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Elizabethan Executions

  1. Read the text and find the answers to the following questions:

· Was death penalty rare at Elizabethan times?

· What did the form of execution depend on?

· What were the traditions concerning execution by beheading?

· What was the most brutal form of execution?

· What form of execution was mostly used for traitors and heretics?

· How could executioners relieve their victims’ suffering?

· How did Queen Mary get her nickname?

The death penalty was definitely not an issue during the Elizabethan era, the only question was what form of execution did the person in question deserve. Elizabethan England was split into two classes - the upper class consisting of the nobility and courtiers, and high ranking members of the clergy - and everyone else! The upper class were well educated, wealthy and associated with Royalty. They would often become involved in political intrigue and matters of religion. The nobility could therefore become involved in crime which were not shared by other people. The form of executions would vary according to class.

Executions by beheading were considered the least brutal of execution methods and were accorded to important state prisoners or people of noble birth. Various traditions were observed at executions by beheading. A raised platform was built (scaffold) and covered with straw. A minister of the church would be available to offer religious comfort to the victim. The victim would be expected to pay and forgive the executioner. It would be hoped that the headsman completed his job swiftly and with care.

The condemned prisoner was usually given the opportunity to address the spectators - with the sovereign's permission. The speeches given at this terrible time were made with the knowledge that the victim's family would suffer should the victim anger the King or Queen any further.

The most dreadful punishment was of being hung, drawn and quartered. This barbaric form of execution was reserved for the most hated prisoners who had usually been convicted of treason. The form of execution referred to as being Hung, Drawn and Quartered was described by William Harrison, an Elizabethan chronicler, as:
"The greatest and most grievous punishment used in England for such as offend against the State is drawing from the prison to the place of execution upon an hurdle or sled, where they are hanged till they be half dead, and then taken down, and quartered alive; after that, their members and bowels are cut from their bodies, and thrown into a fire, provided near hand and within their own sight, even for the same purpose."

Being burnt at the stake was another terrible form of death and execution. Executioners sometimes showed mercy to their victims by placing gunpowder at the base of the stake which helped the victims to a swifter, and less painful, death. This form of execution was traditionally reserved for traitors or those who spoke out against the religion favored by the current sovereign. Queen Elizabeth's Catholic sister Queen Mary sent over 300 Protestants to their death by burning earning herself the name of Bloody Mary.



deserve – заслуживать

courtier – придворный

accord – предоставлять, даровать

scaffold – эшафот, плаха

minister – священник

comfort – утешение

headsman – палач

condemned – осужденный, приговоренный

grievous – скорбный, мучительный


  1. Look through the text again and find words and constructions you may use in your professional discourse (scientific terms etc.). Translate and memorize them.
  2. Find the transcription of the following words and practise pronouncing them: courtier, intrigue, available, condemned, sovereign, chronicler, grievous.
  3. Decide whether the following statements are true or false according to the text:

· The crimes of the nobility and the clergy were different from other people’s crimes.

· Execution by beheading was a public ritual.

· If the condemned person said something wrong before the execution, his family would not be subject to punishment for that.

· The questions of religion were not a personal matter at that time.




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Читайте в этой же книге: England under foreign kings. | Part III. | Part IV. | FRANCIS DRAKE | OLIVER CROMWELL | OLIVER CROMWELL | Historiography | How historians DO history | The Discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls | Who Were The Knights Templar? |
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