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.
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.
Question for students (and subscribers): Is any crime severe enough to warrant hanging, drawing, and quartering as a sentence? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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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!
The featured image in this article, an image by 13th-century chronicler Matthew Paris showing the drawing of William de Marisco, is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or fewer.