Torture And Its Tools Essay, Research Paper
Torture and its Tools; Elizabethan Crime and Punishment
During the Elizabethan era, crimes of treason and offenses against the state were treated with the same severity that murder and rape are today (Beyer 1). Treason was the worst crime according to Queen Elizabeth (Lestikow 1). Offenses such as manslaughter, robbery, rape, piracy, and capital crimes entitled one to hanging, usually in the town square (Beyer 1). During Queen Elizabeth s time, the punishments were designed to fit the crime committed. One may complain about the consequences of crimes one commits, but looking back at Elizabethan times, punishments are far less brutal now than they were then.
Queen Elizabeth had very cruel ways of dealing with criminals. Burning was used for killing witches and for religious crimes (Dyer 2). Anyone caught poisoning another was boiled to death. Criminals could also be held in prisons for long terms. These prisoners would often die of starvation, or be quartered right before dying (Lestikow 1-2). Criminals were tortured while in prison. If an accused person wouldn t confess to the crime for which they were convicted, they would be pressed . A weight would be put on their chest until they confessed, or died (Dyer 1). Prisoners could also be tortured by the rack, which slowly dislocated their joints, have arrows stuck through their fingers, or put in the Skeffington s gyves, which squeezed the body into a crushed lump (Dersin 104). Some examples of these criminals were Sir Walter Raleigh and John Stubbs. When the queen found that Sir Walter Raleigh married one of her ladies-in-
waiting, he was locked up in the Tower of London. When John Stubbs called the Duke of Alencon The old serpent himself in the form of a man come a second time to seduce the English Eve and to ruin the English paradise, he was thrown into jail and lost one of his hands (Constable 65-67).
Vagrancy was another type of punishable crime. If someone was not sick or crippled , and was begging, they could be punished. According to Denise Dersin, editor of What Life Was Like In the Realm of Elizabeth, Palm readers, wizards, unlicensed healers, tinkers, and minstrels were now defined as vagrants, liable to be whipped and burned on the ear for a first offense and hanged for a second, unless they quickly found masters. Earlier parliaments had restricted begging, ordered that vagrants be whipped and sent back to their home parishes, seized child vagrants and placed them into apprenticeships, and even permitted the enslavement of able-bodied beggars (77-78).
There were many other crimes, and certain tools and methods of punishment were designed to fit the crime. A punishment for women gossiping was the ducking stool. It was a chair attached to a lever used to dunk women under water. The women usually drowned (Peter 2). Another tool was the amputation saw. It was used to remove a limb slowly and painfully (Peter 2). Hanging was a popular way to deal with criminals. After being hanged, the criminal s head would be shown on a pole for all to see (Woodsworth
349). Beheading was used for the higher-class citizens, because it was considered a more honorable way to die (Dyer 2).
One of the most popular of Elizabethan punishments was the pillory (Dyer 1). The pillory had a wooden block with three holes in it for the head and hands. Criminals would be locked up in the pillory and wait in public for their decided punishment. There were different variations of the pillory. The stocks were like the pillory except that the
feet were locked up. They were used for public drunkenness and for temporarily holding a criminal (Peter 1-2). In another type of pillory, toes were put through holes and smashed by a hammer and wedge (Lestikow 2). The finger pillory was used for higher classed people for unacceptable behavior during social gatherings. Fingers were put into a block of wood and kept bent at a ninety-degree angle at the middle knuckle (Dyer 1).
Physical torture wasn t the only way criminals were dealt with. There was also a tremendous amount of embarrassment involved. Elizabethans were amused by torture and punishment. Criminals would be put on public display and constantly harassed (Beyer 2). An example of this harassment was the drunkard s cloak, a punishment designed for public drunkenness. The drunk had to wear a barrel, instead of clothing, and walk through town. Another punishment for gossiping was that the woman would have to wear a brank on her head. The brank was a cage with a sharp mouthpiece so she couldn t talk, or she would cut her tongue. She would be led through town by a chain to a whipping post where the villagers could mock her (Peter 1). Men also had punishments involving social behavior. A man caught being bossed by his wife must sit on a pole and
be carried through town. Sometimes an impersonator would ride the pole. This is called riding the stang (Dersin 84).
Elizabethan crime and punishments are very different from those of today. Judicial systems, prisons, and the Constitution prevent these cruel and unusual punishments from happening. Treason is no longer a reason for death, and strange torture devices are not used for punishing a criminal.
Beyer, Ashley and Valerie Passerni. Crime and Punishment. 1-2. Online. 11/15/00.
Constable, George, ed. The European Emergence. Alexandria: Time Life Books, 1989.
Dersin, Denise, ed. What Life Was Like In the Realm of Elizabeth. Alexandria: Time Life Books, 1998.
Dyer, Brady. Common Punishments of the Elizabethan Period. 1-2. Online. . 11/15/00.
Lestikow, Erin, Katie O Fallon, and Lori Patterson. Torture and Punishment in Elizabethan Times. 1-3. 11/15/00.
Peter, Brice. Bloody Painful: Crime and Punishment in Elizabethan England. 1-3. Online. 11/15/00.
Woodsworth, Frank W. William Shakespeare. The World Book Encyclopedia. 1989 ed.
G/T English 9
December 15, 2000
Torture and Its Tools: Elizabethan Crime and Punishment