Being burned alive was a popular method of execution for people accused of committing heresy or treason. In some cases, treason meant that a person went against their government or a queen went against her king. Other times, the punishment was delivered for a difference in religious beliefs and convictions. In this article, you will encounter some examples of how fire was used to punish offenses against religion and country.
Official Punishment for Heresy
Heresy was an accusation that one group of people or an individual conflict with the belief system of another. Usually, the political and religious affiliations of a ruler would inflict punishments for those that did not go against what they stood for. In 1184, the Roman Catholic Synod of Verona legislated that burning become the official punishment for heresy. The last person to be burned at the stake for heresy in England was Edward Wightman , a Baptist from Burton on Trent, who died in the market square of Lichfield, Staffordshire on April 11, 1612.
Punishment for Treason
The traditional punishment for women found guilty of treason in the United Kingdom was to be burned at the stake. They were not put on display naked like other countries would do. The men were hung, drawn and quartered. There were two types of treason that someone could be guilty of , high and petty. High treason meant that you committed crimes against the Sovereign. Petty treason involved the murder of your superior by law, which also included a wife killing her husband in self-defense.
The Burning Death of Catherine Hayes
A number of people have been burned to death for being accused of treason. Examples of the practice are shown through the deaths of the following people who were charged with going against individuals of authority or their government. Catherine Hayes was given the punishment because of the death of her husband. Hayes was a good-looking girl who worked as a prostitute in her younger days. When she was 23 years old, she became the housemaid for a local gentleman farmer named Hayes. He had two sons and Catherine successfully seduced the 21-year-old, John.
The son fell for Catherine and they married in secret in 1713 , setting up a home for themselves in a cottage on his father’s farm. The first six months of the marriage went well, but it is said that Catherine had a thirst for sex that her overworked husband could not provide. To satisfy her desires, she took other lovers. She was also growing tired of living a quiet life in rural surroundings. She pleaded with her husband to move to London. He agreed and they moved in 1719. John established a business and worked as a pawnbroker among other things. Catherine was not satisfied with his effort and the marriage continued to take a downward turn.
When Catherine had no more feelings for John, she plotted with her lovers to kill the man. He was killed and parts of his body were dismembered. It was the discovery of his head that led to her arrest. She could have very well gotten away with the crime. In the end, she was charged with treason and burned at the stake.