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What does It Mean to be Drawn and Quartered?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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A prisoner who was sentenced to be drawn and quartered was subject to one of the most disgusting and cruel methods of execution available. It involved a person being hanged, disemboweled, beheaded, and then cut into pieces. The person was usually alive when this method was employed, though not for long, and the pain at this type of death is absolutely unimaginable. The punishment also put the person in jeopardy of ascension to heaven even after confession, since it was believed that bodies had to be kept whole so they could rise at the second coming.

This style of execution was likely first employed in England by Henry III, who reigned from 1216-1272. It was a punishment reserved for people who committed high treason. The average murderer was not drawn and quartered, and women never suffered this punishment. The method was most often used in the UK.

There’s a little confusion about the term, and a misunderstanding regarding the way that it was practiced. Some believe it meant attaching a body to four horses running in different directions to split the body in four. This is not the case. Drawn may mean hung, or it may mean drawn to the place where the execution took place.

The person was hanged by the neck, but this was usually not fatal — prisoners were frankly fortunate if this did cause their death. He was then disemboweled and had his genitalia removed, which were burned. Beheading came next, and then the remaining body was cut into four parts. Technically, this isn’t quartering a body, since the body was cut into five pieces. The head was normally kept near the tower of London, and the body parts would be sent to different parts of England, as a gruesome message of the price high treason would cost.

It would take England a full 600 years to finally ban this extremely brutal punishment, and it was finally outlawed in 1832. It’s difficult to think that such a punishment existed when England was civilized in so many other ways. Nevertheless, to be hanged, drawn, and quartered was the sentence of many, including Guy Fawkes. The sentence occurred under British rule once in what is now the US, sentencing Joshua Teft for supporting the Narragansett Tribe during a war with Britain. The Founding Fathers could technically have ordered the same sentence for others convicted of treason during the Revolutionary War, but they did not, though many convicted of treason were executed in other fashions.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Historical Index contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon999671 — On Feb 19, 2018

This should be the swift punishment for Florida school mass murderer Nikolas Cruz and it should be posted onto Youtube, Facebook, etc. for anyone/everyone to see. Maybe that would deter future psychopathic would-be mass murders. Guns don't kill - psychopaths with guns kill!

By anon990595 — On Apr 29, 2015

People today are outraged by the brutality of the beheadings in the middle east (and rightfully so). But what folks don't realize is that life and punishment was far worse in the supposedly "civil" English world of 1200-1800 AD. For a particularly brutal example of capital punishment, read about the execution of Balthasar Gérard in the 1500s. People of the time reveled in this stuff.

By anon989983 — On Mar 30, 2015

What is wrong with our species?

By anon989610 — On Mar 14, 2015

I believe prisoners on death row should be dealt with in this manner!

By anon349916 — On Sep 30, 2013

"Drawn", in this context, refers to the drawing out of the bowels from the body - it does not refer to being drawn on a hurdle, or hanging (where did you get the idea it referred to hanging?)

It is a symbolic punishment. First, the condemned is suspended between heaven and earth, being worthy of neither (the hanging). Then, the condemned's bowels, within which the treason did grow, are removed and burnt (disembowling). Then the genitals are removed (so the condemned can beget no more traitors) and burnt. Then, the head, which did think the treasonous thoughts, is removed and the condemned, mercifully, dies at last. --Lucien

By anon346506 — On Aug 29, 2013

This would be perfect for Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood Shooter.

By anon185781 — On Jun 13, 2011

Anyone wiling to carry out this type of punishment would have to be a sociopath. Likely just about as sick as the person who would deserve such a death. What do you do with the executioner when he finally loses it?

By anon150273 — On Feb 07, 2011

If we had this form of punishment today, you can bet life would be much better for us law abiding decent citizens. I would love to see this law enacted in the USA and then get to see someone punished by it, or better yet, I'd like to be the person in charge of executing the sentence. I can easily think of quite a few scum I would like to get rid of today.

By panda2006 — On Jan 26, 2011

Many people joke now about being hung, drawn, and quartered for doing something you were not supposed to. But the reality is that it really is not something cute or funny, it was actually quite cruel. I suppose it has been outlawed for so long that many of us do not realize its real meaning, which is perhaps a good sign, in a way.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Historical Index contributor, Tricia...
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