Inject, Shoot or Hang?

The USA is just about the only western country to have kept capital punishment. I have written on this topic before on Capital Punishment. I have noticed in various articles that prison facilities concerned with executing people who are condemned to death are unable to find the drugs used for a “humane” lethal injection. Here is an article from the viewpoint of an Orthodox priest.

The Americans have always been bunglers and have always made the worst decisions in matters of this kind. It involves a lot of hypocrisy, between giving the appearance of killing humanely and the frequent lack of professionalism in the matter. It is not as if there was not the example of British or French efficiency. The English hangman was highly skilled and did the job properly every time. The French guillotine did its job reliably – as long as there was no error in assembling the apparatus. If the Americans really wanted to kill “humanely”, it suffices to make the condemned person breathe pure nitrogen.

The other approach, of course, is eye for eye – using a barbaric, gruesome and spectacular method like before the French Revolution to cause maximum suffering. I hardly imagine people these days buying tickets to see a hanging, drawing and quartering at Tyburn, but perhaps human nature has changed less than we imagine!

Perhaps the greatest argument against capital punishment is the possibility of a miscarriage of justice. Their criminal justice has big holes in it. Many inmates on Death Row have been found to be innocent on more thorough investigation of the evidenced used to condemn them. People commit very evil deeds, and the apologist of the death penalty reminds us about the victim of a crime having been wronged in the first place. That has to be understood, but is it right to render evil for evil?

One man is particular importance in this question, one who was not a lawyer but England’s official hangman. Albert Pierrepoint (see the film by finding it in parts here or buy the DVD) came to the conclusion that the death penalty was only revenge. It is useless as a deterrent and has not prevented a single murder. He wrote:

The fruit of my experience has this bitter after-taste: that I do not now believe that any of the hundreds of executions I carried out has in any way acted as a deterrent against future murder. Capital punishment, in my view, achieved nothing except revenge.

Those who are opposed to capital punishment, as I am, are often accused of lacking compassion for the victims of murder, rape and other violent crimes. Perhaps some criminals can be rehabilitated after long prison sentences, but most very evil ones can only be removed from society permanently. We are brought to think of the worst psychopaths, serial killers and child rapists who show not the slightest remorse for what they did. It seems logical to kill them – but where is the line drawn between them and someone who committed a crime de passion and got a raw deal at his trial?

The usual alternative to death is life imprisonment, either literally – until the prisoner dies – or for something like twenty to thirty years followed by a long period of parole. Prisons are also very heavy financially on the taxpayer. Is it right for such people to live on taxpayers’ money?

Another alternative is re-establishing the penal colonies. The problem is that they were originally established by countries with extensive empires like the UK and France. No independent country nowadays wants someone else’s trash and dangerous criminals on their doorstep! England had Botany Bay in Australia and the French had Guyana and Devil’s Island. In the old days, a convict was sentenced to a time in prison, which was followed by an equal amount of time as a colonist and working in the general interest. He earned his living and lived in extremely harsh conditions. Many of us have seen the film Papillon with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. Here is another article worth reading – French Guiana and New Caledonia: How Much of the Myth Was Reality?

Even in the nineteenth century, the essential purpose of penal colonies and prisons was debated between the destruction of the convict’s possibility to offend and the possibility of rehabilitating him into society.

French government and the prison administrations never resolved the contradiction between the desire to rehabilitate the bagnards and to give them a new start in life and the desire to punish. But this contradiction continues to be prevalent in the criminal justice systems of many countries, particularly the United States.

Are there not enough islands in the Pacific to send those prisoners to? Make sure they can’t escape and leave them to get on with it with the one proviso that if they build a boat to get off the island, they’ll be blown out of the water… An alternative for the Americans might be somewhere in the middle of the Nevada Desert. Hawaii? The essential would be a facility that pays for itself and is sufficiently remote to reduce the possibility of successful escape to the minimum.

