The First Nobleman Hung, Drawn and Quartered


A Brief History

On October 3, 1283, Dafydd ap Gruffydd, prince of Gwynedd in Wales, became the first nobleman executed by being hanged, drawn and quartered.

Digging Deeper

The drawing above shows the “drawing” of William de Marisco in the mid-thirteenth century.  The horrific fate of this man who was not only executed and subsequently dismembered but also tortured en route to the place of execution was a fate perhaps most famously shared by Scottish hero Sir William Wallace in 1305.  The Oscar-winning film Braveheart depicts some of what Wallace endured for defying Edward Longshanks (“Long legs”) the Hammer of the Scots.

So, what was hanging, drawing, and quartering?  Well, it varied, but it usually included dragging someone to his place of execution as depicted in the image above and then hanging them before ultimately severing their body into four parts.  For those who think lethal injection is cruel and unusual, remember, we have nothing on those who truly did “get Medieval” on people’s, well, you know!  Generally, speaking, this extreme punishment was reserved for those who committed treason.  Although the punishment obviously occurred prior to 1351, it was only in that year that it became an official penalty for men (not women) convicted of high treason and shockingly remained legal until, get ready, 1870!  And yes, the punishment did in fact continue to occur in the Renaissance and even the so-called Enlightenment.

As for the unfortunate Dafydd ap Gruffyd (11 July 1238 – 3 October 1283), he had reigned as the last independent prince of Wales and as such was not a son of the King of England (Edward I, yes, the same one from Braveheart…he seemed to enjoy employing this means of execution!).  Well, King Edward sought to rule all of Great Britain, not just England and Scotland as Braveheart focuses on, but also Wales as well.  To accomplish this goal, Edward fought a war of conquest against Dafydd.  The war lasted from 1277 to 1283 and ended with Dayfdd’s capture.  As with Wallace decades later and under the same king of England, Dafydd was similarly condemned to death in a terrifyingly slow and agonizing manner.  After being dragged through the streets of Shrewsbury attached to a horse’s tail, he was first hanged alive before being revived.  Next, his executioner disemboweled Dafydd and burned his entrails before him.  Finally, for good measure, or actually “for plotting the king’s death,” his body was cut into four quarters.  I know I said, “finally”, but that was only with regards to Dafydd.

Edward took out his wrath on Dafydd’s children as well, sending Dafydd’s daughter Gwladys to a convent in Lincolnshire, where she died in 1336.  His sons were both imprisoned at Bristol Castle, where one son named Llywelyn ap Dafydd died in mysterious circumstances in 1287 or 1288.  The other son, Owain ap Dafydd, was last found living in August 1325.  His fate is unknown.


Historical Evidence

To see a dramatic recreation of hanging, drawing, and quartering from roughly the same time period as the death of Dafydd ap Gruffyd, see Braveheart (1995).  Keep in mind, however, that the film’s depiction is actually far less graphic than what really occurred, as the punishment may have also included Wallace being emasculated.  As for Gruffyd, for some additional details, please see Executed Today as unfortunately, his story is not really covered in any book length volumes.  Most of my sources are from paragraphs spread out in multiple books. Oh, and just for “fun”, see entry 144, “Hang, Draw, and Quarter” in The Most Forbidden Knowledge: 151 Things NO ONE Should Know How to Do by Michael Powell and Matt Forbeck for a sort of “how to” with regards to Dafydd’s fate, and yes, the authors do mention him specifically!

Dr. Zar

Dr. Zar graduated with a B.A. in French and history, a Master’s in History, and a Ph.D. in History. He currently teaches history at multiple universities.

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  • Matthew Oswald

    Very interesting article!

  • Desiree Wiese

    Interesting, it would suck to be killed in that manner.

  • Daryl Walsh

    It is always interesting in how individuals were put to death throughout history. Truly barbaric and horrifying.


    It is unbelievable how some people were put to death. — DAVID WARDLE

  • E.S.

    The mid evil time period was by far the most gruesome time to die. If the black death did not claim you, all the hundreds of ways to be tortured before death did. So intense.

  • Lucy Lin

    I can not imagine how terrifying it must have been to live during that horrendous time period.

  • BM

    yeah the black death seemed to be no joke. its so shocking to think it killed about one third of the population. thats insane!

  • BM

    yeah the black death seemed to be no joke. its so shocking to think it killed about one third of the population. thats insane!

  • LS

    I would have been so scared to live in that horrifying time period.

  • Rachael Petrime

    This is so terrible! LS you are right! It would have been so scary to live in this period.

  • Anthony Jones

    You have to give credit to the people in ancient and medieval times who died of natural causes, they really were lucky. Most people just got brutally killed or died from some intense disease that couldn’t be cured. So if you died of just old age, you really lived your life well.

  • Madison Ertle

    It’s so interesting to see the ways people were killed back then and it was like everything bad that could happen happened back then!

  • AB

    Glad we stopped being so gruesome

  • Nate haller

    Wow its shocking some ways they killed people back then. I’m surprised it was legal until 1870 wow. I find it cool how they thought of these ways to kill someone back then but very horrific and gruesome as well.

  • N Beauchemin

    For how brutal Medieval punishment was, it must have been quite the deterrent in prevention of crimes; though in the case of Longshanks I doubt the scales of justice were very well balanced.

  • MMA

    I feel like sentencing people to death was just the solution to every problem during this era. It is sad to see how cruel some death sentences were, it’s a shame that it had to be like that.

  • Meg Arrendale

    You know, even though punishments were quite brutal, I am sure that since they were so harsh that they were great deterrents for actually breaking the law…or at least you would think it would be

  • Sarah Shaheen

    The ways that people died back then were terrifying!

  • Erin R

    It still blows my mind how many people were tortured and sentenced to death during this time period. I also wonder how they came up with these methods of torture. The part that bothers me even more is how the families have to suffer.

  • APG

    There was just no way to die back then without pain. Everyone seemingly went through some sort of death that made one suffer.

  • Tevin Knerr

    So terrible how people where put to death in these ways.

  • Christian Creamer

    The movie 100 ways to die is just a summary of all of the death contraptions from this era. Quartering is by far my favorite.