The History of Beheadings

When criminals are found guilty of murder and other serious crimes, they may receive a sentence of death. Capital punishment is the legal killing of an individual. In earlier times, it was not uncommon to see people executed for minor offenses, political reasons or for hysteria (as seen in the Salem Witch Trials). In this article, you will learn more about the history of beheadings , which means to entirely separate the head from the body.

A Swift Death

A beheading is an intentional decapitation , the separation of the head from the body, which is used as a method of murder or execution. Throughout history, the act was carried out with some sort of tool or weapon, such as an axe, sword, knife, wire or another contraption, such as the guillotine. The removal of the head is a quick death that occurs within minutes when oxygenated blood does not circulate throughout the body.

Early Times , An Honorable Way to Die

In some cultures, dying by decapitation was an honorable way to die and was also set aside for certain classes of people. Losing your head by a sword, axe or another military weapon was considered an honorable way to die for an aristocrat, a nobleman in England, and in various Asian cultures. During medieval times in England, nobles accused of crimes, such as high treason were beheaded as a part of their privilege, while the common man was subjected to death by the gallows or burning at the stake (both considered dishonorable).  Even dishonored knights were treated like male commoner traitors and were hung or drawn and quartered.

There was no pain involved when someone was beheaded when it was done correctly. The axe or sword that the headsman (the name of the executioner responsible for the beheading) used needed to be sharp. He should use a precise aim to take off the head. The decapitation was typically quick. However, if the instrument was blunt or the executioner had a clumsy hand, it could take more than one stroke of the weapon to sever the head. Because of this, the victim to be executed is usually instructed to give a gold coin to the headsman to make sure their death is one without any blunders.

There are people who did not die of beheading under swift circumstances. This includes the execution of England’s Mary (Queen of Scots), Robert Devereux, and Margaret Pole. The details of their executions are discussed in the article titled, “Victims of Botched Beheadings.” To read about the variations of this method of execution that took place around the world and in different time periods, check out the article titled, “Beheading Practices Around the World.”