As I understand it, “hanging, drawing, and quartering” was specifically designed in order to be torturous and frightening. Certainly drawing (whether referring to dragging by a horse, or disembowelment) and quartering fulfilled this purpose. I wonder, however, why hanging was a constant in this array of procedures.

I would think that the risk of premature death (as was the case during the execution of Guido Fawkes), and the potential loss of consciousness and perception which would diminish the suffering experienced in the remaining part of the procedure, would make this inappropriate for the intended purpose. I would also assume that strangulation in and of itself, while certainly excessively distressing by present standards, did not compare in either experienced or displayed suffering with drawing and quartering.

My best guess thus far is that there was a “ritual” aspect associated with hanging, so that authories were motivated to keep it as a constant feature throughout execution methods (here, however, I would remark that I have not heard of hanging being used in conjunction with burning), or maybe that it allowed broader viewing during public executions (this would explain why it was not used in conjunction with burning, since that would have been broadly visible on its own). Still, I was unable to find any sort of authoritative or historical commentary on this.

  • 2
    Just an opinion, but I think, as you suggest, that it was part of the theatre and spectacle. It was a chance for the condemned to be presented in a highly visible way, some choice words could be said while the crowd gathered, and then the "main event" could begin... these were highly political executions so the orchestrated spectacle was a key aspect, as was the opportunity to make the necessary political points while the crowd was still somewhat subdued and attentive. Apr 30, 2020 at 7:42
  • 4
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    – MCW
    Apr 30, 2020 at 8:55
  • 2
    Before the "drop", which essentially used the victim's body weight to break the neck, hanging could be a very long-drawn out an excruciating process. There are reports of family/friends hanging on the victim's legs to try to hasten death.
    – TheHonRose
    Apr 30, 2020 at 11:45
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    I dont think it was meant solely as punishment for the offender, but rather something so horrendous it would discourage other people from even attempting to do the same thing.
    – ed.hank
    Apr 30, 2020 at 14:05
  • I assume it is because people care what happens to their bodies after they die. Apr 30, 2020 at 14:21

4 Answers 4


It was common place to have various degrees of death penalty with different levels of pain, duration of death, and publicity with "gore-porn". He should suffer more than others convicted to death for lesser crimes. The larger duration for the execution, besides increasing his pain, also allows more "gore-porn", to attract more viewers, where publicity hopefully serves as deterrence to similar crimes.

Quartering aimed to allow the body to be shown in different places (e.g., all the entrances to the city, or in various relevant places). The publicity is part of the deterrent. It is also important to avoid urban legends e.g. gossip that the rebel leader would be still alive. See here:

Sometimes the sentence was, that the body should be hung to the gibbet, and that the limbs should be displayed on the gates of the town, or sent to four principal towns in the extremities of the kingdom.

Portugal also used quartering. See in the case of Tiradentes:

Sua cabeça foi erguida em um poste em Vila Rica, (...); os demais restos mortais foram distribuídos ao longo do Caminho Novo: Santana de Cebolas, Varginha do Lourenço, Barbacena e Queluz, lugares onde fizera seus discursos revolucionários.

Translating: His head was put on the top of a post in Vila Rica, the other remains were distributed towards the New Road (followed by 4 city names), places where he did his revolutionary speeches.

Many execution methods had the risk of premature death. Not having premature deaths was the mark of a good executioner. In the same way, if it was supposed to be quick, the executioner had to make it quick.

I infer that, if the sequence of tortures shown in the other answer was kept in the law for centuries, more or less intact, it means they trusted a reasonably skilled executioner to perform it successfully. No king wants to see the execution of traitors publicly botched. I guess that an executioner who had hanged some fellows (if hanging was more common than drawing and quartering), would know when to release the ropes to avoid premature death


The a 'hanging' part was to cause partial asphyxiation (rather than neck breaking) which was supposed to heighten the victims senses i.e. to make the 'drawing' part more painful.

The 'drawing' or removal of intestines was supposed to be painful and kill relatively slowly as a deterrent for other would-be traitors.

If the victim wasn't dead yet then the 'quartering' would finish them off pretty quickly, this would allow the body parts to be dispersed widely, increasing the number of people who could say they'd witnesses the execution, and reducing the chance of any rumors of survival. For those with religious views, it would also prevent bodily resurrection and prevent the victim from entering the afterlife.


In this context, "hanging" was the "torture," rather than the "killing."

It normally takes about 30 minutes to kill someone by the "old" (strangulation) method of hanging. A person is only "half dead" after 23 minutes, most of the killing takes place in the last seven minutes. So if you cut someone down after 23-24 minutes, you've provided that amount of torture without actually killing them.

"Drawing" was the killing process. Not so much the castration (which was implied), but the removal of the intestines, which would upset the body's digestive process.

"Quartering" (usually) takes place after death, and is a deterrent to others. Of course, you could quarter someone while they were still alive, but that would actually shorten the killing process and probably defeat the purpose. Following "drawing," death would normally take hours.


It was a higher form of punishment (high treason) for men

  • a higher crime (treason) is punished more severely than a lower crime (murder)

To be hanged, drawn and quartered was, from 1352, a statutory penalty in England for men convicted of high treason, although the ritual was first recorded during the reign of King Henry III (1216–1272). The convicted traitor was fastened to a hurdle, or wooden panel, and drawn by horse to the place of execution, where he was then hanged (almost to the point of death), emasculated, disembowelled, beheaded, and quartered (chopped into four pieces).

In the cases of Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham:

Both Culpeper and Dereham were found guilty and sentenced to death. They were both to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Both men pleaded for mercy; Culpeper, presumably because of his former closeness to the King, received a commuted sentence of simple beheading. Dereham received no such mercy.

For reasons of decency, women accused of the same crime were punished differently:

The traditional punishment for women found guilty of treason was to be burned at the stake, where they did not need to be publicly displayed naked, whereas men were hanged, drawn and quartered.

The general order was:

  • Hanged, drawn and quartered
  • Hanging
  • Beheading


  • Wipping
  • Branding
  • Pillory
  • Stocks

and many more.

Until the 19th century, the humiliation and suffering was part of the punishment and was often done in public for this purpose.

During the 19th century, this envolved to a punishment to avoid reoccurrence and not done publicly.

At present (in most countries) the main goal is correction.


  • 4
    This explains the "what", but not the "why" the OP asked for.
    – TheHonRose
    Apr 30, 2020 at 11:46
  • @TheHonRose A higher crime (treason) is punished more severely than a lower crime (murder). That is still true today. Apr 30, 2020 at 12:09
  • Good answer. You may be right that hanging is essentially the whipped cream on top of the pie that's the penalty for murder, but that doesn't feel like the full answer. It feels a bit like H,D&Q is the imperfect merger of two separate punishments.
    – Mark Olson
    Apr 30, 2020 at 13:44
  • @MarkOlson That may be very well the case. The article contains the following quote: As an attack on the monarch's authority, high treason was considered a deplorable act demanding the most extreme form of punishment. So a form of 'double punishment' may have very well been the original intention. Apr 30, 2020 at 13:58

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