Sunday, October 24, 2010

More Strange But True

Again from Nigel Cawthorn's "The Strange Laws of Old England" - 

Burning: Women were not hanged, drawn & quartered for treason as men were - the law required that some " decency due to their sex" forbade women from being exposed and their bodies publicly mutilated.  Instead, they would be dragged to the gallows to be burnt - alive.

Typically, burning was reserved for heretics; however, women who were found guilty of murdering their husbands or masters - an offence known as petty treason -- were also burned at the stake.  In the early days, a prisoner would be burned alive while still concious.  But by the time of Queen Mary I of England, women would be burned naked but were permitted to have a bag of gunpowder around their necks to hasten death.  Later still, as an act of mercy, the prisoner was stangled first.

The last burning took place in 1789 - the practice was abolished in 1790.

For The Murder of Her Child: Margaret Alexander was convicted of murdering her two illegitimate children by Patrick Learmouth.  She was forced to dig up the body of the second child from the Churchyard, and then carry it in a public procession around the town to the Brewhouse where she gave birth to the babe.  Margaret was then required to take the tiny corpse to the place by the riverbank where she had originally buried the body to hide her crime.

After publicly confessing to her crimes, Margaret was hanged, and her arms were cut off.  One arm was displayed in Haddington, the other at Aberlady, where she had given birth to the first child.

Trial By Swallowing: In Anglo Saxon times, suspected purjurers were subjected to "corsned" - being forced to swallow consecrated barley-cake in the belief that a lying mouth would choke on it.  Later, powdered eagle-stone (a form or iron ore) was sprinkled on dry bread to see whether or not the accused could swallow it.

This tale concerns Godwin, Earl of Wessex and father of King Harold II.  Godwin was accused of murder during the reign of King Edward the Confessor and was tried by the ordeal of "corsned".  An ounce of bread was consecrated by exorcism, and Godwin was ordered to swallow it.  However, the bread stuck in Godwin's throat and he died.

The ordeal of "corsned" was abolished by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1261.

1 comment:

Keith said...

Amazing, the cruelty back then.