these things as if it was nothing. Some people must have had sympathy, but most people sound like a baying mob.

  2. C

    Just wondering if by Hanging in Chains, the weight of the chains on one’s body would put enough force to break the condemn’s neck thus making death quick. This was very well researched Claire. enjoying your talks.

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Execution methods – From boiling to pressing