Perhaps it’s just another method of execution and revenge. On the other hand, if the penal colony system was modernised and brutality replaced with creative possibilities for convicts to find redemption in some way, that might be more the thing to do.

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27 Responses to Inject, Shoot or Hang?

  1. Stephen K says:

    This seems to be a space for simply giving one’s opinion with no expectation that one will persuade others. For the record, I share what I think would be the common and natural revulsion and hostility to violent criminals, especially those who gang-raped young teenage girls and who laughed their way throughout their trial before being sentenced to 53 years in gaol. Not to mention violent serial murderers. I can imagine a situation where it might be impossible for a group to secure their safety unless they put such a person to death (no lock-up facilities; temporary advantage). We are talking about the survival instinct here.

    But a state generally does not face such problems: it can lock-up and secure safety without execution. And all the prudential reasons that have been and can be cited also hold weight. I don’t think a state generally has an excuse to put its criminal citizens to death.

    What never ceases to surprise me though is that in this day and age there are self-proclaiming Christians who support capital punishment by the state. On the contrary, I think that capital punishment is irreconcilable with the Christian notion of mercy and redemption, which highlights for me how wrong so many Christians have been for 2000 years.

    Father, I must disagree with any notion of sequestration that would involve barbarity or result in the hooror scenario depicted in the John Carpenter film “Escape from New York” starring Kurt Russell where convicts and murderers were left to their own devices in a quarantined Manhattan! (Mind you, penal colonies do not always have bad outcomes: my great-great grandfather was sentenced to death by the Norfolk Assizes in 1816 for stealing a sheep before being transported to New South Wales!)

    • I suppose in those cases of someone like Andrei Chikatilo, and when no other solution is possible to ensure public safety from such a monster, the Russians would have done the right thing. They judged him, kept him in in prison for a short time for the legal formalities of appeal, etc. and quietly took him to a cell – no years on death row, no ritual, last request, etc. – made him kneel down and shot him in the back of the head. The trouble is knowing where to draw the line. Chikatilo could have been sent to Siberia, but he would have been killed by the other prisoners anyway.

  2. Father Martin says:

    Americans who are most vocal in their opposition to the death penalty, holding candlelight vigils outside the walls of the prison, wringing their hands over the injustice of the court system, are the same liberals who protest at Pro-Life rallies and scream at the top of their lungs that women have the right to “choose” (I was once accosted by a placard carrying lesbian who was protesting our Pro-Life march, when I turned her would be weapon on her she backed down). In their warped minds they say it’s wrong to execute the rapist and murderer of an innocent victim while at the same time it is perfectly acceptable, and in many cases desirable, for a women to murder her innocent, sinless and defenseless unborn child. The death penalty should be used only in the most extreme cases and then only after an appropriate appeal and guilt is determined without a shadow of a doubt. The attempts to sanitize the death penalty have lead to the current state of affairs as often plays out in death chambers with the condemned gasping for breath (as if his victim didn’t gasp for breath or beg for mercy). It should be carried out swiftly and humanely, the guillotine and a firing squad would serve the purpose very well. At which point he would have to answer to a much higher authority and his departure would save the tax payers a great deal of money.

    • I don’t know enough about law, but my wife work as a lawyer’s secretary. One problem found in many systems of law is mandatory sentencing instead of leaving more to the discretion of the Judge and Jury. Perhaps if the death penalty were available for the cases of extreme evil and lack of remorse or possibility of rehabilitation, it could be done quickly and quietly, the way the Russians got rid of Chikatilo – a bullet in the back of the head in a cell or the guillotine. The “less serious” cases could be punished by varying lengths of prison sentences up to some thirty years with parole at the discretion of the prison authorities and the local Judge.

      • Father Martin says:

        One objection I have to the use of drugs in an execution is that it often involves doctors or nurses, the very people who have sworn to do no harm. It also can make euthanasia and abortion more palatable for those with weak stomachs.

