Different Forms of Torture and Executions Used in the Past

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There have been many different way of torture/execution in the past years, and most of these selections chosen below came from literature. These way of torture/execution are unimaginable and inhumane.

The original way of beheading before the guillotine was with a sword, and it would typically be a very large man who would be the one to cut the criminal’s head off. The sword and the axe would often take a couple of blows. The criminal would have to kneel on the ground. If the criminal flinched while kneeling they had to receive another hit because the swordsman would not have killed him. hit the wrong spot that would have only paralyzed the criminal (Farrington).

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There were also instances where an assistant would have to help hold the prisoner up, which was risky because it was common for an assistant to be hit by the swing, of the sword too. There was a situation in France where a “condemned man volunteered to be an executioner to save his own skin”,it took him a total of 29 swings before he executed the prisoner (Farrington).

Another type of British device includes the guillotine. According to, it dates back to the 1790s. “A beheading device called the ‘planke’ was used…” It had a sliding axe known as the Halifax Gibbet. This was used to cut off heads (Andrews). “Evidence also shows that primitive guillotines may have been in use in France long before the days of the French Revolution” (Andrews). Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin “proposed that the French government adopt a gentler method of execution” (Andrews). “Although he was personally opposed to capital punishment, Guillotin argued that decapitation by a lightning-quick machine would be more humane” (Andrews). Guillotin felt this wouldn’t be as painful and gruesome. Guillotin felt this was inhumane (Andrews).

“The device claimed its first official victim in April of 1792, and quickly became known as the “guillotine” — much to the horror of its supposed inventor.” There were a ton of people who wanted to come watch executions happen at the guillotine (Andrews). This machine was honored in many different songs, jokes, and poems (Andrews). “Spectators could buy souvenirs, read a program listing the names of the victims, or even grab a quick bite to eat at a nearby restaurant called ‘Cabaret de la Guillotine’ at these executions” (Andrews). The guillotine even became a popular child’s toy where the kids could behead dolls and rodents (Andrews). “The guillotine machine’s 189-year reign only officially came to an end in September 1981, when France abolished capital punishment for good” (Andrews).

Another form of execution is the hangman’s noose. “As a form of capital punishment, hanging was introduced to Britain by the Germanic Anglo-Saxon tribe sas early as the fifth century.” In 1655 witches were the first group of people to be hanged (Duff). “Someone could be hung for various different reasons, from the petty thief to an esteemed Nobleman” (“Execution”). After a victim was killed for example in TOTC Jerry Cruncher would sell body parts to scientists to make extra money. “If, as a honest tradesman, my wentures goes wrong to-night, I shall make sure that you’re been praying agin me, and I shall work you for it the same as if I seen you do it” (Book 1 Chapter 14, pg. 194 TOTC).

Quartering with torture was another form of execution when the prisoner was accused of treason. There were many different ways of quartering. It typically started out by getting dragged by a horse to the executions site, then hanged until near death, and then cut down. Depending on whether the king liked the prisoner or not he might just let him hang, but if he didn’t like him they would start out by cutting the prisoner’s genitals off. This process is all described in the book ATOTC “One old man says at the fountain, that his right hand, armed with the knife, will be burnt off before his face; that, into wounds which will be made in his arms, his breast, there will be poured boiling oil, melted lead, hot resin, wax, and sulphur; finally, that he will be torn limb from limb by four strong horses” (Book 2, Chapter 15, pg. 209).

Next, they would tie the prisoner’s limbs to four horses and the horses would all walk in four different directions. This would pull and stretch the intestines out of him while he was still alive. If this process didn’t kill him his would cut his head off, and put his head on a stake. He would then get thrown into a fire where he burned. Once the fire had burned him up he would be cut up into quarters or whatever was left of him. The prisoner would then get boiled, and his leftover body was put into a concoction. This was also described in the book a Tale Of Two Cities ”burning people in the hand at Newgate by the dozen, and now, … to-morrow of a wretched pilferer who had robbed a farmer’s boy of sixpence” (Chapter 1, pg. 7 TOTC). Spices were mixed and placed on the body to prevent birds from pecking on it. The leftover body parts were distributed among the country symbolizing that this is what would happen if you commit crimes (

