The Murder Act included the provision “for better preventing the horrid crime of murder that some further terror and peculiar mark of infamy be added to the punishment and that in no case whatsoever shall the body of any murderer be suffered to be buried” by mandating either public dissection or “hanging in chains” of the cadaver. The act also stipulated that a person found guilty of murder should be executed two days after being sentenced unless the third day was a Sunday, in which case the execution would take place on the following Monday.


Skeletal remains in Jibbet

After the hanging, the body of the the executed would be stripped and dipped into molten pitch or tar. After colling, it would be re-dressed and placed into an iron cage that surrounded the head, torso and upper legs. The cage was riveted together and then suspended from either the original gallows or a purpose built gibbet. The body was then displayed in the gibbet for a year or more until it rotted away or was eaten by birds, etc.  

Gibbets were typically erected either in prominent places such as crossroads or hill tops at or near the site of the crime. The first recorded hanging in chains in Scotland was in March 1637 when a man called McGregor, who was a robber and murderer, was ordered to stay on “the gallowlee till his corpse rot”.

In cases of drawing and quartering (the horrendous sentence for treason) the body of the criminal was cut into four or five portions, with each part often gibbeted in different places. The most common locations for such gruesome exhibitions were often next to public highways frequently at crossroads and city gates and waterways. Although the intention was to deter violent crime by shocking the public, many expressed disgust at the practice. There was also Christian objection that persecution of criminals should end with their death and that the sight and smell of decaying corpses was “pestilential” and a threat to public health.


In March 1743 in the town of Rye, Allen Grebell was murdered by John Breads. Breads was imprisoned in the Ypres Tower and then hanged, after which his body was left to rot for more than 20 years in an iron cage on Gibbet Marsh. The cage and Breads’ skull are still kept in the Town Hall.

Oliver Cromwell was gibbeted after the monarchists disinterred his body during the restoration of the monarchy On 30 January 1661, the 12th anniversary of the execution of Charles I.  After exhuming the body from Westminster Abbey, it was posthumously executed for treason with his body hanged in chains at Tyburn. His severed head was displayed on a pole outside Westminster Hall until 1685 before finally thrown into a pit. 

(I guess  dying once was not enough!)



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