Drawing and quartering began in 13th-century England as the official execution method for the crime of 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 execution method—and the public display of the body parts afterwards—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 tortures, from burning and hanging to castration and dismemberment. Read on for a glimpse into exactly what being drawn and quartered does to your body.
Those convicted of treason were first dragged to the place of their execution attached to the back of a horse. Sometimes it was as simple as tying their hands and ankles with ropes. Other times, they were dragged with their bodies on a wooden frame called a hurdle. While the latter seems somewhat more compassionate, the real purpose was to keep the prisoners alive so they could properly endure their punishment.
By this point, fear would flood the victim's body with adrenaline, causing their heart rate and blood pressure to rapidly increase.
Traitors would often be subjected to the torture of crowds upon arriving at their execution place. These people came specifically to watch the barbaric display of retribution. However, just watching the execution wasn't enough: crowds would usually be waiting for their own opportunity to abuse the traitor.
These vicious preliminary attacks could easily result in blunt force trauma, causing a variety of injuries from abrasions and lacerations to hemorrhaging and ruptured organs.
The phrase “drawn and quartered” was usually short for “hanged, drawn, and quartered.” The execution would begin with a hanging. Traitors were hanged until they are almost dead, and the short drop method was often employed to ensure that they wouldn’t die.
Once semi-conscious, the traitor’s body would exhibit spasms and all bowel and bladder control would be gone. Some men were also known to involuntarily ejaculate. (And it was always men - female traitors were burned at the stake instead.)
After hanging out for a bit, the traitor would be pulled down from the scaffold. If the rope had compressed his neck arteries for too long, asphyxia would have led to the complete loss of consciousness. The compression could also have essentially brought the heart to a standstill. Regardless, if the traitor wasn’t conscious, he was vigorously splashed with water to wake him back up for what was next.
If they were lucky, at this point they would already be dead, as hanging is the least brutal aspect of the entire punishment.