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Extremely Cruel Punishments: Gibbeting

When it was legal, many early punishments of criminals incorporated humiliation into the equation. Sometimes, the body of a punished individual was put on display for the public to see, as a warning to show what happens if they were to commit the same crime. In this article, you will learn about the history of gibbeting and where it was used around the world.

What is Gibbeting?

Gibbeting (also known as hanging in chains) was a method of displaying the bodies of executed criminals as a means to warn others of what happens when a certain crime is committed. The approach was quite popular in England and its colonies, and took on a variety of forms. Sometimes, the gibbet was a gallows-type of structure, while other times, a metal cage was used. When bodies were inside the gibbets, they were usually positioned along roads and waterways, as a way to keep away pirates and highway robbers. Because of this, there were many places named Gibbet Hill all over England, such as some found in Devon, Surrey and Somerset.

At one point, being placed in a metal cage alive to die of thirst was used as a method of punishment, but most often, a criminal was already dead when placed in the cage or hung by chains. Some of the bodies were left on display until their clothes rotted. Others were left until their bodies had completely decomposed, and then their bones would be scattered. In addition to being drawn and quartered, the body of the criminal was cut into four or five pieces where each part was subject to being gibbeted in different locations.

The Murder Act of 1752 made it possible for judges to impose gibbeting as a punishment for the act of murder. The bulk of deaths associated with gibbeting involved murderers, traitors, highwaymen, pirates, and those that stole sheep. For example, Captain William Kidd was executed for piracy in 1701.He had been hung twice since the first attempt ended with a broken rope. Then, his body was hung in chains over the River Thames.

Other notable people in England who were gibbeted include:

”¢    Oliver Cromwell was gibbeted after his death, when monarchists found his body during the restoration of the monarchy. The military and political leader is best known in England for his overthrow of the monarchy, which led to the temporary republican Commonwealth that was established at the time.

”¢    Miner William Jobling was 30 years old when he was executed 175 years ago for the murder of the local magistrate and colliery owner Nicholas Fairles. Although some believe he was wrongly convicted, Jobling’s dead body was put on display on a gibbet at Jarrow Slake in South Tyneside for six weeks after he was hung. Jobling was the last man gibbetted in the country and he may have never committed the crime. His body was dipped in tar and put in a steel cage and hung on public display on a gibbet after he was hung.

The practice of gibbeting was outlawed in England in 1834. Examples of iron cages used in gibbeting are found in various museums. There is one in the Westgate Museum at Winchester.