The 10 Most Horrific Execution Methods Throughout History

Published February 4, 2016
Updated September 12, 2019

Being Hanged, Drawn, And Quartered

Hanged Drawn Quartered

Loyset Liédet/ Wikimedia CommonsA prisoner being hanged, drawn, and quartered in France.

First recorded in England during the 13th century, this unusually extreme — even for the time — mode of execution was made the statutory punishment for treason in 1351. Though it was intended to be an act of such barbarous severity that no one would ever risk committing a treasonous act, there were nevertheless plenty of recipients over the next 500 years.

The process of being hanged, drawn and quartered began with the victim being dragged to the site of execution while strapped to a wooden panel, which was in turn tied to a horse.

They would then experience a slow hanging, in which, rather than being dropped to the traditional quick death of a broken neck, they would instead be left to choke horribly as the rope tore up the skin of their throat, their body weight dragging them downwards.

Guy Fawkes Execution

National Portrait Library/ Wikimedia CommonsGuy Fawkes being executed for the Gunpowder Plot.

Some had the good fortune to die at this stage, including infamous Gunpowder Plot conspirator Guy Fawkes, who ensured a faster death by leaping from the gallows.

Once half strangled, the drawing would begin. The victim would be strapped down and then slowly disemboweled, their stomachs sliced open and their intestines and other major organs hacked apart and pulled — “drawn” — from the body.

The genitals would often be mutilated and ripped from between their legs. Those unlucky enough to still be alive at this point might witness their organs burned in front of them, before they were finally decapitated.

Once death had finally claimed them, the recipient’s body would be carved into four pieces — or “quartered” — and the parts sent to prominent areas of the country as a warning to others.

The head would often be taken to the infamous Tower of London, where it would be impaled on a spike and placed on the walls, “for the mockery of London.”

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