      • I’m not an American, but I’m told that doctors are not allowed by their profession and Hippocratic Oath to have anything to do with executions. Probably the same goes for nurses, trained as they are to give IV injections. I would assume that the setting up of the execution and pushing needles into the condemned inmate’s veins is done by prison officers – the reason why many executions of this type are botched.

        Finally, the whole subject is disgusting and abolition is the way.

      • ed pacht says:

        Yes. The effort to produce a way of killing that is not ugly seems to make killing of all sorts that much easier to stomach. To devalue death is also to devalue life.

      • Albert Pierrepoint made the point when hanging Nazi war criminals in 1946, something like: “I don’t care what they’ve done. They’re human beings and they’ve got to die. We’re just here to do the job“. He always treated a condemned person with respect however heinous their crime was.

      • Fr. Martin says:

        A recent TV news article concerning these executions referred to doctors and nursed being involved. This caught me by surprise, like you I assumed they could not be involved due to their oaths. This deserves a bit of research.

  3. ed pacht says:

    Several disjointed observations:

    Capital punishment serves its vaunted purposes only if it is both swift and certain. The current practice is neither. The appeals process (in recognition of the dreadful possibility of wrongful execution) has the inhuman result of years or even decades spent in the psychological torture of death row. This appears to me as the ultimate cruelty.

    In what way is the execution of a criminal an expression of compassion for the victim? Is it compassionate to encourage the practice of vengeance? Is that good for the soul of the victim? Humanly one can understand where this blood lust comes from, but in what way can Christians declare it to be good? What, really, does it do to the inner life of the victim?

    I’m very disturbed that execution is done by professionals in private. Somehow this appears to release the ordinary citizen from complicity in the death. Note the OT prescription of stoning, in which the members of the community are in themselves the executioners, bearing full responsibility for what they have done, and Jesus’ comment, “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.” How does the sanitized way these things are done make room for these considerations?

    On the other hand, what is revealed of the dark side of human nature in public executions shows a great deal of precisely the same murderous desire as the criminal is alleged to have.

    What Fr. Martin says above can be turned topsy-turvy. The anti-abortion pro-lifer who demands the execution of a criminal seems just as schizophrenic as the pro-abortion objector to capital punishment. Why must one choose one expression of violence over another? Cannot one simply choose not to kill?

    Stephen K has a point. Much as I value Tradition, I can’t but see that the centuries of traditional support for capital punishment serve as an illustration of how grievously Christians can miss much of the core of the Gospel, of the radical transformation preached in the Sermon on the Mount.

    • As I say, I’m an abolitionist and am glad that all the European countries have stopped executing criminals. At the same time I understand all points of view in this horribly difficult moral issue. In a nutshell, I think the only justification for killing someone is in the case of someone like Ted Bundy or Chikatilo and if there is no other way to defend society from their aggression. Perhaps the death penalty could be reserved (apart from terrorism) for murder, not just premeditated but with obvious signs of complete evil like torture, cannibalism, raping a child before killing him, serial killing, etc. It should be at the discretion of the Judge and Jury and with a conviction secured by irrefutable proof (which is much easier these days with DNA testing). “Ordinary” murder over here in Europe is punished by up to 30 years in jail with discretionary parole. That seems to be enough even for the worst unless it is judged that the prisoner is indeed irreformable.

  4. Opposition to the death penalty is an indulgence of an affluent society because the costs of the prison system are highly socialized. If the government sent out invoices for the food, board and medical care of prisoners to those who volunteered to pay them, many inmates would find themselves outside the walls, and subject to retribution from their victims’ families.

    The appeals process (in recognition of the dreadful possibility of wrongful execution) has the inhuman result of years or even decades spent in the psychological torture of death row. This appears to me as the ultimate cruelty.

    I think if you visited death row and talked to the inmates, you’d find them appallingly narcissistic and smug over all the gratuitous appeals being filed on their behalf. For most of them it’s the time of their lives. You should look into the bizarre cult of deluded women that has sprung up around death row.

