The Horrific History of Being Hanged, Drawn, and Quartered 

Throughout the Dark and Medieval ages, punishments for crimes would become both more creative and more gruesome than ever before. Tales of executions have fascinated and horrified have the public for as long as history has been recorded, and none so much as being hanged, drawn, and quartered. 

Made famous by the execution of William Wallace in the move “Braveheart”, being hanged, drawn, and quartered was so barbaric that it couldn’t even been shown on screen.

Reserved for traitors and criminals who were the worst of the worst, this macabre practice is a dark chapter of human history that shows just how cruel humanity can be in search of justice. 

In this article, we’ll explain the terrible practice of being hanged, drawn, and quartered, the history of the practice, and how it eventually fell out of favor.

What Does it Mean to Be Hanged, Drawn, and Quartered?

There’s a reason this form of execution is considered one of the most gruesome in the history of the world. Instead of the goal being the death of the criminal, the goal of being hanged, drawn, and quartered was to cause unimaginable suffering. 

The process would go as follows, with some alterations depending on the individual criminal and executioners. 

The criminal would be transported from the jail to the gallows by horse, usually tied behind it, and dragged through the streets.

When it was found that prisoners would die prematurely because of this, they were strapped to a wooden board and dragged instead. There is some debate whether the “drawn” portion of the execution refers to this dragging or the later evisceration. 

Once at the gallows, the accused would be hanged until the point of unconsciousness or near death, but they weren’t intended actually to die during this portion.

Instead, the hangman would try to keep the criminal alive so they would be concious to experience the horror of the next part of their execution. 

Next, the criminal would be eviscerated. This is believed to be the “drawn” portion of the execution since it comes after “hanged” in the name of the process.

The abdomen would be cut and intestines drawn out of the body while the criminal was still alive. Sometimes, they would be thrown on fire, all given the soon-to-be-executed. Occasionally the gentials would also be removed and burned. 

Finally, the criminal would be killed, either by beheading or by the quartering itself. Often the previous tortures would be enough to kill them, and they would already be dead by this point.

The body would be seperated into four pieces which would sometimes be sent to other cities, while the head would often be placed on London Bridge as an object of ridicule–one last degradation for the executed person. 

Who Was the First Person to Be Hanged, Drawn, and Quartered? 

The practice of being hanged, drawn, and quartered existed in various forms throughout the Middle Ages, but not as an intentional single punishment.

Instead, any combination of the three steps–hanging, drawing, and quartering the body–would be used individually or in combination with each other or other forms of punishment. 

The first recorded instance of execution by hanging, drawing, and quartering was in 1283. The man executed was Welsh prince Dafydd ap Gruffydd after he betrayed King Edward I.

This execution method wouldn’t become an official punishment until the reign of King Edward III.

Gruffydd was charged with the crime of high treason, and high treason would go on to be the central crime to be punished by being hanged, drawn, and quartered. 

His execution was particularly brutal, as he was attached to a horses tail and drawn through the streets of Shrewsbury, England. H

e was then hanged, but not until death, just to the point of near unconciousness. Following the hanging, he was disembowled, and his entrails burned in front of his eyes before finally being killed and his body quartered. 

The Execution of Scottish Knight Sir William Wallace 

Many people mistakenly believe that the first man to suffer this execution was Sir William Wallace, leader of the First War of Scottish Independence and the subject of the movie “Braveheart.” 

While this isn’t true, considering Wallce was executed in 1305, 22 years after Dafydd ap Gruffydd, his execution was one of the most infamous by far. 

After being forced to wear a crown of laurel leaves as a symbol of his status as an outcast, Wallace was drawn behind a horse to Smithfield, England before he was hanged and beheaded.

While some accounts say that Wallace’s entrails were burned while he was still alive, most information suggests that this last torture was saved until after he was dead. 

At the end of it, his body was quarted and sent to four different parts of England, while his head was placed on the London bridge as a grim message. 

Who Was the Last Person to be Hanged, Drawn, and Quartered? 

Despite how notorious the execution method was, being hanged, drawn, and quartered was not a common punishment, and it occupied only a small portion of history–499 years, to be exact. 

The last person sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered was David Tyrie in August of 1782. Tyrie’s was the final execution to include all three portions of the hanged, drawn, and quartered punishment, as opposed to similar sentencings in later years where the more brutal parts of the practice were waived. 

David Tyrie was a Scottish Spy who was convicted of the crime of high treason for engaging in treasonous communications with the French. He was executed in Portsmouth, England. After he was hanged for 22 minutes, Tyrie was beheaded, his heart burned, and his body quartered before he was placed into a coffin and buried. 

His execution was marked by an exceptionally large, wild, and frenzied crowd.

It’s estimated that over 20,000 people attended David Tyrie’s execution, and after he was buried near the seaside, the crowd snapped and dug the coffin up. Tyrie’s body was torn into hundreds, if not thousands, of pieces, which were taken as macabre souvenirs by the crowd of onlookers. 

Another man, Edward Despard, and six other men who were involved in the treasonous Despard Plot were sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered in 1803, but their sentences were changed to just hanging, followed by beheading. 

In the ghastly spirit of the hanging, drawing, and quarterings of old, the men were still tied behind horses.

Instead of being dragged through town, though, they were placed on wooden sleighs and pulled in circles in the gallows cobblestone courtyard over bales of hay.

The scene was so absurd that Despard himself was said to have exploded in laughter despite his death looming just minutes away. 

When Despard and his co-conspiritors were executed, the crowd was equally as large as the one at Tyrie’s execution—some 20,000 or so spectators. The men were hanged first, and the crowd was said to have clung and pulled at their legs, hastening their demise, even if it was unintentional. 

The subsequent beheading of Edward Despard was both messy and embarrassing, and after Despard, no one would be sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered again. 

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