Saturday, September 24, 2011

Breaking on the Wheel

Capital punishment in Great Britain. I don't know about Ireland, but Great Britain really had capital punishment figured out, let me tell you.

Did you know that at one time (in 1810) there were 222 crimes that carried the death penalty in England? One for stealing as little as 25 pence. Ouch. The early methods were very inventive indeed. None of the peaceful overdosing on drugs like Texas and Florida. Nosiree. Besides the Elizabethan favorites of roasting of one's entrails, and drawing and quartering, and the quite popular public strangulation hangings-draw and quarter-head on a pike combo, let me tell you of one of my personal favorites, Breaking on the Wheel.

Next time.


  1. Back in 1810 you know full well that Ireland was subject to British Law. Not content with 1066 and all that the Normans invaded Ireland in the 12th century and "united" us.

    There was no such thing as 25 pence in 1810, unless you mean 2/1, two shillings and a penny. You probably mean five shillings, 5/-. Still not worth a life even allowing for inflation.

    In my efforts to find out what 5 shillings would be worth now, I found an interesting site called Measuring Worth
    I can't remember how much 5 shillings is worth, but the site is worth a visit.

  2. If we go back as far as the 13th century, the moot court in Halifax, in the west riding of Yorkshire has as its sentencing guidelines for the death penalty, (carried out by a guillotine 600 years before the french claim to have invented it), the theft or destruction of property to the value of one shilling. Or five pence in today's money. Of course, five pence back then would probably have been untold riches, and have bought a flight to florida and a week in disneyland. for a family of 27.

    However, in terms of breaking on the wheel, let's be clear, this was not particularly a british invention, it was widespread thoughout all the christian countries, and the church in its merciful way used it to send transgressors into the next world in a party atmosphere. One can only imagine their gratitude.

    Saint Catherine is the most readily remembered of wheel-spinners, because her screams and torment are recalled in a popular rotating firework, the Catherine-Wheel.
    She had so much fun on it that the spiked wheel broke, so she had to have her head chopped off to finish the job.
    (it wasn't the church who did it to her, it was a roman emperor who ordered it. pesky woman kept trying to convert him to peace and love).
    That she became the patron saint of wheelwrights shows a certain lack of imagination in the wheelwright community. I wonder why they thought she'd be particularly likely to have a soft spot for them?

  3. Goodness you have some erudite commenters!
    I was going to say don't forget getting squashed by large doors. Margaret Clitheroe, now a saint I believe, had a large wooden door placed on top of her and then large rocks placed on top of said door. I'm not sure whether she suffocated or burst first, but not a pretty way to go either.

  4. @A. - Well, those should have been two statements:

    1. 222 capital crime possibilities in 1810;

    2. One thing that could get one offed (at some point in history) was stealing as little as 25 pence. Or maybe it was pants. I forgot where I read it now.

  5. 25 pens? Unlikely they could write. 25 pints? That's more like it. Definitely a capital offence.

  6. I didn't know about the door, but I have walked past the Shrine of the Blessed Margaret Clitheroe, in York, many a time. Never had any interst in going in, but hey, now I'm interested, maybe next time....

    That particular death was known as "being press'd by stones".

  7. Loved the post and the comments! The British do "dark" very well.



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