    • This is why I suggested the penal colony, where the inmates have to earn the finance needed for their upkeep – no work no eat. If people have to be executed, let it be done the old English way: after the guilty verdict and sentencing, the convict is kept in prison in solitary confinement for about three weeks for appeal procedures (which were accelerated), and then the execution was carried out. With Albert Pierrepoint, from pinioning to the body swinging dead at the end of the rope, it was over in seconds.

      The American system of 10 to 20 years on Death Row and all those fancy methods of execution that are all ten times more barbaric than English hanging is an absolute travesty, both for the condemned inmates and the taxpayer. The best thing seems to be something like French Guyana as it was until the 1930’s, with less brutality and more hard work, incentives and rehabilitation (whenever possible).

      • I tend to agree Father. One journey up the appellate courts and that is that. Then you hang, or it’s the firing squad.

        I think the penal colony is an ideal solution. I just don’t know where we’d put one at this point.

        I’d also say there are many crimes which simply do not merit imprisonment. Restitution would suffice for a lot of matters.

  5. Stephen K says:

    At the risk of opening a polemical can-of-worms, I would like to propose that few people are consistent when it comes to bio-ethics: capital L ‘Life’ is not really regarded as an absolute. We crush ants without a thought, we destroy forests and bio-habitats and their denizens at a fast rate, we apply rules for judging when we may turn off life-support systems, we shed no tears for miscarried foetuses, we have debates over abortion and euthanasia until someone nearest or dearest to us is involved and our perspective may radically change, and we may feel or cry out at criminals “crucify them” until perhaps one of them is our own son (or daughter). You get the picture.

    Now of course, there will be debate about the non-equivalence of different forms of life. Some will say human life is more important than other animal or vegetative life, and this might hold until we have to choose between a sadistic rapist-murderer and our 20 year old dog who has been faithful and protective of us and our children, or until we are confronted by a fellow human who has lost all sense, consciousness and facility in a permanent vegetative-like state. We have governments who order troops into wars where the final casualty lists may include a majority of civilian non-combatants. We have healthy foetuses and those detected with severe pre-natal disability and dysfunction. In certain harsh environments, tribes that could not sustain a non-viable infant killed them or abandoned them for their very own survival. Many would agree that this was an entirely moral course of action, for them. In modern environments this danger is theoretically not present and so morally there is no excuse. And over all these issues, we have furious prudential disagreements.

    It seems to me that there is in fact no absolute here, other than perhaps that killing should only be what is necessary and unavoidable. We should only kill animals if we have no other source of food realistically available to us. We should be prepared to be eaten by sharks or crocodiles if they find themselves in that situation and we are so imprudent as to be in their path. We should not kill others except in real, actual self-defence where that is the only self-defence. We should not abort foetuses unless their physical condition will not only kill themselves but the mother as well. We should not chop down trees that are not noxious and are filling an important ecological role, without compensating the earth and environment in as equal a measure as we can calculate.

    Killing is a momentous act; even killing an animal, to put them out of suffering, is a heavy responsibility and emotional action. Most of us thankfully have not been placed in the soldier’s role and we must all know veterans who deal with or fail to deal with what they have been compelled to do in different, personally traumatic ways.

    And so we come to capital punishment. I’ve been thinking about this some more. What could be a guide here? I’ve been thinking that perhaps something I alluded to earlier in my first post may work here: that putting a criminal to death may only be permissible if there is no other option to secure the safety of innocents. Death should never be a punishment nor an act of judicial or community revenge. I suggest these things have no place in Christian theology. Do you see what I am saying here? I am saying execution should only be used to secure safety, never used or imposed as a sentence of punishment. I am saying I think the former is a derivative of the survival instinct, and that the latter is antithetical to the Christian ethos. Just some thoughts, for further consideration.

