What It's Like To Be Drawn And Quartered

Drawing and quartering began in 14th-century England as the official punishment for treason. As treason was seen as the greatest threat to rulers, the penalty was excessively and intentionally brutal in order to instill compliance in onlookers. In fact, the public spectacle of the process - and the public display of the body parts afterward - was the primary reason for this horrific practice.

While the words “drawn” and “quartered” seem simple enough, a lot more went into this severe punishment than these two words even begin to reveal on their own. Being drawn and quartered included many more horrible things, from burning and hanging to castration and dismemberment. Read on for a glimpse into exactly what being drawn and quartered does to your body.

Photo: flickr / CC0

  • Traitors Were Tied To A Horse And Dragged To The Site

    Traitors Were Tied To A Horse And Dragged To The Site
    Photo: Matthew Paris / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Those convicted of treason were first dragged to the event site attached to the back of a horse. Sometimes it was as simple as tying their hands and ankles with ropes. While the latter seems somewhat more compassionate, the real purpose was to keep the captives alive so they could properly endure their punishment.

    By this point, fear would flood the individual's body with adrenaline, causing their heart rate and blood pressure to rapidly increase.

  • Unruly Crowds Harmed The Traitor Before The Event Even Began

    Unruly Crowds Harmed The Traitor Before The Event Even Began
    Photo: Claes (Nicolaes) Jansz Visscher / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Traitors would often be subjected to boisterous crowds upon arriving at the site. These people came specifically to watch the barbaric display of retribution. However, just watching the process wasn't enough: Crowds would usually be waiting for their own opportunity to get their hands on the traitor. 

    These vicious preliminary attacks could easily result in blunt force trauma, causing everything from abrasions and lacerations to hemorrhaging and ruptured organs.

  • Traitors Were Hanged Before They Were Drawn And Quartered

    Traitors Were Hanged Before They Were Drawn And Quartered
    Photo: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The phrase “drawn and quartered” was usually short for “hanged, drawn, and quartered.” The process would begin with a hanging. Traitors were hanged until they had almost perished, and the short drop method was often employed to ensure that they didn't perish.

    And it was always men - female traitors were burned at the stake instead.

  • The Traitor Would Have His Limbs Cut Off Or Burned

    More often than not, the traitor would experience extra punishment outside of the outlined program. This involved everything from disembowelment to beheading to the burning of entrails. 

    If the traitor’s body was not already in shock from asphyxiation, it would definitely be in shock by now. These types of injuries would cause immense pain, as burns can affect nerves, blood vessels, muscles, and bones. The burned portions of the flesh would experience instant cell death, an immense loss of fluids, and edema, or extreme swelling.

  • Traitors Were Also Castrated In Order To Emasculate Them

    What could be worse than disembowelment? How about being disemboweled AND castrated? In addition to watching their entrails being pulled out, traitors also had to witness their genitals being sliced off. This act symbolically took away the traitor's masculinity, permanently ending the traitor’s bloodline and name. 

    If the traitor had not yet bled out, then this horrific mutilation usually resulted in his passing.

  • The Traitor's Genitals Would Be Burned In Front Of His Eyes

    The Traitor's Genitals Would Be Burned In Front Of His Eyes
    Photo: Jan Luyken / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Once the traitor’s abdominal cavity was emptied and his manhood detached, his genitals and entrails were burned right in front of him. Sometimes, if the charges were particularly heinous, the executioner would go the extra mile to dig out the contents of the traitor’s chest cavity and burn them, as well.

    By this point in the harrowing process, the traitor would have most likely already perished from shock, as there would be no substantial blood pressure and no vital organs to sustain the remnants of the body. If they happened to be unlucky enough to survive to this point, they would barely be hanging on to any essence of life.