This entry comes from the website <>  and I have copied it here just in case the owner of the page removes it so any link I use would be negated.  The underlining is from my keyboard.


Treason's Fee

of his execution, Richard Whiting would have been allowed a final Mass, to prepare his soul to meet his maker. This would probably have taken place in a chapel of his own Abbey.

Then, he would have been paraded through baying crowds to the Tor. However much the locals may have respected the Abbey and its clerics, the prospect of a good execution seems to have produced an unpleasant mob - in any era.

The procession would have climbed the Tor in a spiral, in unconscious imitation of many a pagan rite held here in the preceding millennia. Meanwhile, the crowd already surrounding the summit would have been kept entertained by a number of support acts - a flogging or two, the chopping off of a hand or foot, a blinding.

Once everyone had reached the top, Richard would have been placed on a specially-erected platform. He may have been permitted a short speech, but it is doubtful whether anyone was listening. I suspect that many of the pious speeches recorded from these circumstances were invented later - what the central figure should have said, if he wasn't paralysed by fear or despair.

The execution began with a hanging. This was not the clinical, neck-breaking jerk of a "modern" hanging. It was more of a long, painful throttling. It was emphatically not intended to kill the victim; an executioner who lost his charge at this point might be in some danger of being torn apart by the crowd. Some victims attempted to swing and jerk against the rope, hoping to end their agony before the worst began. Some unlucky ones only managed to break the rope, thus prolonging the torture.

At a time, finely judged by the executioner, Richard would have been cut down from his noose - still alive and conscious. Using his keenest knife, the executioner would then slit his belly open, exposing his intestines. With a couple of skilful cuts, these intestines would be detached from Richard's body, from the stomach to the anus, raised to the crowd, and cast into a fire. The hissing and popping of intestinal gases would have raised the crowd's glee to fever pitch.

Of course, many victims would be dead of shock and pain by this stage, but, astonishingly, many seem to have remained alive to see their guts burn. Particular executioners had reputations for special tricks to ensure that this was the case.

Finally (as far as Richard was concerned) the executioner would reach into the cavity and tear out his heart, which was also cast into the fire.

As a rather superfluous climax to the event, the executioner then chopped off Richard's head, which was put on display in some suitably public place until it rotted - as a lasting reminder of the perils of annoying the King. Other parts of his body were distributed about various parts of the kingdom, to fulfil a similar task.

The penalty of hanging, drawing and quartering was abolished in 1821. It was last carried out on the unfortunate person of Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat, Chief of the Clan Fraser - who had chosen the wrong side in the 1745 rebellion (Bonnie Prince Charlie and all that). His execution was carried out in London in the Spring of 1746.

That Simon Fraser was the last to suffer this punishment is a standard piece of information - to be found in many text-books. But it's wrong - as reader Betty Daly-King has pointed out.

Fraser was, indeed, sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered, but as a peer of the realm, he claimed to right to a more honourable death, and was beheaded.

But the deterrent effect of such harshness was dealt a blow by the behaviour of one of Fraser's co-rebels - Dr. Archibald Cameron, who continued to conspire against the British crown. He took part in the so-called ‘Elibank’ plot - a daft scheme to kidnap George II - and was hung, drawn and quartered in 1753.

There is a further tale of a young Fenian (Irish rebel) called Thomas Francis Meagher, who was said to have been sentenced to this horrible death in 1848 (some 27 years after the punishment was abolished), but who had his sentence commuted to transportation (to Van Dieman's Land - modern Tasmania).

My researches come up with a different result, and they come from Naval and Naval Port Chronicles of the 18th century.

David TYRIE, a well known anti-royalist, was tried {?} and executed at Portsmouth for giving secrets to the French about the preparation being made to safeguard the Dockyard at Portsmouth.  In 1782 [many years after the website above suggests but before the 1821 abolishment] he was hanged, drawn and quartered on Southsea Common.  An infuriated mob overcame the guards and fought amongst themselves to secure parts of his body.  The head was secured by a man named Adams, the Master of Gosport Bridewell or Prison, who preserved it in spirits and exhibited it for several years. It is this HDQ-execution which is believed to be the last in Britain.

James Hill, alias Aitkin, commonly known as 'Jack the Painter', already on the run from setting fire to the Port of Hamouse, which became known as Devons Port and then Devonport Dockyard at Plymouth, when he set fire to the Portsmouth Dockyard. He was hanged at the Main Dockyard Gate Portsmouth in 1777, and his body was hung in chains on the gibbet at Fort Blockhouse beach [a small beach seaward of the Fort] where it remained for many years. Some sailors in a drunken frolic took the skeleton of Jack and left it in a public house in Gosport in pledge of payment for drinks supplied, which episode gave rise to the following lines:-

"Whose corpse by ponderous irons wrung
High upon Blockhouse Beach was hung
And long to every tempest swung?
Why, truly Jack the Painter."

"Whose bones some years since taken down
Were brought in curious bag to town
And left in pledge for half a crown?
Why, truly Jack the Painter."

The gibbet at Gosport's Fort Blockhouse was last used for a man called Bryan. He was executed at Winchester in 1780. His body was transported to Gosport where it was dressed in a black suit with black shoes and ruffles and then draped in chains as a lesson to all would-be evil doers. His smart get-up was no match for the wind, the waves and the spray, but his fleshless bones lasted for many long seasons.