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The Gibbet throughout History I

From ancient times to punishments for murderers in the United Kingdom, gibbeting was used as both a method of execution and further humiliation after a criminal was dead. In places associated with sailors and pirates, the act was used to deter criminal acts. In this article, you will learn about gibbeting as it pertains to North America, Europe, and the United Kingdom.

Ancient Times

Some see the public crucifixions that took place during Biblical times as a form of gibbeting because it involved the prolonged display of the body after death. According to Deuteronomy 21:22-23 in the Old Testament, Torah law forbids gibbeting beyond sundown of the day that the body is hung on the tree.

In North America

In the United States, gibbeting took place during the colonial era with pirates and sailors executed for crimes in Massachusetts. Their bodies were left hanging to serve as a warning to sailors coming into the harbor and approaching Boston. This practice took place on Bird Island and Nix’s Mate Island in the Boston Harbor. In Canada, there is a popular folklore tale that involves Marie-Josephte Corriveau (1733,1763) who was best known as ‘La Corriveau.’ She would become one of the most popular figures in Quebec. She resided in New France and was sentenced to death by a British court martial for the murder of her second husband. She was hanged for the crime, and her body was hung in chains. After her death, she appeared in many books and plays.

In Europe

In Europe, the leaders of the Anabaptist movement in Munster were executed in 1536, and their dead bodies were put on display in iron cages that hung from the steeple of St. Lambert’s Church. To this day, the empty cages are still in the same place. After his execution by hanging in 1738, the body of Jewish financier Joseph Sub Oppenheimer was gibbeted in a bird cage large enough to fit a human. It was hung outside of Stuttgart in a location set aside for public executions. His body stayed there for six years. When Karl Eugen became the Duke of Wurttemberg, he allowed a quick burial of the body at an unknown location.

Throughout his career as a banker and financier, Oppenheimer made a lot of powerful enemies. Some of his opponents conspired with one another to cause his arrest, which led to his execution following the death of Karl Alexander.

In the United Kingdom

The Murder Act of 1751 stated that the body of a murderer would not be buried, but would instead be subjected to a public dissection or left hanging in chains. One of the last gibbeting cases involves the death of James Cook, who was a bookbinder convicted of the murder of his creditor.  He was executed on August 10, 1832 , in front of Leicester prison.  His head was shaved and tarred so that it would stay preserved throughout the changes in weather. His body was placed on display on a purpose-built gallows that stood 33 feet tall in Saffron Lane near the Aylestone Tollgate.

Thousands of people came to the sight to see the gibbeted man, causing such a stir in the community. Soon, protests of the decomposing body were made and the proper authorities eventually removed the gibbet.