Elizabethan Crime and Punishment - A Public Spectacle
Elizabethan England and Elizabethan Crime and Punishment - not a happy subject. Violent times. Crimes were met with violent, cruel punishments. Many punishments and executions were witnessed by many hundreds of people. The Lower Classes treated such events as exciting days out. Even royalty were subjected to this most public form of punishment for their crimes. The execution of the tragic Anne Boleyn was restricted to the Upper Classes and Nobility and was witnessed by several hundred spectators!
ELIZABETHAN CRIMES OF THE NOBILITY
Elizabethan England was split into two classes - the Upper Class, the nobility and courtiers, and everyone else! Punishment would vary according to class. The Upper class were well educated, wealthy and associated with Royalty and high members of the clergy. They would often become involved in Political intrigue and matters of Religion. The nobility could therefore become involved in crime which were not shared by other people. Just being accused of one of the serious crimes could well result in torture. A Defendant's chances in receiving any acquittal in court extremely slim. Trials were designed in the favour of the prosecutors and defendants accused any of the following crimes were not even allowed legal counsel! The most common crimes of the Nobility included:
ELIZABETHAN CRIMES OF THE COMMONERS
Many crimes committed by commoners were through sheer desperation and abject poverty. The most common crimes were:
Theft for stealing anything over 5 pence resulted in hanging - a terrible price to pay for poor people who were starving. Even such small crimes such as stealing birds eggs could result in the death sentence. Punishment for poaching crimes differed according to when the crime was committed - Poaching at night resulted in the punishment by death, whereas poaching during the day time did not. Begging was a serious crime during the Elizabethan era. The Elizabethan government made begging a crime and therefore illegal and 'poor beggars' As their punishment 'poor beggars' would be beaten until they reached the stones that marked the town parish boundary. The beatings given as punishment were bloody and merciless and those who were caught continually begging could be sent to prison and even hanged as their punishment.
PUNISHMENT DURING THE ELIZABETHAN ERA - THE COURTIERS
Life in Elizabethan England was chronicled by an Elizabethan called William Harrison - this included details of Elizabethan crime and punishment. The most dreadful punishment of being Hung, Drawn and Quartered was described by William Harrison as:
"The greatest and most grievous punishment used in England for such as offend against the State 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."
PUNISHMENT BY BURNING
Other punishment included execution by burning and beheading. Being burnt at the stake was a terrible death. Executioners sometimes showed mercy to their victims by placing gunpowder at the base of the stake which helped the victims to a swifter, and less painful, death. The only other respite from the excruciating pain of being burnt to death was if the victims died of suffocation through smoke inhalation and lack of oxygen.
PUNISHMENT BY BEHEADING - THE UPPER CLASSES
The punishment of Death by the axe was a terrifying prospect. The Elizabethan executioners often took several blows before the head was finally severed. The punishment of death by Execution were held...