  6. Patricius says:

    I cannot believe (well, I can actually) that the death penalty was abolished for high treason. There are certain kinds of crime that are so destructive of society that they demand a heavy, even the heaviest, sentence. A life time in prison, where one is treated to television and physical exercise, hardly qualifies, does it? As for human rights, well there really is no such thing. You forfeit your “human rights” the minute you stop giving two hoots about the law.

  7. Stephen K says:

    Patricius, I personally do not understand why treason should be singled out for punishment by death. As opposed to, say, rape or murder etc. The concept of mandatory sentencing – automatic consequence – does not seem to me to sit at all with the concept of making sure that a sentence is just in all the circumstances.

    I have already suggested that the notion of death as a punishment as opposed to an ultimate safety measure is problematic for a Christian. In particular however, there are so many cases where so-called traitors are people who are acting out their convictions, that treason can only be regarded as a heinous crime if one makes patriotism and loyalty to one’s native country a higher virtue than carrying out one’s convictions. That is a highly dubious proposition. For example, we may or may not agree with William Joyce’s (Lord Haw-Haw’s) political persuasions (and I certainly do not) but as the discussion at his trial showed, he was not convicted for his beliefs but because the law as it stood imposed a duty on British subjects not to aid its enemies, and he had at one stage, earlier in his life, claimed the protection of His Majesty by using a British passport. Thus treason can be technical and is by its very nature the accusation of victors, not impartial observers. Another case was Roger Casement. I for one would not accept everything the government of my day decides to dish up simply because of its promotion of an elusive national mythology.

    No, I think we have to steer clear of putting criminal punishment on auto-pilot.

    • ed pacht says:

      In US history, I think of one Nathan Hale, a spy hanged by the British for treason and revered by Americans as a hero. Insofar as Britain had a claim to the American colonies (after all, what the war was about) he was objectively guilty of treason against Britain. If the Revolution was justified in asserting that Britain had no such claim, then the matter is entirely different. His famous last words, “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country,” reveal just how he understood his actions.

    • What a subject for the 21st January, the day Louis XVI was guillotined in 1793! The crime was that of Regicide and the King was executed. Ironically, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette wanted to introduce social reforms in France and do something to help the hungry masses.

      Mandatory sentencing is a problem in penal law. Execute the convict if there is no other way to protect society in an act of self-defence. Otherwise put him in a prison or a penal colony for rehabilitation if such if possible, or otherwise to remove the source of harm for society. The next principle is having the convict pay his own way and compensate the victim or victim’s family. Life in the penal colonies was usually extremely harsh and abusive. It should be hard but humane, characterised more by incentives and earned privileges rather than torture and excessive punishment.

      Judges and juries should have more responsibility. Most people who do Jury service have a big sense of responsibility, and I believe that Patricius has done Jury service.

      • Stephen K says:

        Dear Father, just some qualifications here, if I may, to avoid unintentional non-sequiturs. Patricius may have served on a jury and I don’t doubt for a moment he is a responsible person, but these things are irrelevant here. We are discussing sentences and punishments. Criminal juries do not give verdicts on sentences; that is the judge’s role. Juries only give verdicts on facts, whether guilty or not. The consideration of what sentence is appropriate and just involves a consideration of justice; the consideration of the charge involves a consideration of concrete facts or beyond reasonable doubt likelihoods. The latter can be difficult but it is a completely different problem to the former.

        Second, I am sure jury members for the most part feel responsible. But feeling responsible is no guarantee that emotion or prejudice might not cloud the deliberations.

        When the foreman returns the verdict, the court accepts it. It is only if the parties have grounds for thinking it was not formed on all the evidence or formed after prejudicial – hence unlawful – presentation, that it will be appealed. The merit of the juries’ original deliberations is often exposed or diminished in the appeals process.

        Of course, appeals can also highlight or overturn the trial judge’s sentencing. No person is infallible or quarantined from scrutiny. But the issue here is, do we think that there should be a mandatory capital punishment for certain crimes, or do we think that the punishment for all crimes should be, with due regard for like-with-like, determined on a case-by-case basis?