The next form of torture was the rack. In Britain, it was introduced by John Holland, who was the second Duke of Exeter, in 1447 ( “The basic idea: The victim is tied down while some mechanical device, usually a crank or turning wheel, tightens the ropes, stretching the victim's body until the joints are dislocated. Continued pressure it could cause the limbs to be torn right off' ( This is described in TOTC “Thus it was, however; and the last drop of blood having been extracted from the flints, and the last screw of the rack having been turned so often that its purchase crumbled, and it now turned and turned with nothing to bite, Monseigneur began to run away from a phenomenon so low and accountable” (Book 2, Chapter 23, pg. 279). After the peasants limbs are broken on the rack then he/she would be burned in a vat of boiling oil (Winston). This type of torture was typically used when someone believed in a different god or even when insulting or being rude to god ( It was also used as a punishment for stealing bread, and refusing to confess (Winston). Many of these criminals would scream and scream from the pain, but the royalty continued this process until the criminal confessed, “(The aim of the game - no matter what it cost” (Farrington). The terms that would be used for the prisoner being on the rack would be 'broken on the rack,' 'racked,' or 'stretched on the rack' (Grabianowski). It could be combined with other forms of torture to make things even more painful (Grabianowski).

The pillory was also used as a form of torture. “A pillory is a wooden device that holds the criminal’s head and hands between two pieces of wood. The criminal is put on public display in the pillory to shame them. Witnesses often abused the pilloried criminal, and in many cases, killed the criminal” ( This form of humiliation is completely only meant to shame people. The different ways to end up in the pillory were for committing adultery, or for raping someone, or even stealing. Sex offenders always were sent to the pillory to be shamed upon. For example a lady named Anne Marrow, and she was a lesbian, and he dressed as a man and married three men. She was put into the pillory, but before she was released from the pillory the guards pulled both of her eyes out as a warning for everyone else to never do something like she had (Farrington).

Another instance was when two men named Thomas Lyell and Lawrence Sydney made 4,000 pounds (which was England's currency back in the 1700s) from gambling with loaded dice. The English government caught on to them for playing the system, and they were also sent to the pillory (Farrington). The people were very cruel to a criminal that ended up in the pillory. The crowds would throw rotten vegetables, dead animals or even feces. It typically got out of hand because the crowd would throw bricks stones and other dangerous items. Many of these criminals had died from this. The crowd would often beat the criminal to death. The pillory later was named as the whipping post because of all the cruel items the crowds would throw, and the unjust beating they would give to the helpless criminal. The criminal sometimes also got body parts cut off and also got branded (

This next method was the rat in the cage. It occured in the 17th century in Europe during the Dutch Revolt. The rat was placed inside a half cage. The opening was on the bottom. It was placed on the prisoners stomach. The cage would slowly be heated up and the rat would be desperate to escape the heat at all costs. The rats only escape would be to dig straight down starting with the stomach on down. It would start gnawing and scratching into the victim all the way till the rat got down into the victims bowels. This was typically used to get information from a prisoner, and this information was almost always gotten with this method because of how painful it was. When the Argentines used the rat method for their type of torture. The Argentines would guide the rats down a telescopic tube into the prisoners body through the vagina or the rectum (Redd).

The more simpler way was the way the rat method was used in England. This room was referred to as the “Rats Dungeon.” It took place in a room that was pitch black cell which sat directly underneath the water line of the Thames River. At night when the river would rise onto the shores it would pull the rats out of the ground otherwise the rats would drown. The rats would go floating down into this room, and they would just start to gnaw and nibble at the flesh of the prisoner. These two methods were incredibly affected because everyone knows that a majority of people in the world are scared to death of the rats, and it would just strike terror in the victim, so often times the victim would confess the information people wanted just to avoid those situations (Redd).

These methods of torture/execution were treacherous. The real question everyone is asking is what were these people thinking back in the day torturing people for stealing bread, lying, and etc. It is fun to think about how these executioners would have felt if all of these tortures and executions would have happened to them if they would have actually thought about what they were doing instead of just being overall cruel.

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