Bloody Painful: Crime and Punishment
in Elizabethan England
By: Elyatan Marcus
This article's purpose is to express the danger of breaking the law in England. Most of the punishments of our time are deemed cruel and unusual. The death penalty can no longer be enacted in cases of theft or highway robbery. The following paragraphs will describe the various instruments of punishment (torture) of the period. One out of the ordinary punishment of this era is the drunkard's cloak. It is a punishment for public drunkenness; the name of it is somewhat misleading. The flaw in the name comes from the fact that the cloak is less a cloak and more a barrel. The drunk was forced to don a barrel and wander through town while the villagers jeer at him. Holes were cut in the barrel for the person's hands and head, causing it to become like a heavy, awkward shirt. Another punishment is the brank, also known as the bride's scold. The brank is a punishment enacted on women who gossiped or spoke too freely. It was a large iron framework placed on the head of the offender, forming a type of cage. There was a metal strip on the brank that fit into the mouth and is either sharpened to a point or covered with spikes so that any movement of the tongue was certain to cause severe injuries to the mouth. The woman was then led by a city official through the streets of town by a chain, then usually tied to a whipping post or pillory to stand in view of the cruel and verbally abusive public. Yet another punishment for criminals is the pillory. The pillory is a wooden post with a wooden block on top with holes in it for the person's hands and head to be placed in. The heads and hands were then locked into place while the person was forced to stand in public display for the decided sentence. In some cases the pillory was combined with a whipping post and stocks to make a one stop, public punishment device. Also among the list of Elizabethan punishment methods is the stocks. The stocks were similar to the pillory in that a part of the body was locked between two slabs of wood, but in the case of the stocks the feet were locked in the device instead of the hands and feet. The stocks were a proposed method of punishment for drunkenness. The offender will be fined to five shillings or six hours in the stocks. The stocks are often used as a method of holding a criminal until a more severe sentence can be decided and carried out. One punishment about which there is not much to say is the whipping post. It was basically what the name says, a wooden post that the person was strapped to and whipped for the prescribed number of times. One more odd punishment worth mentioning is the ducking stool. Like the brank, it was a punishment for women whose speech was considered too brash and brazen or too free. The ducking stool is a wooden chair attached to a large lever system. The lever allows the chair to be raised or lowered without the tipping of the chair, making it parallel to the ground at all times. The chair is then lowered into the water, dunking the loose tongued woman under the water. Based on the level of the offense and the cruelty of the deciding party the woman could be "ducked" any number of times, and in some cases of extreme measures, the woman could drown from the time spent under water. Some of the ducking stools were mobile and could be taken to the water's edge at the necessary time, while others were fixed into place along the coast of the water as a grim reminder to the women of the town of what free speaking could lead to. One tool that is used as punishment was the amputation saw. Much more cruel than the axe, the saw is slower and more painful than the relative quickness of the axe blade. Villagers can be considered twisted individuals because of the crowds of people that gathered for the public punishments and executions. People relished the public hangings, and the persons to be hanged were often falsely accused of treason, which called...
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