        And if we resolve this in favour of the latter, then do we think capital punishment should ever be a punishment, or should we choose only other forms?

      • Here is an article about mandatory sentencing. There is a paragraph outlining the arguments for and against mandatory sentencing.

        Perhaps, in the light of all that, there should be no mandatory death sentence, but that the Judge should have that possibility within defined guidelines (ie: no sending 8-year old children to the gallows for stealing a loaf of bread), for example in time of war or when there are no adequate prison facilities to deal with the case of a particularly dangerous convict (cf. Silence of the Lambs).

        I am inclined to think that there should be the possibility of capital punishment (or simply judicial killing / elimination) in extremely rare and special cases, but that most of those convicted of heinous crimes should get life or long sentences in view to rehabilitation in a penal colony that is not financed by taxpayers’ money.

        Punishment seems either to be retribution / revenge or in view to reform and rehabilitation. In canon law, there are vindictive and medicinal sanctions. Defrocking a priest is vindictive, because it is usually irreversible and intended to purge the priesthood of, for example, child sexual abusers. Excommunication or suspension are usually ways to get an offender to think things over and obtain a reversal of those sanctions in case of repentance and amendment of life. I’m not sure how far the question of vindictive / medicinal goes in civil penal law. Here’s an article on punishment. In my eyes, punishment should be medicinal. Otherwise, another term should be used like “penalty” or “sanction”, or simply destruction or elimination. That would remove the notion of revenge if a person has to be eliminated.

        Obviously, if you kill someone, there is no possibility of rehabilitation. Perhaps it is justifiable to eliminate certain persons when there is no alternative. For example, I think it was perfectly justifiable to execute the Nazi war criminals (many of the lesser offenders got prison sentences). Ted Bundy was a “perfectly” evil psychopath, who himself knew he could not be safely released into society without starting again with his atrocities. Between life in prison without parole and death (both remove the offender from society permanently), which is better?

        Then if it has to be death, then I would suggest the guillotine or a bullet in the back of the head in a cell with no “ritual” and no publicity, just done one morning at something like 4am with only the man who does the job, two warders, the prison governor, chaplain and legal witnesses.

        The Judge has to be able to discern which people have the potential of being rehabilitated and which have completely gone over to the “dark side”. That must a terrifying responsibility. The whole question needs a lot of study and thought, and no one has got there yet, evidence of this being that we are still debating the subject. I don’t have an infallible view on it. It is profoundly distasteful to kill a human being, unless we can “demonise” that person and deny his humanity, but I can’t totally exclude the possibility in cases like the Nazi war criminals, Ted Bundy, Chikatilo, etc.

    • Patricius says:

      Stephen, I understand the moral disposition you take regarding the administration of death to condemned criminals. Indeed, it is a question with which I have wrestled myself for some time. In terms of the Commandments of God, no man is at liberty to order the hour of his own or any other’s death; that stricture draws in questions of abortion, euthanasia, war and such things as well. But in terms of the law of an ancestrally Christian country where The Queen is Sovereign (never mind about presidents or prime ministers) you cross over into a comparatively sacred dimension. As God’s annointed, any affront to The Queen’s Majesty sends a tremor throughout the spiritual and the temporal sphere. That may sound rather pompous and I daresay that most people are oblivious to it anyway, but treason understood in such terms becomes less an affront to an individual person (whatever the nature of the crime) and more an affront to God, to His Church and to the State and, by connexion, to the whole people and security of the realm. I’m not singling out treason, by any means, I am just using it as an example.

      Fr Chadwick is right; I have done Jury Service so I understand the burden of judgement and one’s responsibility to society. I also understand that cases are all different but I think you risk making the administration of judgement arbitrary if there is not a standard, almost inexorable system in place (that is not to say that Mercy plays no part in the administration of judgement – all cases are different). And, of course, if judgement and the law are arbitrary then our liberties under God are thrown out too. We become thralls unto our own sin and ignorance.

