Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Drawn and Quartered Definition:

A horrific and barbaric punishment imposed upon traitors pursuant to ancient common law: partial hanging, disembowelling and cutting of body into quarters.

Related Terms: Treason

During his submissions on sentencing at the 1603 trial of Guy Fawkes, convicted of treason, Edward Coke gave this description of the ancient punishment:

"After a traitor has had his just trial, and is convicted ... he shall have his judgment: to be drawn to the place of execution from his prison, as being not worthy anymore to tread upon the face of earth whereof he was made. Also, for that he has been retrograde to nature, therefore is he drawn backward ....

"And whereas God has made the head of man the highest and most supreme part, as being his chief grace and ornament, he must be drawn with his head declining downward and lying so near the ground as may be, being thought unfit to take benefit of the common air.

"For which cause also he shall be strangled, being hanged up by the neck between heaven and earth as deemed unworthy of both or either, as likewise, that the eyes of men may behold and their hearts condemn him.

"Then he is to be cut down alive, and to have his privy parts cut off and burnt before his face as being unworthily begotten and unfit to lead any generation after him. His bowels ... taken out and burnt, who inwardly had conceived and harboured such horrible treason.

"After, to have his head cut off, which had imagined the mischief.

"And lastly, his body to be quartered and the quarters set up in some high and eminent place, to the view and detestation of men, and to become prey for the fowls of the air.

"And this is a reward due to traitors whose heart be hardened. For it is a psychic of state and government to let out our corrupt blood from the heart."

drawn and quarteredIn the third volume of his Institutes, Coke adds that the condemned trader also loses all his property and titles.

The first recorded instance of drawn and quartering was in 1241 (William Marise) and the last, May 1, 1820, when John Brunt, William Davidson, James Ings, Arthur Thistlewood and Richard Tidd were hung and beheaded, the government commuting the other traditional components of the sentence.

After William Wallace was drawn and quartered in 1305, his head was placed on a pole on London Bridge. His body, in four pieces, was sent to Newcastle upon Tyne, Berwick, Perth and Sterling.1

In 1610, the French imposed the sentenced upon François Ravaillac who murdered their king (Henry IV) - see adjacent image.

In his diary dated October 13, 1660, Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) wrote:

"I went out to Charing Cross, to see Major-General Harrison hanged, drawn and quartered; which was done there, he looking as cheerful as any man could in that condition."



  • Andrews, Williams, Old Time Punishments (London: 1890- NOTE 1, page2 201-203)
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Crime & Punishment in Medieval England
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, The Trial of William Wallace
  • Drinker Bowen, Catherine, The Lion and the Throne - The Life and Times of Sir Edward Coke (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1957), page 258-259. Some old English words converted to modern English such as has for hath.
  • Fisher, Andrew, William Wallace (Edinburgh: Birlinn Limited, 2007), page2 247-248.

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