      • ed pacht says:

        Patricius, I’m not going to debate the merits and theological validity of monarchy, but even if these theories are accepted in their entirety, there are a lot of imponderables involved. What of a firm monarchist like Thomas a Becket or Thomas More, both of whom found conscience requiring them to oppose the King’s Majesty, both of whom were executed, and both of whom were (I believe rightly) canonized by Rome? Did they merit execution for treason? Or from another viewpoint, yet another Thomas, named Cranmer, another monarchist who faithfully served two kings and was executed by a queen, Was he or was he not a traitor deserving of execution? Who ultimately can determine what constitutes “high treason” and must be answered by death?

      • You should read the story of François Ravaillac. This is the fellow who killed Henry IV of France in 1610, just five years after Guy Fawkes got the pig-slaughter treatment for the Gunpowder Plot.

        I quote:

        On May 27, he was taken to the Place de Grève in Paris and was tortured one last time before being pulled apart by four horses, a method of execution reserved for regicides. Alistair Horne describes the torture Ravaillac suffered: “Before being drawn and quartered… he was scalded with burning sulphur, molten lead and boiling oil and resin, his flesh then being torn by pincers.” Following his execution, Ravaillac’s parents were forced into exile, and the rest of his family was ordered never to use the name “Ravaillac” again.

        The ultimate sado-masochist’s dream!

        Supplice de Ravaillac

  8. Patricius says:

    St Thomas of Canterbury was not executed, he was murdered during Vespers. Thomas More was unfortunate to have served under a ruthless, scheming, fat lunatic. They’re not entirely in the same boat.

    My contention with dangerous and anti-social criminals is that the prisons keep them alive at the expense of the taxpayer (you and me).

    There have been many divers forms of execution in the gruesome history of humanity. In England, famously, the Regicides were hanged, drawn and quartered. A horrible way to go and a method of execution enveloped in so much symbolism (hard as that might be for modern people to understand). Going back to mediaeval times, Hugh Despenser, for example, may have been a disgusting man but did he really merit having verses from the Bible carved into his skin before being hanged, emasculated, and disembowled? All, I might add, to the delight of Isabella of France, his bitterest enemy. But hardly a fitting end for someone like Oliver Plunkett. Like stoning in ancient Israel, “that the abomination might be crushed,” to be hanged, drawn and quartered was to be lifted “clean” out of history, out of hope for salvation, out of the Church, out of society. We have the Normans to thank for that addition to our history!

    I read about Ravaillac before, father. Wasn’t he a madman?

    • Ravaillac a madman? I don’t know. I ought to read up about it all. The 16th and 17th centuries were a gruesome time. I have written about it before. The theory was that the more the condemned man suffered, the more God would have mercy on his soul. For the people of that time, doing a gruesome execution was “pastoral”, as repugnant as it is to our own sensitivities. Yet, in other cases, there was the intention of getting the soul damned, as when they hanged men over water like with the pirates at Execution Dock. It was the same when they left a hanged body in the gibbet at a crossroads.

      • ed pacht says:

        Thomas More was unfortunate to have served under a ruthless, scheming, fat lunatic

        Ah, yes, but the question remains — what individual has the right to make such a determination without being formally guilty of high treason? This statement converts a monarchist conviction into something rather more subjective. How many other legitimate kings can be labeled with exactly those terms? Really, a quite considerable number. Is it or is it not treason to oppose such unjust monarchs? An adjudication of treason simply does not depend upon the character of the monarch. More and Cranmer were both so adjudicated, Becket’s case is a bit more complex, but the murderers certainly seem to have seen themselves as legitimate executioners, and, unless I am mistaken, the king at least seemed to accept that by not immediately prosecuting them for murder. The Pope at least seemed to see it that way in excommunicating Henry.

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